PhD Program

MOVES Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Policies

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 effectively supervise 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 simulation technology, combat models and systems, virtual and augmented reality technology, and the application of quantitative analyses to training and simulation technology.  Areas of special strength amongst the MOVES Academic Faculty are combat modeling and analysis, networked and Web-based visual simulation, agents and cognitive modeling, virtual and augmented reality, 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 Policy Manual [APM], 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 see the Contacts section below.

Applicants must follow standard procedures for their sponsoring organization in applying to a graduate education program (APM, section 4.4). Applicants should have the sponsoring organization forward their letter of application to the Director of Admissions at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA 93943. U.S. military officers, international military officers, U.S. Government civilians, and employees of allied nations may apply. 

The application should include following documentation:

1.    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 Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test. International students who are not native speakers of English must also provide scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination.
2.    Each applicant is requested to provide a 2-4 page letter describing their motivations, preparations, and career objectives for getting a MOVES Ph.D.  How will your efforts make a difference?  Experience has shown that such an essay assists applicants in preparing for Ph.D. work, and assists faculty in providing counsel and guidance on how to best proceed.
3.    Since the Ph.D. is a research degree, applicants must also include material demonstrating an ability to perform research, such as a master’s thesis 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 generally 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. Examples of related fields include (but are not limited to) Computer Science, Human Factors, Human-Systems Integration (HSI), Systems Engineering, and Information Sciences. Generally, an acceptable Ph.D. applicant must have above-average grades in a typical master’s degree program. Because MOVES is a cross-disciplinary mix of multiple scientific domains that are built on a foundation of analytic and programming skills, a wide range of academic and applied backgrounds are possible. 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.

The MOVES Ph.D. program committee will evaluate each applicant to gauge the minimum amount of time they may need to complete the program. Admitted Ph.D. students may begin in any quarter.  Admitted students receive faculty guidance regarding courses and areas of study deserving their special focus and attention.  

Admitted students not holding an advanced M&S degree (such as MOVES) further receive guidance on achieving “parity” comparable to their contemporaries in order to best appreciate the breadth and depth of MOVES disciplinary areas. Such guidance is provided by the MOVES Ph.D. committee soon after a student’s arrival at NPS, then reviewed periodically as student’s program proceeds to ensure that they are capable advocates and practitioners of MOVES upon graduation.

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 a student’s qualifications for a Ph.D. admission than for other degrees. That is because the research work required for the Ph.D. requires substantial creativity and independence. In addition, past experience suggests that not all of the students admitted will complete the program. The purpose of the written and oral qualifying examinations (see below) is to give students early warning (within the first eighteen months of work towards the degree) if they are encountering 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 (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. 

Each student must complete the following milestones, which are detailed in the corresponding sections of this document:

1.    Prepare for written exams and achieving MOVES parity, 
2.    Form a dissertation committee (section 3)
3.    Pass a written qualifying examination (section 4)
4.    Pass an oral qualifying examination (section 5)
5.    Approved dissertation proposal (section 6)
6.    Advancement to candidacy (section 7)
7.    Pass a final examination (section 8)
8.    Complete a dissertation (section 9)

The following quarterly progression is an example student timeline and considered a baseline norm for new MOVES Ph.D. students.  Students are encouraged to finish within one year, if possible, in order to dedicate the majority of their study period to dissertation-related research.  The MOVES Ph.D. Committee is available for review and guidance of all plans. Of relevant note is Richard Hamming's favorite quote: "Luck favors the prepared mind" by Louis Pasteur.

•    Preparation. Applying for the degree includes ability to ask about study preparations.
•    Q1. MOVES alumni refresher or MOVES-master's parity, pick 3 topics for written exam, look at schedule of offered courses and prepare a thorough study plan, meet with all MOVES faculty, and meet other MOVES students with similar interests.
•    Q2-Q4. Prepare for and pass three written exams.
•    Q5-Q6. Prepare for oral examination, prepare dissertation proposal, identify committee members, pass oral examination, and formally designate committee members.  The committee reviews and approves the dissertation proposal, and then proposes Advancement to Candidacy for approval by Academic Council.
•    Q7-12. Conduct doctoral research, write dissertation, successfully defend the dissertation, and publish the dissertation. It is important and recommended to publish one or more journal articles describing your work promptly, so that relevant scientific communities of interest know about your results.

No courses are specifically required for the MOVES Ph.D. degree unless the MOVES Ph.D. Committee (or the student’s doctoral committee) so stipulates. 

During a student’s initial year of work, an essential activity is learning about the many academic research efforts occurring across the MOVES faculty.  Deliberately taking courses oriented towards a relevant written exam, and asking for additional tasking from relevant faculty, is excellent preparation for understanding which faculty members might best guide novel research as part of a student’s dissertation committee.  Knowing about faculty interests and expertise as part of the written examinations provides direct benefit when considering topics of original, novel research. 

Although formal finalization is not required by NPS until later in the process, forming a dissertation committee is an essential long-running activity for every Ph.D. student.  Each student is expected to begin carefully forming a dissertation committee to oversee their program promptly 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, following acceptance by proposed committee members, subsequently approved by the MOVES Ph.D. program committee and the NPS Academic Council. Any necessary subsequent changes to the dissertation committee require the same chain of approval.

One of the committee members from the MOVES curriculum faculty must be designated as the dissertation supervisor and serves as 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 chair, who can be the same as the dissertation supervisor. The committee must contain at least three members of the MOVES curriculum faculty. Committee composition 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 academic institution or hold domain-relevant expertise. At least four members of the committee must have earned doctorates.

