Johns Hopkins University Doctor of Engineering students are collaboratively advised by JHU Engineering Faculty as well as a co-advisor at the students’ place of employment. In this document we lay out the responsibilities for serving as a co-advisor supplementing information that can be found here.

Many working professionals earn an engineering master’s degree via part-time study outside their normal working hours. Because of the complexity and depth of doctoral work, this model is not feasible. Therefore, DEng projects should be of importance and relevance to employers so that working on the DEng degree is fully compatible with employment duties.

The co-advisor is a member of the student’s supervisory committee; this includes service on the various milestone examinations (described below). The co-advisor is also a local resource for the student who can help with questions and engage the student in discussions about their work.

Perhaps the most important duty for the co-advisor is to serve as the student’s advocate at their place of employment. Ideally, all of the student’s work time will be devoted to their DEng studies; that is why the student’s research project must be highly relevant to their employer’s mission. However, we realize that 100% focus on DEng work might not be feasible. We rely on the co-advisor to ensure that other employment duties do not squeeze out the student’s focus on their work toward the degree.

Program Philosophy

The JHU Doctor of Engineering stands in parallel to our Doctor of Philosophy. Both the PhD and the DEng degree programs culminate in high-end, original, creative work done under the close mentorship of a faculty advisor. This work is ultimately presented and defended in a public forum.

However, there are some practical and philosophical differences between these degree programs.

The PhD program is designed for developing the next generation of scholars. While many of our PhD students will go on to non-academic careers, the PhD training and requirements are aimed at training future professors. By contrast, the goal of the DEng is to advance working engineers to be creative technical leaders.

PhD students are typically young; many come to us directly from their undergraduate studies. We expect them to spend around 5 years on campus, and the first year or two is spent getting up to speed for research. On the other hand, DEng students are mid-career professionals for whom spending years on campus is utterly impractical.

For PhD students, financial support and project selection are the responsibility of their faculty mentors. However, we expect DEng students to propose projects that are financially supported by their employers.

Summarizing: Doctor of Engineering students are full-time, non-residential students that are supported by their employers. Their doctoral projects are of importance and interest to their company/agency.

Who May Serve as Co-Advisor?

DEng students are supported by a three-person supervisory committee consisting of a primary advisor who is a JHU Engineering faculty member, a co-advisor from their home company/agency, and a third JHU faculty member who serves as an examiner on milestone exams and provides light additional advising.

The co-advisor is from the student’s home company/agency. The co-advisor serves on the student’s examination panels and provides additional on-site mentoring of the student’s program. The co-advisor is identified at the time of application and is subject to the approval of the Doctor of Engineering Oversight Committee. Typically, this individual has demonstrated experience in research (as evidenced by publications and/or patents) and has a doctoral degree.

Because of their service on students’ examination panels, co-advisors are strongly encouraged to attend the semi-annual Doctor of Engineering conferences (see below).

Educational Objectives

There are three overarching educational objectives for DEng students, the:

  • Ability to acquire new, advanced knowledge
  • Ability to formulate a research problem/program
  • Execution of the proposed research

These objectives are assessed by three milestone examinations, respectively:

  • Preliminary examination
  • Proposal presentation and examination
  • Project defense

These are described in further detail in the next two sections.

The First Year (Diagnostic Interview and milestone exams #1 and #2)

Doctor of Engineering students are expected to come to Baltimore twice each year, in January and June (see Semiannual Doctor of Engineering Conference below). DEng students may begin their program at either time, but for the sake of this description, we imagine a June start.

DEng students begin their program in June with an extended, in-person meeting with their advisor. This meeting is called the Diagnostic Interview. The student and advisor discuss the proposed project and identify new material for the student to learn (roughly equivalent to two graduate-level courses). This new material should be relevant to the proposed research, especially to guide the student to fill in background material that the advisor anticipates will be needed. Together, the advisor and student lay out a syllabus of study for the coming months. (The syllabus is then approved by the student’s three-person supervisory committee.)

During the following months, the student works to learn the material on the syllabus. This may be done through online courses (such as those offered by our Engineering for Professionals program) or guided independent reading. The advisor and co-advisor are available to the student to answer questions and, if need be, revise the syllabus.

At the next Doctor of Engineering Conference (in January) the student is examined on the syllabus developed in the Diagnostic Interview. This Preliminary Examination (conducted during a DEng Conference) is administered by the student’s supervisory committee. The format of the exam may be either written or oral at the discretion of the supervisory committee.

After successfully completing the Preliminary Exam, the student spends the next six months refining the basic proposal in the application into a robust, more specific written research proposal. At the end of the first year (second June DEng conference), the student stands for the Proposal Presentation and Examination. This is an oral exam is conducted by the supervisory committee plus two additional JHU faculty members. The first portion of the examination is a presentation of the research proposal. This portion of the exam is a public presentation of the research proposal (and other DEng students are encouraged to attend). This is followed by an examination by the five-member panel to assess the student’s readiness to engage in the proposed research.

The Project and Defense (Final milestone exam)

Upon successful completion of the Proposal Presentation and Examination, the student works in earnest to execute the research. Of course, the scope and direction of the research may deviate from the plan originally presented.

Once the advisor and co-advisor deem the student’s research to be sufficient for the degree, the student presents their research at a public defense conducted by the student’s three-person supervisory committee.

PhD students typically report and archive the fruits of their research by writing a dissertation. DEng students may do likewise, but we allow greater latitude in this case. The DEng project must include a written description of the key results, but then may be evidenced by a portfolio including such items as:

  • Prototypes
  • Animations or simulations
  • Computer code
  • Journal paper submissions
  • Invention disclosures/patent applications

Taken together, the portfolio is used to evaluate the depth and quality of the student’s work. The design of the portfolio (what is included) is subject to the approval of the student’s advisor and co-advisor.

Note that the portfolio, as well as its defense, must be public. That is, neither classified nor otherwise restricted material may be used. However, it is reasonable that the student’s project may support a proprietary or classified application at the student’s home company/agency. Nevertheless, it must be possible for the student to demonstrate their accomplishments in a fully open setting.

Semiannual Doctor of Engineering Conference

DEng students are nonresidential and therefore have little opportunity to interact with each other. However, they are expected to come to Baltimore for semi-annual Doctor of Engineering Conferences in June and January. As described earlier, the various milestone examinations take place during these conferences. DEng students are encouraged to attend public portions of each other’s oral examinations (proposal and project defenses).

In addition, the conferences provide opportunities for social networking among the students as well as professional development programming.

Co-advisors are strongly encouraged to attend these conferences. Dates for the conferences will be posted on the Doctor of Engineering website: engineering.jhu.edu/doctor-of-engineering.


Feel free to contact Ashutosh Dutta (chair of the DEng program) or Mia Brooms (graduate academic & DEng program administrator).