2016-2017 ISE Graduate Manual (v5) (PDF | 321 KB)

Graduate Program Policies

The Graduate Program requirements, policies, and procedures were adopted by the faculty for current graduate students in industrial and systems engineering (ISE) for successful completion of graduate degrees. Students should be aware that the requirements provided here represent minimum requirements for ISE - it is imperative that you consult your advisor before taking classes since the ultimate approval for your course selection rests with the faculty. Additional information concerning graduate school requirements may be found in the Graduate Policies and Procedures and Course Catalog from Virginia Tech.

If there is any doubt regarding the interpretation of any regulation or requirement in this manual, or if there are questions about the graduate program involving matters not covered in this manual, please consult the ISE Graduate Program Director, Dr. Maury Nussbaum, or the ISE Graduate Program Coordinator, Hannah Parks. It is each individual student’s responsibility to be familiar with all university policies, procedures, and requirements

The provisions of this web page do not constitute a contract, expressed or implied, between any applicant or student and the ISE Department or Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The university and the ISE Department reserve the right to change any of the provisions, schedules, programs, courses, rules, regulations, or fees whenever university or departmental authorities deem it expedient to do so.

The graduate program is administered by the Graduate Policy Committee (GPC), which is also charged with the responsibility for resolving conflicts that may arise regarding policy or procedural issues. The director of the ISE graduate program chairs the GPC. In addition to chairing the GPC, the director of the graduate program is responsible for implementation of requirements, policies, and procedures adopted by the ISE faculty. The director of the graduate program and members of the GPC are appointed by the ISE department head.  The ISE Graduate Admissions Committee (GAC) makes all admission decisions. The GAC also assigns incoming graduate students to a temporary advisor in their primary interest area.

The graduate program coordinator serves as the assistant to the director of the graduate program, maintains the graduate program, is the source of information on the graduate program including but not limited to forms for carrying out graduate program and Graduate School requirements, course registration, grade changes, and other procedures relating to the graduate program.

The current administrative staff for the ISE graduate program includes the following.

Director of the Graduate Program and Chairman of the Graduate Policy Committee: Maury Nussbaum [Email]

Graduate Program Coordinator: Hannah Parks [Email]

Academic Advisor for Off-Campus Graduate Programs: Paula Van Curen [Email]

The ISE Department has limited financial assistance available for qualified graduate students in the form of graduate teaching assistantships (GTA) and graduate research assistantships (GRA). Grado, Pratt, NIOSH, Davenport, and Cunningham Fellowships are also available through the ISE department, college of engineering and the Graduate School. The monthly stipend for GTAs and GRAs varies depending on the nature of the assistantship and the graduate level of the student. All assistantships carry a waiver of tuition, except those awarded during summer terms. The student is responsible for comprehensive and other fees (visit the University Bursar website for current fees).

All financial assistance is awarded on a competitive basis, with awards being made to the most qualified students based on merit. GTAs are awarded by the GPC and specific course assignments are made by departmental administration based on teaching needs. A student who is awarded a full-time GTA is obligated for 20 hours of work per week throughout the semester for which the award applies. Typically, a GTA is assigned to a member of the ISE faculty to assist in teaching a course. GRA awards are made to support research projects that are supervised by ISE faculty. Hence, the principal investigator for the research project from which the funding comes awards the GRA. A student receiving a GRA is expected to work 20 hours per week during the semester for which the award applies, the duties being assigned by the principal investigator. In a similar manner, the duties of a student on a fellowship depend on the particular fellowship and are not covered in this manual.

Students holding a full GTA or GRA must carry a course load of at least 12 credit hours per semester, and not more than 18 hours. Students holding less than full GTAs or GRAs receive a proportionally smaller stipend and reduced tuition waiver and carry a proportionally lower workload. However, all students on assistantship must be registered for a minimum of 12 hours per semester.

Graduate Research Assistant (GRA). Graduate research assistants are graduate students conducting academically significant research under the direction of a regular faculty member, who is generally a principal investigator on an external grant or contract.

Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA). Graduate teaching assistants may assist faculty in teaching lower division courses, including laboratory teaching assignments, or in providing other appropriate professional assistance. First year GTAs with no prior teaching experience will not be assigned full responsibility for lecture courses. In ISE, it is unusual for a GTA to be assigned full course responsibility.

