PhD Program

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) is the highest degree awarded by universities in the United States. Its primary purpose is to validate that its possessor can perform state-of-the-art research on the frontiers of human knowledge and is qualified to intelligently manage the research of others.The Ph.D. program for MOVES was approved by the NPS academic council on the 21st of July 1999. 

The Modeling, Virtual Environments and Simulation (MOVES) Academic Program of the Naval Postgraduate School provides the Ph.D. student both fundamental and specialized courses in applied isual simulation technology, combat models and systems, and the application of quantitative analyses to trining and simulation technology.  Areas of  special strength amongst the MOVES Academic Faculty are combat modeling and analysis, networked and we-based visual simulation, agents and cognitive modeling, training systems and human factors, and discrete-event simulation.

There are institutional rules on all Ph.D. programs at the Naval Postgraduate School (see Academic Council Policy Manual [ACPM], section 5.4). The rules described here supplement, but do not supplant, the institutional rules. For more information about the MOVES Ph.D Program, please contact:

Applicants must follow standard procedures for their sponsoring organization in applying to a graduate education program (ACPM, section 4.4). Applicants should have the sponsoring organization forward their letter of application to the director of admissions (Code 01B3) at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA 93943. U.S. military officers, foreign military officers, U.S. Government civilians and employees of foreign governments may apply. The application should include certified transcripts of all courses taken at the university level, including both undergraduate and graduate courses. Students from educational institutions other than NPS must include the results of a recent GRE general test. Foreign students that are not native speakers of English must in addition provide scores on the TOEFL examination.

Since the Ph.D. is a research degree, applicants must also include material demonstrating an ability to perform research, such as master’s theses and research papers. Reference letters are helpful only if the writer can report direct knowledge of the candidate’s technical and research abilities.

The MOVES Ph.D. program builds on the scientific knowledge gained from the MOVES MS program. An applicant should have a master’s degree in modeling, virtual environments, and simulation (MOVES), or a related field. Generally, an acceptable Ph.D. applicant must have above-average grades in a typical master’s degree program. The committee will also take other evidence of research or academic ability into account in making a recommendation as to whether to admit an applicant.

Each applicant will be evaluated by the MOVES Ph.D. program committee to gauge the minimum amount of time they may need to complete the program. Admitted Ph.D. students may begin in any quarter.

Students are cautioned that admission to the Ph.D. program does not guarantee successful completion of the program. It is significantly more difficult to assess the qualifications of a student for a Ph.D. admission than for other degrees. This is because the research work required for the Ph.D. requires substantial creativity and independence. Past experience suggests that not all of the students admitted will successfully complete the program. The purpose of the written qualifying examination (see below) is to give the students early warning (within the first two years of work towards the degree) if they are likely to have trouble in the Ph.D. program.

The Ph.D. degree requires the equivalent of at least three academic years of study beyond the baccalaureate level (csome of which may be for antoehr post-baccalaureate degree), with at least one academic year (or its equivalent)  being spendt in residence at NPS. The student must complete, in order, the following steps, which are detailed in the corresponding sections of this document:

  1. Form a dissertation committee (section 4)
  2. Pass a written qualifying examination (section 5)
  3. Declare a secondary specialization (section 6)
  4. Pass an oral qualifying examination (section 7)
  5. Pass a final examination (section 8 )
  6. Complete a dissertation (section 9)

Note: No courses are required for the Ph.D. degree besides the secondary specialization unless the student’s doctoral committee so stipulates. The Ph.D. degree also requires the equivalent of at least three academic years of study beyond the baccalaureate level (some of which may be for another post-baccalaureate degree), with at least one academic year (or its equivalent) being spent in residence at NPS.

The student must form a dissertation committee to oversee his program as soon as possible after admission to the Ph.D. program, and in any event not later than at the end of the first year of studies. The dissertation committee is responsible for supervising candidates’ completion of their degree, including completion of course study, preparation and grading of the written qualifying examination, dissertation research, and production of the dissertation document. The dissertation committee is also responsible for administering and determining the results of the final dissertation defense (final oral examination). The committee is chosen by the Ph.D. student and approved by the MOVES Ph.D. program committee and academic council. All changes to the dissertation committee require the same chain of approval.

