Ph.D. Handbook

This handbook describes the basic academic requirements and contains many tips and suggestions for new graduate students in the ORFE department.

Message from the Chair

Professor Ronnie Sircar

Ronnie Sircar

Welcome to the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering. I wish you the best for your academic success over the next few years.  At Princeton, you will be among the best, brightest and most creative talents of your generation. ORFE is a small and friendly department -- please do introduce yourself to fellow students and to faculty when you see them. We are very happy that you chose to join us, and we look forward to learning about your research and ideas in the coming years.

Message from the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)

Professor Matias Cattaneo

Matias Cattaneo

Welcome to ORFE! I wish you the best success during your Ph.D. studies at Princeton University, and I look forward to getting to know you better over the upcoming years. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or need assistance during your doctoral studies.

Ph.D. Program Requirement Summary

In their first year, students take the six core classes in statistics, probability and optimization. By the end of the second year, at least two advanced classes and two semesters of directed research are completed under the direction of a faculty adviser in the student's area of interest in preparation for the general examination (Generals). The general examination is taken in the spring of the second year of study. Usually, beyond the general examination, two to three years are needed for the completion of a suitable dissertation. Upon completion of thesis studies and acceptance of the dissertation by the department and the Graduate School, the candidate is admitted to the final public oral examination (FPO).

In the first year of graduate study, students must take and pass all six core classes with a letter grade of B- or better. Please note that core classes cannot be dropped.

Core classes

  • ORF 522 Linear & Nonlinear Optimization (Fall)
  • ORF 523 Convex and Conic Optimization (Spring)
  • ORF 524 Statistical Theory and Methods (Fall)
  • ORF 525 Statistical Foundations of Data Science (Spring)
  • ORF 526 Probability Theory (Fall)
  • ORF 527 Stochastic Calculus (Spring)

Qualifying exams: Qualifying exams are held in September of the second year. Students can place out of the qualifying exams by receiving at least an A- grade in four of the core classes. If a student received fewer than 2 A- or better grades in the 6 first-year classes, they cannot take the qualifying exams, and their Ph.D. candidacy ends.

ORF 509 & 510: Before taking the general exam, Ph.D. students must complete two research projects under the supervision (or co-supervision) of an ORFE faculty member. Students are required to submit a written report on both projects. The results of ORF 510 are presented in the oral part of the general exam.

Advanced classes: Before taking the general exam, Ph.D. students must take two additional approved advanced classes at the 500 level, which must be passed with at least a B+ grade. These two advanced classes can be chosen from the following list:

  • ORF 504 Financial Econometrics
  • ORF 505 Statistical Analysis of Financial Data
  • ORF 531 Computational Finance in C++   
  • ORF 535 Financial Risk and Wealth Management
  • ORF 538 PDE Methods in Financial Mathematics
  • ORF 542 Stochastic Control and Stochastic Differential Games
  • ORF 543 Deep Learning Theory
  • ORF 544 Stochastic Optimization
  • ORF 550 Topics in Probability: Probability in High Dimension
  • ORF 565 Empirical Process and Asymptotic Statistics
  • ORF 569 Special Topics in Statistics, Operations Research and Financial Engineering (e.g., Theory and Practice of Deep Learning, Probabilistic Theory of Network Games and Mean Field Interactions, Topics in Game Theory)

Classes of potential interest in other departments and programs: 

  • APC 503 Analytical Techniques in Differential Equations
  • COS 511 Theoretical Machine Learning
  • COS 521 Advanced Algorithm Design
  • COS 528 Data Structures and Graph Algorithms
  • COS 534 Fairness in Machine Learning
  • ECO 525 Financial Economics I
  • ECO 526 Financial Economics II
  • ECE 535 Machine Learning and Pattern Recognition
  • ECE 538B Information Sciences and Systems Large Scale Optimization for Data Science
  • MAE 546 Optimal Control and Estimation
  • MAT 522/APC 522 Introduction to PDE
  • MAT 527 Topics in Differential Equations: Global Solutions of Nonlinear Evolutions
  • MAT 572/APC 572 Introduction to Combinatorial Optimization
  • PHY 521/MAT 597 Introduction to Mathematical Physics

General Exam (at the end of the second year). This is an oral exam including a presentation of the student’s research and research plan.