GTA support depends on the number of positions available and the number of applications for these positions. Graduate student applications for GTA support are invited prior to the start of each academic year. The ISE Graduate Policy Committee reviews these applications and awards GTAs based on the following criteria: a) degree program (Ph.D. students have higher priority than M.S. students); b) academic performance, progress (through program milestones), and productivity (e.g., journal and conference papers); and c) performance of prior GTA duties (if applicable). Ph.D. students who have had GTA support for eight or more academic-year semesters, or have been in the doctoral program for five or more years, will have a reduced priority for support.

A student may give up a GTA in favor of a GRA up to one month (30 days) before the start of semester classes. Beyond that point in time a GTA may be vacated in favor of a GRA only with the consent of the instructor of the course to which the GTA is assigned and the department head. In the event of a GTA to GRA change, the instructor of the course will work with the GPC to determine the replacement.

A student must maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better for all courses taken while in graduate school at Virginia Tech and for all courses transferred for graduate credit at Virginia Tech. At the end of each semester the GPC reviews the progress of each ISE graduate student. Any student with a cumulative grade point average below 3.0 for their last semester of graduate work will be placed on academic probation and may be required to appear before this committee. The purpose of this appearance is to discover the source of the difficulties evidenced by unsatisfactory progress and to outline avenues that the student should pursue to improve their performance. In accordance with Graduate School and ISE departmental policy, any student who fails to meet these requirements in two successive semesters will typically be dismissed from the ISE graduate program.

Academic integrity is essential for maintaining the quality of scholarship in the department and for protecting those who depend on the results of research work performed by faculty and students in the department. The faculty of the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering expects all students to maintain academic integrity at all times in the classroom and the research laboratory and to conduct their academic work in accordance with the high ethical standards of the engineering profession. Students are expected to maintain academic integrity by refraining from academic dishonesty, and conduct that aids others in academic dishonesty or that leads to suspicion of academic dishonesty. Violations of academic integrity will result in disciplinary actions ranging from failing grades on assignments and courses to probation, suspension, or dismissal from the university.

The Graduate Honor Code establishes a standard of academic integrity. As such, this code demands a firm adherence to a set of values. In particular, the code is founded on the concept of honesty with respect to the intellectual efforts of oneself and others. Compliance with the Graduate Honor Code requires that all graduate students exercise honesty and ethical behavior in all their academic pursuits at Virginia Tech, whether these undertakings pertain to study, course work, research, extension, or teaching.  Details on the Graduate Honor Code can be found at the Virginia Tech Graduate School website.

It is recognized that graduate student population is very culturally diverse. In light of this, the term ethical behavior is defined as conforming to accepted professional standards of conduct, such as codes of ethics used by professional societies in the United States to regulate the manner in which their professions are practiced. The knowledge and practice of ethical behavior shall be the full responsibility of the student. Graduate students may, however, consult with their advisors, department heads, the Cranwell International Center, or the Graduate School for further information on what is expected of them.

More specifically, all graduate students, while being affiliated with Virginia Tech, shall abide by the standards established by Virginia Tech, as these are described in the Graduate Honor System Constitution. Graduate students, in accepting admission, indicate their willingness to subscribe to and be governed by the Graduate Honor Code and acknowledge the right of the university to establish policies and procedures and to take disciplinary action (including suspension or expulsion) when such action is warranted. Ignorance shall be no excuse for actions that violate the integrity of the academic community.

Graduate Degree Requirements

Students pursuing a graduate degree in the ISE department must satisfy the requirements of the Graduate School, the ISE Department, and, where appropriate, specified track requirements. It is the responsibility of each student to know the requirements. Listed in this section are departmental requirements that apply to all ISE graduate curricula. Depending on each student’s plan of study there may be more stringent requirements. For a discussion of general Graduate School requirements, the reader should consult the graduate catalog.

The first step in defining the plan of study is the selection of a graduate advisor. MEA and SYSE masters students are assigned to the director of the MEA and SYSE program. Incoming students are assigned a temporary advisor in their general area of interest. For those pursuing a M.S. with thesis or Ph.D. the student should quickly move to determine an appropriate research advisor. In any event, a student’s advisor or co-advisor must be a member of the ISE tenure/tenure track faculty and should have particular expertise in the area of research the student intends to pursue. In all cases, the faculty member must give their consent to serve in the capacity of graduate advisor.