One of the members of the committee from the MOVES curriculum faculty must be designated as the dissertation supervisor, and will be the student’s primary technical contact. The supervisor should be knowledgeable about the area of the proposed dissertation and should have prior experience on dissertation committees. The student should therefore choose the general area for the proposed dissertation prior to forming the committee.

Each committee must have a chairman, who can be the same as the dissertation supervisor. The committee must contain at least three tenured or tenure-track members of the MOVES curriculum faculty. These members must also include at least one faculty member from outside the MOVES curriculum. At least five members are required, of which one may be from another appropriate institution. At least four members of the committee must have earned doctorates.

At the time of approval of the dissertation committee, the student must also formulate a study plan which includes a timetable of when they expect to pass various milestones in their Ph.D. program. The plan should be developed in consultation with the proposed supervisor. The committee members must agree that the study plan is acceptable when agreeing to serve on the committee.

Every student is expected to maintain regular contact with the members of his committee regarding progress towards the degree.

The purpose of the written qualifying examination is to check the student’s analytical ability and ability to solve problems in the research area. These abilities are critical for success in the Ph.D. dissertation.

The exam will typically be completed at the end of the first year of the doctoral program. Questions will come from the candidate’s three major areas chosen from the list below, and agreed upon by the student and dissertation committee. A maximum of two areas may be chosen from group A or B (in other words, all three may not be from the same group.

Group A

  • Networked and Web-Based Visual Simulation: Scalable integration of interactive three-dimensional graphics, distributed modeling, local-area and wide-area networking, unicast versus multicast routing, integrated multimodal environments, and applications of virtual reality.
  • Physically-Based Modeling: Computational modeling of physical relationships and processes for real-time execution, including rigid and flexible body dynamics, collisions, fluid dynamics, environmental effects on motion, feedback, tracking, representations of the world, and related numerical methods.
  • Discrete Event Modeling and Optimization: Methods for simulating phenomena best conceptualized as sequences of abrupt transitions between states described by discrete variables. Such simulations can be run on single, parallel, or distributed computer systems; can be run either in real time or asynchronously with real time; and can be deterministic or stochastic. Also includes the study of inferences from experiments on such simulations.
  • Simulation Software Development: Software engineering principles applied to the development and acquisition of simulation systems of all varieties. Software requirements specification, design and architecture, implementation, and deployment. Software configuration management, lifecycle maintenance and upgrading. Software testing and quality assurance issues. Project management and scheduling, risk management.

Group B

  • Training Systems and Human Factors: Multimodal interfaces, task analysis, spatial orientation and navigation, performance evaluation, interaction techniques, interaction devices, virtual ergonomics, cybersickness, usability engineering, training transfer, human perception.
  • Agents and Cognitive Modeling: Software tools to help people accomplish tasks involving finding, access, extraction, analysis, and summarization of information. Techniques are drawn from software engineering, artificial intelligence, information retrieval, and exploratory data analysis. Such tools may be used to build models and simulations, or may be embedded in artificial players within a simulation. Integrative architectures for modeling of individuals, including neural networks; rule-based systems, attention and multitasking phenomena, memory and learning, human decision-making, situation awareness, planning, behavior moderators, modeling of behavior of organizational units, modeling of military operations, and modeling of information warfare.
  • Combat Modeling and Analysis: Design and application of military modeling, simulation, wargaming and analysis to include: taxonomies of models; hierarchies of models; characteristics of models required to meet the needs of acquisition, test and evaluation (T&E), training, wargaming, analysis, or experimentation communities; mathematical models for search and acquisition, probability of hit (PH) and probability of kill (PK) models; attack and combat adjudication; characteristics of aggregate, entity-based, and semi-autonomous force models; stochastic versus deterministic Lanchester-type formulations; measures of effectiveness; measures of performance; approaches to effectively using models to assist decision-making; interoperability methods (e.g. DIS, HLA, etc); modeling decision-making; simulating C4ISR processes; terrain and movement algorithms; verification, validation, and accreditation (VV&A); aggregation and disaggregation; variable resolution modeling; representation of human behavior (e.g. suppression, unit breakpoints); approaches to modeling joint warfare; data support for models; logistics considerations; C3I process modeling; modeling of behavior of organizational units in military operations; information warfare modeling; and use of artificial intelligence. Knowledge of current DoD models, including their theoretical and scientific foundations as well as strengths and weaknesses, is also expected.