Teaching Requirement The department has a teaching requirement of at least a full Assistant in Instruction (AI) assignment or two half AI assignments potentially beginning in the fall of the student's 2nd year depending on the department's teaching needs. Requirements for teaching include:

  • Passing the English Language Proficiency Exam by August after the first year of study (if applicable).
  • Attending the mandatory AI Orientation in fall of the 2nd year of study.

RCR class: All Ph.D. candidates are also required to take EGR501 before the end of their second year. This is a half-semester course that will educate graduate students in engineering in the responsible conduct of research. The lectures provide theoretical background information as well as case studies about ethics in day-to-day research situations, publishing and peer-reviewing, student-adviser relationships, collaborative research, as well as in the big picture and considerations of long-term impact. The course is graded on a pass/fail basis.

FPO: Research dissertation and Final Public Oral Exam (FPO).

Research & Thesis Adviser

The core classes establish a solid foundation, giving tools required for research in the disciplines covered by the department. The funding provided by the university for the first year provides freedom and time for students to acclimate to the new environment of graduate school, and to make a wise choice of research direction and adviser. Some may know early on the direction they wish to pursue, but for many, it is worth exploring a number of classes taught by a variety of professors before deciding. 

The directed classes ORF 509 and 510 should be taken with a faculty adviser, with a grade received for both by the time of the general exams. Students typically take these classes in the fall and spring of the second year.

The department is small and there is plenty of opportunity to meet and talk with faculty about research interests. Please be pro-active in doing so as you discover your areas of interest.  At various times, some faculty might be too busy to take on new students: do not take it personally if a faculty member is unable to take you on as an advisee, there are plenty of excellent research opportunities available to you. If a student works with a faculty adviser who is not a core member of the ORFE faculty, there must also be a co-adviser who is an ORFE core faculty member, and who is seriously involved in co-advising the student. All external advising arrangements must be approved by the DGS.

Ph.D. Qualifying and General Examinations

The requirements for the Ph.D. degree include passing the qualifying exam requirements, the general examination, submission of an acceptable dissertation, and passing the final oral examination (thesis defense).

Qualifying Examination Procedure

Each student must satisfy qualifying requirements. Qualifying exams are offered in September of the student’s second year.  A student who obtained a grade of A- or better in 4 of the six required core classes will be exempt from the qualifying exams. If this is not the case and the student obtained a grade of A- or better in at least 2 of the six required classes, the student will meet with the DGS to decide which exams must be taken to satisfy the requirements. The optimization exams are based on ORF 522 and ORF 523. The statistics exams are based on ORF 524 and ORF 525. The probability exams are based on ORF 526 and ORF 527. Students who received fewer than 2 A- or better grades in the 6 first-year classes are not eligible to take qualifying exams, and their Ph.D. candidacy ends.

The qualifying exams shall not exceed 90 minutes per class, and are administered by 2 ORFE faculty. The examining faculty will decide if the qualifying exam will be written or oral, in consultation with the DGS, and will notify the student ahead of time. If the qualifying exam is oral, then the faculty will provide the student with the exam questions at least two hours before the examination begins.

The results of the qualifying exam(s) are determined by a vote of the faculty.

Requirements for passing Ph.D. qualifying examination

  • at least 4 A- grades in the 6 core first-year classes: pass (no qualifying exams) 
  • 3 A- in the 6 core first-year classes, and passes one qualifying exam: pass 
  • 2 A- in the 6 core first-year classes, and passes two qualifying exams: pass

General Examination Procedure

ORFE students take the general exam in April or May of their second year. By the end of the Spring semester, students should have met the qualifying examination requirements, have taken and passed ORF 509 and ORF 510, and have passed with a B+ or higher grades two approved 
advanced classes. The student must have shown adequate progress in research, and an acceptable level of understanding of their area of specialization.

The general exam consists of two parts, a written and an oral part, both covering the student’s primary area of specialization.  The written part requires taking and passing, with a B+ or higher grade, two approved advanced classes at the graduate (500) level beyond the 6 core first-year classes. These two classes must be approved by the student’s adviser and the DGS.

For each student, an examining committee is selected by the student and adviser. The committee will be approved by the DGS. Normally, the committee members comprise the student’s adviser(s) and two additional ORFE faculty or associated faculty. The committee will administer the oral exam, evaluate the student’s performance in research and overall knowledge of their field, and make a recommendation to the department faculty. A departmental faculty vote determines the final outcome. The oral exam may be up to 3 hours in length.