A graduate advisory committee is required for all MS degrees and for the PhD. The graduate advisor serves as the chair of the student’s graduate advisory committee and the student should seek the assistance of their advisor in identifying faculty who might serve on the committee. The committee should be composed of those faculty members who can best assist the student in completing their graduate degree. Each member is added to the student’s committee after consenting to serve.

MS advisory committees must include a minimum of three members, at least 2/3 of which must be Virginia Tech tenured or tenure-track faculty (as per Graduate School requirements). An additional departmental-level requirement is that at least two of the members must be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the ISE department (this counts as part of the 2/3 Graduate School requirement). Having a member outside of the ISE department or even outside of Virginia Tech is also encouraged.

PhD advisory committees must include a minimum of four members, at least 2/3 of which must be Virginia Tech tenured or tenure-track faculty (as per Graduate School requirements). An additional departmental-level requirement is that at least two of the members must be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the ISE department (this counts as part of the 2/3 Graduate School requirement). Having a member outside of the ISE department or even outside of Virginia Tech is also encouraged. PhD students are strongly encouraged to identify an advisor by the end of their first year in the program, as this allows them to start their research soon and better achieve the remaining program milestones (as described below).

Committee members are expected to attend meetings as a collective body. Under unusual circumstances a member of the committee may attend a meeting by video or telephone connection. However, the student’s advisor must be physically present at all such meetings. Faculty participation on graduate student committees is considered to be an important part of ISE faculty responsibilities. To this end, ISE faculty are expected to attend all committee meetings for graduate students they advise or on whose committees they serve. In addition, university policies require all members attend a student’s final thesis or dissertation defense.

After identifying a graduate advisor and graduate committee, a student defines their plan of study in consultation with their advisor. The courses listed on the plan of study must include, but are not limited to, all courses required for the degree pursued. A plan of study is required of all students pursuing graduate degrees at Virginia Tech and contains the elements below.

  1. List of courses to be completed in the course of degree completion, including the semester and year in which each will be taken.
  2. The names and signatures of each member of the student’s graduate advisory committee.

For students pursuing a M.S. or M.E.A. degree, the plan of study must be completed and submitted prior to the completion of 24 credit hours or by the end of the second semester of full time enrollment in their graduate program. For students pursuing a doctorate the plan of study must be submitted prior to the completion of 36 credit hours or by the end of the third semester of full time enrollment in their graduate program.

All ISE graduate students must also take ISE 5024, ISE Seminar. This seminar is taken the first fall semester of enrollment in the graduate program (it is offered only in the fall term) and is focused on the ISE graduate program, ethics and integrity, faculty, and faculty research areas.

The Graduate School has rules on transfer credit. Consult the graduate catalog for these rules.

The ISE department has rules on transfer credit (beyond the Graduate School rules). Transfer courses may not exceed one-half of graded course credit hours on a plan of study and must be graduate course hours earned at an accredited institution. All transfer courses must have a grade of B or better to be considered for transfer credit. When appropriate, these transfer credits can be used to substitute for required courses if approved by the appropriate course instructor, graduate advisor, and the ISE graduate program director.

Students who have completed a master’s degree at another university may be required to take master’s level courses in those areas where deficiencies are identified. Where deficiencies are identified, the student’s advisory committee will recommend appropriate courses to be included on the plan of study and taken by the student prior to degree completion. Normally, but not in all cases, such courses will carry graduate credit.

In addition to a listing of courses to be taken, the student should write a justification for the inclusion of each member of the committee stating the qualifications each member brings relative to the student’s research effort. The committee justification should be attached to the plan of study. The plan of study approval process includes review and signed approval by the student’s advisor, graduate committee members, and director of the graduate program. The plan of study is submitted to the ISE Graduate Program Office for electronic approval by the graduate program coordinator and the Graduate School.

For M.S. students, the question often arises as to which path to choose. Each area of study may have a different focus in this regard; however there are some general guidelines students should consider.