At the time of approval of the dissertation committee, the students 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 MOVES Ph.D. student is expected to maintain regular contact with the members of the student’s committee regarding progress towards the degree.

The purpose of the written qualifying examination is to check the student’s analytical skills 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 prospective dissertation committee. A maximum of two areas may be chosen from group A or B (in other words, all three topic areas may not be from the same group). MOVES Ph.D. student needs to communicate the selection of three major areas to the MOVES Ph.D. Committee prior to taking those exams. Examiners for each subject area are approved by the MOVES Ph.D. committee. Each examiner reports examination results to the MOVES Ph.D. Committee.


Group A: Quantitative Emphasis 


•    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 distinct 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: Qualitative Emphasis

•    Training Systems and Human Factors: Cognition and perception, human information processing model, task analysis, learning theories and principles, multimodal interfaces, spatial orientation and navigation, interaction techniques, interaction devices, virtual ergonomics, health and safety issues including cybersickness, usability engineering, performance evaluation, immersion, presence and co-presence, representation of the virtual humans, multiuser environments, evaluation of training effectiveness, team training, transfer of training, game-based systems, adoption of technology, and related Human Systems Integration (HSI) topics.
•    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, machine perception and reasoning, understanding with language models and knowledge graphs, 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.
•    Systems Engineering: Systems Engineering includes interdisciplinary engineering management that focuses on how to design, integrate, and manage complex systems over their life cycles. Additional emphases include process models, requirements generation, M&S support in cost estimation, test and evaluation (T&E), and analysis of alternatives/decision making. Relevant modeling and simulation support techniques include analysis of interactions between multiple engineering domains, risk-benefit analysis, work-process optimization, requirements generation, cost estimation, analysis of alternatives and decision making, and test and evaluations.  Emphases include Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), Digital Twin, design thinking, developmental and environmental testing managing complexity and other advanced techniques improve synergies between MOVES and effective practice in other disciplines.

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.


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 APM, section 5.4.9).

The members of a dissertation committee are typically identified prior to the oral exam, though formal approval is not required until afterwards.  The oral qualifying examination is administered by the student’s dissertation committee (as best identified) with oversight by the MOVES Ph.D. program committee and Academic Council Representative. The committee chair schedules the oral portion of the qualifying exam. Committee preparation, topic coordination, student rehearsal, and a sufficient time period for conducting the oral examination are typically needed for successful completion. The oral examination is the culmination of the course of study; the purpose is to test basic knowledge and creative ability, also demonstrating the student’s capacity to thoughtfully apply concepts and material from their course of study.

Current MOVES Ph.D. students typically attend oral exams by other Ph.D. students.  Experience has shown that observing these events provides great insight. It is customary to provide at least one week’s advance notice in order to encourage attendance at this important event.  It is wise for each examinee to ask fellow Ph.D. students to take notes about questions and responses, helping them to “stay in the moment” and best focus on matters at hand.

Oral examination committees normally plan for at least a three-hour session, providing each prospective candidate plenty of time for responding to questions and also sufficient time for faculty discussion assessing their performance.  Regular individual interaction by committee members with prospective candidates is also productive preparation.

The committee asks questions regarding the student’s major areas of study pursued during the written exam, and any other questions that members think may help decide whether the student has sufficiently broad knowledge of the relevant scholarly work, and possesses sufficient analytic capabilities 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, guests and other faculty members who do not have voting privileges for the oral qualifying examination leave 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. 

A draft 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 supervisor’s approval, 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. 

Upon successfully completing 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 to state that the requirements for advancement to candidacy have been successfully completed. Notification of advancement to candidacy is provided in writing by the council.

A minimum of six months after passing the oral qualifying exam, when the dissertation research is almost complete and a dissertation draft has been finished and is available, the final oral examination (also known as the dissertation defense) may be scheduled. 

It is customary to provide at least one week’s advance notice prior to a dissertation defense, also making preliminary presentation materials available, in order to encourage attendance at this important public event.  All MOVES Ph.D. students should make every effort to attend and observe each defense, offering constructive feedback to the defending student afterwards.

This examination is administered by the committee and consists of the following:

1.    Submission of the dissertation draft 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 chair of the dissertation committee to ensure that all MOVES faculty are informed well in advance of the time and location of this examination. The entire Academic Council is invited to attend and the same offer can be extended to faculty in other departments. All members of the dissertation committee are required to attend, and the Academic Council shall designate a representative, who must attend the dissertation defense.
3.    In the final dissertation defense, the candidate presents the dissertation and is subject to such questions as the entire dissertation committee deems appropriate. The extent of participation of all parties is determined by the dissertation committee chair.  The question and comment phase is typically open to attending faculty when time contraints permit.
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.

Publishing a dissertation is a major event, both for the author and for the scientific community.  When the dissertation has been revised and clarified to each committee member's satisfaction, based on originality, clarity of presentation, and advancement of fundamental knowledge, the student and committee members sign it. Academic Council procedures then apply for final disposition of the document.

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 Ph.D. minor in MOVES, this consists of:

1.    Three courses at the 4000 level that form a coherent sequence relating to the field of modeling, virtual environments, and simulation. The selection and rationale for these courses require approval of the MOVES Ph.D. Committee prior to taking the courses.

2.    The MOVES Ph.D. program committee chair provides a letter attesting that the student has fulfilled the requirements upon request of the student.

Program Officer
Charles Rowan, LTC, USA, PhD
Watkins Hall, Room 274
(831) 656-7872, DSN 756-7872
Academic Associate, MOVES
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 Committee
Don Brutzman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
(831) 656-2149