Degree Requirements

Course Requirements MS PhD

The Robotics Masters (MS) degree program requires completion of 30 credits of letter-graded coursework including directed study for 3 to 6 credits.  PhD programs have very similar course requirements.  PhD students earn a Masters degree as part of their PhD program.  To complete the PhD, students will typically complete a minimum of 6 additional credits to satisfy specific course requirements.  The Rackham Residency requirement states that at least 18 of the 36 course credits required for a PhD be earned at the University of Michigan, for those entering with MS degrees from other institutions.

The robotics program classifies most of its courses as belonging to one of three core subdisciplines:

  • Sensing – Includes computer vision, mapping, signal processing.
  • Reasoning – Includes planning, multi-agent coordination, machine learning, artificial intelligence.
  • Acting – Includes control, kinematics, dynamics, mechanical, bio-mechanical systems design, manipulation, real-time systems.

The following table summarizes robotics program course requirements.   The “Other Electives” course set is quite general and should be discussed with a student’s advisor and documented on the student’s course plan.  Some suggested math and robotics courses hosted in traditional departments are listed here.

Course / CategoryDescriptionRequirement
ROB 501Math for Robotics3 credits
ROB 550Robotic Systems Laboratory4 credits
BreadthOne course from each core area:  sensing, reasoning, acting3 courses (9+ credits)
DepthAt least one additional course taken from at least one of the three core areas3 credits
Cognate (for students admitted before Fall 2018) One technical course from outside your Depth core area.  Note that the cognate CANNOT double-count for a Breadth course.4 credits
Directed Study Research supervised by a robotics faculty member.
(See ROB 590: Directed Study below)
3 credits required
Other Electives 400 level or higher (approved by a faculty advisor)3+ credits

1st Year Students MS PhD

All first-year MS and PhD robotics students are advised to take three courses in the first (fall) semester:  Math for Robotics (ROB 501), Robotic Systems Laboratory (ROB 550), plus a third course related to their primary area of interest.  In the second term, students are advised to take two courses, e.g., from other breadth areas, plus a directed study course. 

Each student is strongly encouraged to meet with his/her research advisor or the graduate chair soon after arrival on campus to discuss course options. The goal of this meeting is to develop a course plan that satisfies course requirements and student interests.  It is expected that each student will identify and meet with a (directed study) research advisor by the beginning of their second term.

ROB 590: Directed Study

A minimum of 3 credits (and a maximum of 6 credits) of ROB 590 is required to fulfill the Robotics MS degree requirements. A ROB 590 directed study project is research supervised by a robotics faculty member (core or affiliate) and the directed study project requirements are up to each individual faculty advisor.

At this time, the Robotics Grad Office does not have a list of faculty who are looking for students to work on a project. It is up to each student to seek out faculty with whom they are interested in working.

If you are seeking ROB 590 credit for MDP, approval is required from the grad committee: please email

ROB 690: Master’s Advanced Research

Beginning with Fall 2019 term we are introducing ROB 690 “Master’s Advanced Research”. ROB 690 is faculty-supervised research that culminates in a submitted and graded document. The expectation is that the student will write and submit an original conference style paper based on their advanced research that builds on earlier research completed in three to six credits of ROB 590. Specific expectations are determined determined by the research advisor. ROB 690 will be letter graded (not S/U).

There are 2 different registration options for ROB 690:

Option 1:

Term X: register for 3 credits of ROB 590
Term Y: register for 3 credits of ROB 590 AND 3 credits of ROB 690

Option 2:

Term X: 3 credits of ROB 590
Term Y: 3 credits of ROB 590
Term Z: 3 credits of ROB 690

Registration will require an email from the advisor to approving the registration, as well as an electronic permission from the grad office.

Qualification Process PhD

A major milestone for PhD students is to pass the qualifying exams, which advances the student to PhD candidate status. The qualification process is comprised of a review of academic performance, technical qualifying exam, and a research preliminary exam.  A PhD student is considered to have adequate performance in coursework if his/her grade-point average is 3.5 or above.  Both components of the exam are typically completed after three semesters in the program.

Technical Qualifying Exam This is an oral exam in which the student is examined by two faculty members. The faculty will examine the student’s understanding of technical fundamentals gained from coursework.  Beginning in April 2017, the technical qualifying exam will focus on content of two required courses:  ROB 501 and ROB 550. For more information please see the Grad Program Manual.

Research Preliminary Exam The student submits a standard IEEE conference paper format document describing the research and delivers an oral presentation describing a research problem. Following the presentation two faculty members will question the student on their understanding of their subject. The paper and presentation may focus, for example, on a literature review plus early original research. For more information please see the Grad Program Manual.

Thesis Proposal and Defense PhD

PhD students must propose, write, and defend a thesis on an original research topic. At least a year prior to the final thesis defense, the student must defend a proposal to the PhD committee.