Thesis Pro: A thesis provides a formal experience with research and good preparation for pursuit of a PhD, and faculty may see this experience as a positive if you apply to enter a PhD program. A thesis may be valued by future employers, depending on the field of study.

Thesis Con: You will generally invest at least one summer working on your research, which requires additional tuition investment. The time and effort you put in may not result in a commensurate financial reward on the job. Finally, the ending time of a thesis is uncertain and will most assuredly take a bit longer than the non-thesis route.

In the course of completing their graduate program, students are required to sequentially complete several milestones and to meet periodically with their graduate advisory committee. These milestones and associated committee meetings are listed below, though additional meetings can be held as needed. As noted earlier (see “Advisory Committee”), committee members are expected to attend all required meetings as a collective body.

  1. Preliminary examination (Ph.D. Only)
  2. Research Proposal (for MS thesis & PhD students)
  3. Progress Report (for MS thesis & PhD students)
  4. Final Examination Defense (for MS thesis & PhD students)

A note regarding ISE Policy: Students, or anyone on their behalf, are strictly forbidden from bringing food or drink to student evaluation meetings (e.g., graduate student progress meetings, proposal defenses, prelim defenses, final defenses, etc.)

Preliminary Examination (Ph.D. Only). The oral portion of the preliminary examination is a requirement of the Graduate School and must be successfully completed by all Ph.D. students. The Graduate School requires this to be completed at least six months prior to completing the Ph.D. degree (final defense of the dissertation). The ISE department expects the Preliminary Examination to be completed before the end of a student’s 5th semester in the graduate program. It is expected that the student will complete all (or the vast majority) of their coursework prior to beginning the preliminary examination.

The examination includes both written and oral parts for ISE Ph.D. students. The intent of the examination is to establish that the student is qualified to pursue creative, original, independent research at a level expected of Ph.D. students. This examination is an essential demonstration of 
a student’s ability to successfully complete his or her Ph.D. Questions can cover any aspect of ISE study desired by the committee so adequate preparation for the examination is critical for success. ISE faculty considers this a major milestone and decision point for both students and faculty regarding the appropriateness of a student continuing in the program.

The written portion of the examination requires two weeks for completion. The oral portion of the examination is administered at least two weeks after completion of the written portion and must be scheduled through the Graduate School. Students must be registered during the semester the oral portion of the examination is taken and may not schedule the preliminary examination until they have a plan of study that has met final approval by the Graduate School. The oral preliminary examination must be scheduled through the Graduate School at least two weeks prior to the date the exam will be held. The exam is scheduled online using the Graduate School’s electronic scheduling and signature system (ESS).

Graduate School policy states, “Requests to schedule examinations must include the time, date, building and room number, title of dissertation or thesis, and the names and email addresses of the Examining Committee. These requests are due in the Graduate School at least two weeks before the examination date requested.”

Committee members will have up to 3 days to approve the online examination/evaluation scheduling request from the time the request is submitted by the student. If the online scheduling request form is not approved by all committee members in the Electronic Signature System in this time frame, the committee, student, and academic unit administrative contacts will be notified that the examination/evaluation request will be cancelled and will need to be rescheduled.

As a reminder, no examination or evaluation should be conducted if the committee has not received electronic notification from the Graduate School that the examination/evaluation has been officially scheduled. Please contact the Graduate School at least two days prior to a requested examination/evaluation date if you have not received the official notification of scheduling.

Graduate School policies on scheduling examinations/evaluations can be found in the Graduate Catalog (http://graduateschool.vt.edu/graduate_catalog/policies.htm?policy=002d14432c654287012c6542e3630013).

The preliminary examination is to be solely the work of the Ph.D. candidate. No outside assistance is allowed, including no proofreaders or writing assistance. To do otherwise will be considered a violation of the honor code.

The student’s advisory committee administers the preliminary examination and one negative vote by a committee member is permitted for successful completion of the examination. All members of the student’s advisory committee must attend the oral portion of the examination. If performance on the preliminary examination is unsatisfactory, one full semester must lapse (15 weeks) before the examination is administered a second time. Students failing the preliminary examination twice will be dismissed from the program. The result of the examination is recorded in the ESS system. Each member of the student’s advisory committee must approve the exam result in the ESS system. Advisory committees reserve the right to alter a plan of study based on performance on the preliminary exam.