Information on the oral exam: Before the exam, the student is required to submit a comprehensive written report on the research conducted in ORF 509-510. It is due one week before the exam takes place. The report serves as the basis for the student’s presentation. The purpose of the presentation is to explain the research the student has done so far and plans to do in the future. Examining faculty may ask questions on the presentation and on any other material deemed appropriate for a comprehensive examination.

The possible outcomes of the general exam are as follows:

  1. Student passes the exam and is admitted to Ph.D. candidacy.
  2. Student fails the exam but is given the option to retake the exam at a future date.
  3. Student fails the exam and their Ph.D. candidacy ends.

Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after a student successfully passes the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that these requirements have been met.

Please note, students admitted to the Ph.D. program who do not wish to complete the program may be considered for an M.S.E. degree with approval from the department and the Graduate School. Ph.D. students who have already been awarded the incidental M.A. are not eligible to earn an M.S.E. 

Annual Reenrollment

Second Year Reenrollment

Upon passing the general examination, the recommendation for readmission for the next academic year is made by the student’s thesis adviser and approved by the department faculty.

Research Advising Committee for Ph.D. Candidates

If the thesis adviser plans to recommend against the readmission of the student, an examination committee must be formed to determine the progress of the student’s work and the recommendation must be made by the committee and approved by the department faculty.

Third- and Fourth-Year Advisory Committee

If requested by either the student’s thesis adviser, or the student, or the Director of Graduate Studies, an examination committee shall be appointed by the department Chair to examine the progress of the student.  The committee would be composed of the student's adviser plus two other advisory faculty members. The student will present a seminar to this committee describing the proposed area of research, the background work completed in preparing for the research effort, the intended avenues of investigation, specific problems with the work the student feels are likely to cause the most difficulty, and the aspects of the work that will require the most guidance. The purpose of this interchange is to provide the student and the adviser some assistance in assuring that the research proceeds in a fruitful direction.

Dissertation and Post-Generals Classes

Completion of a suitable dissertation usually takes two to three years beyond the general examination. During those years the student is encouraged to select an area outside his/her specialty and to broaden his/her base of knowledge by enrolling in classes in that area. It is also expected that additional classes will be taken related to the student's specialty area. Upon completion and acceptance of the dissertation by the department, the candidate will be admitted to the final public oral (FPO) examination.

Final Public Oral (FPO): Department Instructions 

The readers and FPO examiners must be approved first by the ORFE department chair, and then by the Graduate School. The first reader is the principal adviser, and the second reader is an ORFE faculty member. An FPO examination committee and readers approval request must be submitted to the Department Chair’s office. Please submit the request at least two months before the anticipated FPO date to department manager Connie Brown. If any reader is not a Princeton ORFE professor, the request should include a written justification for why an external reader is needed. The committee of examiners for the FPO must include no fewer than two current ORFE faculty members, and no fewer than three current Princeton faculty members. If a committee member is not an ORFE faculty member, the request must include written justification for why an external committee member is needed.

When the committee and readers are approved by the department, the student completes the advanced degree application via Tigerhub. Once approved by the Graduate School, the student can send the thesis to the readers. After the readers submit their completed reports, the Graduate School must approve the requested FPO date and time.

Please note that FPO’s may not be held during the summer months. 

Other Regulations

Satisfactory Academic Progress

To establish the foundation for satisfactory academic progress, the Graduate School and academic departments expect the following from enrolled students, as evidence of their successful engagement with graduate work and for them to continue to receive their stipends and other benefits of enrollment:

  • Full-time Commitment. Graduate study at Princeton, at both the doctoral and master’s levels, requires full-time commitment to study and research on the part of students.
  • Presence: Students must be visibly present in the department and on campus, unless In Absentia or on an approved Leave of Absence. As importantly, students must be intellectually “present,” that is, noticeably engaged in the normal work of their degree program—course-taking, paper-writing, research, teaching, seminar attendance.
  • Production: Students must be producing work of good quality, at the appropriate and expected stages of their degree program, and showing the products of their study and research to the faculty for evaluation.
  • Communication: Students must regularly communicate with and respond in a timely manner to communications from their department graduate program administrator, director of graduate studies, adviser(s), committee members, and other faculty members as appropriate. This is a reciprocal responsibility and graduate students should therefore expect regular and timely communication in order to maintain satisfactory academic progress.

Failure to perform according to these guidelines may result in, for example, deferred reenrollment or denial of reenrollment during the spring term review or termination at mid-year.

