Ph.D. Student Handbook

Ph.D. Program General Information

The Penn Bioengineering Graduate Group offers students a broad education that enables them to work, develop, and lead in bioengineering practice and research within either traditional engineering and research environments, or in non-traditional multidisciplinary environments at the interface between engineering and a diversity of fields, including medicine, the life sciences, business, and law.

Graduate Policies:

Registration/Leave of Absence

How to Register

Students should register during Advance Registration and during the course selection period. Dates for advance registration for the Spring and Fall semester can be found on the University Academic Calendar. PhD students do not enroll in the summer.

Course Load Requirements

All students enrolled in a degree program are required to be continuously registered. Three or four graduate course units (CUs) per semester (including dissertation research, such as BE 9990) is considered to be a normal, full-time load for all students. Students must consult with the Graduate Group Chair if a deviation from the normal load is contemplated.

Part-time students usually take one or, at most, two courses per semester.

BE 9990 is the course number assigned to dissertation research. Section numbers for BE 9990 are assigned according to each advisor’s name. The section numbers for BE 9990 are found through Path@Penn registration system. Up to 3 units of this course may be taken simultaneously.  Only grades of “S” (satisfactory), “U” (unsatisfactory) or “I” (incomplete) can be earned in this course.

Changes in Registration/Leave of Absence

Continuous registration as a graduate student is required unless a formal leave of absence is granted. All students who desire a leave of absence must submit a request to the Graduate Group Chair. The petition for leave of absence is done by filling out the Petition for Action form for graduate students.

Students may add or drop courses without penalty in any semester if it is done by the deadline. The student should discuss all changes in registration with his/her advisor and receive approval before making any changes. Approval should be communicated via email to the Graduate Program Coordinator before making any changes to the registration.

Policy on Childbirth and Adoption Accommodation for Ph.D. Students

A student in the PhD program at Penn is eligible for a “Time Off” period of eight weeks for the birth or adoption of a child. The student must notify the graduate group chair and Advisor/Supervisor in writing, at an early date, of his/her plans to initiate a “Time Off” period, so that appropriate arrangements can be made to cover any teaching/research responsibilities.

Normally the “Time Off” period commences within two weeks of the birth or adoption. During the “Time Off” period, the student remains enrolled full-time. In order to facilitate a rapid return, s/he may participate in the program as fully as s/he deems appropriate. By remaining on full-time status, student visa status and loan repayment schedules, if any, will remain unchanged. The student is entitled to academic accommodation including relief from academic requirements, such as postponement of exams and course requirements. A student receiving stipend support is entitled to continuation of support during the “Time Off” period as follows:

  1. Students receiving stipends from University/school funds are entitled to draw support for eight weeks during the academic year.
  2. Students funded by government grants or other external funding sources are entitled to benefits as determined by the funding agency.

Family Leave of Absence Policy

A student in the PhD program at Penn may take an unpaid Family Leave of Absence for the birth or adoption of a child, child care, or care of an immediate family member (spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent) with a serious health condition.

Students may take a Family Leave of Absence for one or two semesters. The student is expected to notify the graduate group chair and adviser in writing of his/her plans to take a Family Leave at an early date, so that appropriate arrangements can be made to cover any teaching/research responsibilities. Family Leave “stops the clock” on the student’s academic requirements, including service requirements, for the duration of the leave.

During the period of Family Leave, the student may arrange to continue Student Health Insurance, but is responsible for the payment of his or her own premiums. Upon paying a fee, students on approved Family Leave will retain their PennCard, e-mail accounts, library privileges, and building access. Funding commitments from the institution are deferred until the student returns from Family Leave.

Students receiving funding from external sources, such as government grants, are subject to the conditions established by the funding source. Service requirements (e.g., teaching, research) will be met by the student following return from Family Leave.

Requests for extension of Family Leave beyond one year, or for repeated Family Leaves, may be made. Approval of an extension, deferral of funding, and continued academic accommodation is at the discretion of the Graduate Dean.

Grades, Credits, and Academic Standing

Grading System

The grading system for graduate courses is A+ through F. If a student receives an F, the course must be taken again; however, the F remains on the student’s record. Courses for which a passing grade was obtained cannot be taken again for credit.

GPA Requirement

Doctoral students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science are expected to maintain at least a B average (3.0) in their work. A student whose record falls below a minimum of a B average will be put on academic probation and may be required to withdraw.

Graduation GPA Requirement

Graduation requires a minimum of a B average (exclusive of dissertation credits). Requirements cannot be satisfied by auditing courses or receiving an incomplete (I) grade.

Policy on Transfer Credits Earned in Other Institutions

A maximum of nine graduate-level course units taken at another university may be accepted provided that the grade received in each course was at least a B and did not count toward an undergraduate degree. All transfer credits are subject to approval by the Graduate Group Chair and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. The student who wishes such credit transfer must complete and submit a “Transfer of Credit Petition” form.

Attach a copy of the complete transcript to the transfer of credit petition. Submit the petition and information to the Graduate Group Chair. In order to obtain credit for courses taken at other institutions the following procedure must be followed:

  • For each transfer course, obtain the course description and the title of the textbook prescribed for the course.
  • Identify a professor who teaches a similar course at Penn. If a similar course is not offered at Penn, identify a professor whose areas of expertise are in the general area of the course to be transferred. The professor should certify that the course is of similar level to a graduate course offered at Penn or, if a similar course is not offered at Penn, that the course qualifies for Penn students to take if it were offered here.

*Please note that a student may not receive credit for a course taken at the undergraduate level if that course counted toward an undergraduate degree.

Vacation policy

In addition to University holidays, the Bioengineering Graduate Group supports students taking additional vacation time. Students should coordinate their time-off with their advisors.

Visit the Provost’s website for more policies affecting graduate students. All Academic Forms including the Petition for Action, Transfer of Credit and Transfer of Graduate Group and the Application for Graduation can be found here.