Research Proposal (for M.S. thesis & Ph.D. students). Students pursuing a thesis M.S. or Ph.D. are required to complete research in the course of graduate study. Note that the ISE Department expects the Ph.D. proposal to be defended successfully before the end of the student’s 3rd year in the graduate program. Further, it is expected that the M.S. and Ph.D. research will be proposed to the committee before substantial aspects of the work are completed. To initiate the research effort, the student is required to prepare a research proposal that describes the content of the research, the outcome anticipated, the contribution to the field of endeavor, and the creative content of the effort. This proposal must be in written form and must be presented to his or her advisory committee at a meeting where all committee members are present. The signatures of each committee member on the proposal approval form signify approval of the proposed research effort. This form is submitted to the ISE Graduate Program Office upon completion..

The nature and level of the research effort depends on the degree sought. Thesis research leading to the M.S. degree is, in general, applied but should represent an original contribution to the student’s field of interest. A student pursuing a Ph.D. degree should demonstrate, through the dissertation, the ability to carry out original and creative research. The results of the research should be sufficiently significant to be publishable in a major technical journal. The writing style, grammar, and spelling of the thesis or dissertation should reflect a high level of skill in written communication.

Progress Meeting (for M.S. thesis & Ph.D. students). Between the research proposal and the final examination each student is required to provide a summary of progress to their advisory committee at a progress meeting. This meeting is expected to be held before the majority of the M.S. or Ph.D. research is completed. The advisory committee signs the progress report form and this form is submitted to the ISE Graduate Program Office upon completion.

Final Examination - Defense. (for M.S. thesis and Ph.D. students). All graduate students pursuing an M.S. thesis or Ph.D. degree are required to pass a final examination or defense. For students pursuing a Ph.D. or a thesis M.S. this is an oral examination and is administered by the advisory committee. The examination is also a requirement of the Graduate School and must be administered during a semester in which the student is registered. Note that the ISE Department expects Ph.D. students to defend their dissertation successfully within four years after enrolling in the graduate program. The Department requires that the written dissertation or thesis be submitted to the committee at least two weeks prior to the examination.

Graduate School policy states, “Requests to schedule final examinations must include the time, date, building and room number, title of dissertation or thesis, and the names and email addresses of the Examining Committee. These requests are due in the Graduate School at least two weeks before the examination date requested.”

Committee members will have up to 3 days to approve the online examination/evaluation scheduling request from the time the request is submitted by the student. If the online scheduling request form is not approved by all committee members in the Electronic Signature System in this time frame, the committee, student, and academic unit administrative contacts will be notified that the examination/evaluation request will be cancelled and will need to be rescheduled.

Approval of a final examination request indicates that the committee member has received and read the thesis or dissertation document and agrees that the document is ready for defense. This means that no additional work including additional data collection and/or analysis is needed, only minor edits to the document after the defense as may be necessary.

As a reminder, no examination or evaluation should be conducted if the committee has not received electronic notification from the Graduate School that the examination/evaluation has been officially scheduled. Please contact the Graduate School at least two days prior to a requested examination/evaluation date if you have not received the official notification of scheduling.

Graduate School policies on scheduling examinations/evaluations can be found in the Graduate Catalog (http://graduateschool.vt.edu/graduate_catalog/policies.htm?policy=002d14432c654287012c6542e3630013).

The exam is scheduled online using the Graduate School’s electronic scheduling and signature system (ESS) (https://ess.graduateschool.vt.edu/pages/login.php).

To pass the final examination, a degree candidate must have a favorable vote from a majority of the examining committee, with a maximum of one negative vote. If a student fails the final examination, there must be a lapse of one full semester (15 weeks) before rescheduling the examination. A student is allowed no more than two opportunities to pass the final examination.

The result of the examination is recorded in the ESS system. Each member of the student’s advisory committee must approve the exam result in the ESS system.

Final Examination. (for M.S. non-thesis students). All graduate students pursuing an M.S. nonthesis are required to schedule a final examination with the Graduate School. There is no examination for the ISE or SYSE non-thesis M.S. degrees. The examination is a requirement of the Graduate School and must be scheduled during a semester in which the student is registered. This is normally done in the student’s final semester of enrollment in the graduate program.