The written qualifying examination must be on material fundamental to the chosen areas of study. Typically this will involve mathematical questions, programming questions, and questions requiring demonstration of analytical abilities.

This examination will be prepared and graded by the student’s dissertation committee with general oversight by the Ph.D. program committee. The Ph.D. program committee must also approve the contents of the examination before administration to the student.

The written examination will be open notes, open book.

A dissertation proposal should be submitted to the committee at least one week before the oral qualifying examination. The purpose of the dissertation proposal is to provide the committee with the information needed to determine whether the proposed research topic is suitable for a Ph.D. dissertation. The proposal should describe the student’s best current estimate of their research plan. With the approval of the supervisor, the details in the proposal may be changed later as the research subject is understood in more detail. This proposal must establish that successful completion would make original and significant contributions to knowledge in the candidate’s major areas of study.

Within no more than one year after the successful completion of the written qualifying exam, the student must successfully complete the oral qualifying examination. All courses in the study plan must be completed before the student can take the oral exam. The student gets at most two chances to pass (see ACPM, section 5.4.9).

The oral qualifying examination is administered by the student’s dissertation committee with oversight by the MOVES Ph.D. program committee. The committee chairman schedules the oral portion of the qualifying exam. This examination is the culmination of the course of study; the purpose is to test basic knowledge and creative ability and demonstrate the student’s capacity to use material from the course of study.

The committee asks questions regarding the student’s major areas of study and any other questions that it feels may help decide whether the student has sufficiently broad knowledge of the dissertation topic and sufficient analytic capability to begin full-time Ph.D. research. Time permitting, other faculty members in attendance may also ask questions of the student. The questions may be on any reasonable topic.

When the committee is satisfied that the student has been questioned thoroughly, the student leaves the room. The committee members then discuss their concerns and vote whether to pass the student; a unanimous vote is required. The final overall decision regarding passing or failing the entire qualifying examination is made by the committee after the oral examination is completed.

Upon successful completion of the qualifying examinations and approval of the dissertation topic, the student must petition the academic council for “advancement to candidacy” for the doctorate. A memo must be prepared stating that the requirements for advancement to candidacy have been successfully completed. Notification of advancement to candidacy is provided in writing by the council.

At least six months after passing the oral qualifying exam, when the dissertation research is almost complete, and a draft of the dissertation has been finished and is available, the final oral examination (also known as the dissertation defense) occurs. This examination is administered by the committee and consists of the following:

  1. Submission of a draft of the dissertation to the MOVES Ph.D. program committee at least one week before the date of the final oral examination.
  2. An open (public) presentation of the findings of the research by the candidate, including response to questions from the audience within an allotted time period. It is the responsibility of the chairman of the dissertation committee to ensure that all MOVES faculty are informed well in advance of the time and location of this examination.
  3. A question and comment phase open to all NPS MOVES faculty, but not to other faculty.
  4. A closed session involving only the members of the student’s committee and the academic council representative. A unanimous vote by the committee is required for a successful outcome.

When the dissertation has been revised and clarified to the satisfaction of each member of the committee, on the basis of originality, clarity of presentation, and advancement of fundamental knowledge, the committee members sign it. The registrar checks the dissertation format, and finally the department chairman and dean sign it.

An electronic copy of the dissertation will be prepared and placed online. Unclassified dissertations will be kept available in a publicly accessible online archive.

Some doctoral programs at NPS have a minor requirement in a field other than that of the degree granting department. For those doctoral students who wish to complete a PhD minor in MOVES, this consists of:

  1. Three courses at the 4000 level that form a coherent sequence relating to modeling, virtual environments, and simulation;
  2. The courses must be from at least two departments or academic curricula (e.g. MOVES, Computer Science, Operations Research); and
  3. The head of the MOVES Ph.D. program will write a letter attesting that the student has fulfilled the requirements upon request of the student.

Program Officer

James "Jim" C. Teters, II, LTC, USA

Watkins Hall, Room 274

(831) 656-7872, DSN 756-7872


Academic Associate

Chris Darken, Ph.D.

Code CS/Cd, Watkins Hall, Room 382

(831) 656-2095, DSN 756-2095

FAX (831) 656-7599


Chair, MOVES Ph.D. Program

Don Brutzman, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

(831) 656-2149