Graduate School policy states, “Requests to schedule final examinations must include the time, date, building and room number, and the names and email addresses of the Examining Committee. These requests are due in the Graduate School at least two weeks before the examination date requested.” The ISE Graduate Program Office will email instructions for date, time, building, and room number early in each semester.

Committee members will have up to 3 days to approve the online examination/evaluation scheduling request from the time the request is submitted by the student. If the online scheduling request form is not approved by all committee members in the Electronic Signature System in this time frame, the committee, student, and academic unit administrative contacts will be notified that the examination/evaluation request will be cancelled and will need to be rescheduled.

Approval of a final examination request indicates that the committee member has received and read the thesis or dissertation document and agrees that the document is ready for defense. This means that no additional work including additional data collection and/or analysis is needed, only minor edits to the document after the defense as may be necessary.

As a reminder, no examination or evaluation should be conducted if the committee has not received electronic notification from the Graduate School that the examination/evaluation has been officially scheduled. Please contact the Graduate School at least two days prior to a requested examination/evaluation date if you have not received the official notification of scheduling.

Graduate School policies on scheduling examinations/evaluations can be found in the Graduate Catalog (http://graduateschool.vt.edu/graduate_catalog/policies.htm?policy=002d14432c654287012c6542e3630013).

The exam is scheduled online using the Graduate School’s electronic scheduling and signature system (ESS) (https://ess.graduateschool.vt.edu/pages/login.php).

To pass the final examination, a degree candidate must have a favorable vote from a majority of the examining committee, with a maximum of one negative vote. If a student fails the final examination, there must be a lapse of one full semester (15 weeks) before rescheduling the examination. A student is allowed no more than two opportunities to pass the final examination.

The result of the examination is recorded in the ESS system. Each member of the student’s advisory committee must approve the exam result in the ESS system.

The thesis (M.S.) or dissertation (Ph.D.) must be submitted to the student’s advisory committee at least two weeks prior to the final examination. The thesis or dissertation must be approved by all members of a student’s advisory committee, usually upon successful completion of the final examination. If a committee member does not approve the thesis or dissertation, upon the faculty member’s request, a written dissenting opinion can be bound with the final document. A successful candidate is allowed a maximum of one negative vote.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines a dissertation as “a formal and lengthy discourse or treatise on some subject, esp. one based on original research and written in partial fulfillment of requirements for a doctorate,” but it is much more than that. It is the final product representing the research efforts of the PhD candidate. It is an independent work, guided by a faculty research mentor. It must contribute to the body of knowledge in the specific, narrow research area the candidate and his or her research advisor have selected. Peers in the field, represented by a student’s research committee, evaluate the dissertation. Candidates should expect a rigorous examination, both at the proposal and the defense stage, from the committee. The final defense is so called because the candidate must successfully provide a defense of each step of their research; their topic, their methods, their analysis, and their results. For many students this represents the most comprehensive piece of research they will undertake.

Each Ph.D. student is required to prepare a paper suitable for publication in an appropriate archival journal. The paper must be based on results achieved in the course of dissertation research. The paper should be submitted to the student’s advisory committee at, or before, the final examination. In addition, each Ph.D. student must prepare and present an open seminar on their research as a requirement for degree completion. Scheduling this is done in cooperation with the advisor.

Theses and dissertations must be filed electronically with the Graduate School through the Graduate School’s electronic scheduling and signature system (ESS). The approval of the ETD is recorded in the ESS system. Each member of the student’s advisory committee must approve the ETD in the ESS system.

For information on thesis and dissertation preparation, formatting and electronic submission, please visit the About ETDs for VT Authors and Advisors page.

The student, advisor, committee members, and the ISE Graduate Program Director are notified once the ETD process is complete.

Students in the master’s program who wish to remain in the ISE department to pursue a Ph.D. degree apply to the Ph.D. program. They must make their intention known by submitting a formal application to the Graduate School. One of the three required recommendation letters for the application must be from a faculty member willing to serve as at least the initial Ph.D. advisor. The graduate admissions committee will review the student’s academic performance and a decision on admission to the Ph.D. program will be made upon completion of the review. If accepted the student will be officially notified by the Graduate School.