Academic Regulations and Fraud

The Graduate School has become increasingly concerned about academic fraud. Please take time to read information on “General Requirements for the Acknowledgment of Sources in Academic Work” and “Definitions of Academic Violations under the Jurisdiction of the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline” contained in “Rights, Rules and Responsibilities”.  Upon entering Princeton, students receive information concerning this important subject and University requirements on acknowledgment of sources and academic fraud.

Changes in Course Status

Any changes (grading options, dropping or adding classes etc.) that a student may need to make to their registered classes should be discussed with their adviser or DGS prior to making changes.  A student may change their status in a course no later than two weeks prior to the last day of the regularly scheduled class of the semester. Core course changes must be approved by DGS in writing.

Auditing Classes

  1. Classes selected by pre-Generals students must be taken for a letter grade and cannot be audited.
  2. Post-Generals students may sign up for classes as audit.
  3. Post-Generals students may take classes on a pass/fail (P/F) basis with the approval of their adviser and the course instructor.

Generally, classes taken on a P/F basis should be outside of the student's primary area of interest.

Assistants in Instruction (AIs)

Normally, PhD candidates receive appointments as assistant in instruction (AI) beginning their second year.  All students are required to attend AI training prior to term. Before an international student can be appointed as an AI, they need to pass the English Language Program (ELP) test administered by the Graduate School, and to complete any required ELP classes.

Part-time Employment

For information regarding part-time employment, please refer to Graduate School's Employment resources or the Davis International Center's Employment resources.

Leave of Absence

All ORFE Graduate Students are required to be on campus during term time.  Any time away from campus exceeding 3 business days must be approved by your adviser, or by the DGS for 1st year students without an adviser.  You are responsible for submitting a request at least 2 weeks prior to leave and is not approved until you have received a decision from the faculty member with notification to the Graduate Program Administrator.

Holiday, Vacation, and Travel

All time away from campus during the semester (except weekends and university holidays) must be approved in writing by the adviser and, if an Assistant in Instruction, by the DGS and course instructor.  An email requesting time away from campus with leave and return dates and reason for absence is appropriate.  In the case of first year students that may not yet have an adviser, you must submit your request via email through Kim Lupinacci in the Graduate Office who will obtain approvals from the Director of Graduate Studies.

Graduate study is understood to be a full-time commitment on the part of students. During an academic year, which includes the summer, graduate student degree candidates may take up to (but no more than) four weeks of vacation, including any days taken during regular university holidays and scheduled recesses (e.g., the fall- and spring- term breaks and inter-term break). The specific periods taken as vacation must not conflict with the student’s academic responsibilities, coursework, research, or teaching, and should be discussed in advance with the director of graduate studies or adviser.

If a student receives financial support for graduate study for only part of the year (e.g., regular term time, August 1 to May 31), then the amount of vacation should be prorated accordingly. If a student receives summer support and has taken the allowed vacation during regular term time, August 1 to May 31, then they should not take additional vacation time during the summer months of June and July.

If a student holds an external fellowship whose terms may conflict with this guideline, the student should consult first with the director of graduate studies or adviser. 

Please visit the Registrar for the Princeton University Academic Calendar.

Miscellaneous Information

  • Watch your emails for the following departmental events.  Your presence at these events will be appreciated.
    • Graduate Welcome Reception (September)
    • ORFE Social: typically every other Friday during the semester in the 2nd floor common area
    • Academic job panel (early Fall semester)
    • Faculty Research Presentations to 1st year Graduate students (Spring semester)
    • Holiday Party (December)
    • Seminars: Statistics (Mondays), ORFE colloquium (Tuesdays), Financial Mathematics (Wednesdays), Optimization (Thursdays), Probability (Thursdays).
  • Graduate Student Affairs Office is 120 - Sherrerd Hall, extension 8-4018, [email protected]
  • E-mail is how department correspondence is transmitted. PLEASE check it regularly.
  • Payroll checks are put in your mailbox on the last working day of the month. Go Green! Sign up for direct deposit via TigerHub.
  • Mailboxes are located in 221 - Sherrerd Hall. Please check your mailbox. The door to the mailroom is to be kept locked at all times.
  • The address for package delivery is: your name, Princeton University, 98 Charlton Street, Sherrerd Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544
  • You may use the copier as a scanner in 108 - Sherrerd Hall.
  • Graduate Student Kitchen, located in 223 - Sherrerd Hall. It is available to both graduate students and faculty in the ORFE department. Remember to clean up after your use. Please refrain from using the 3rd floor kitchen facilities which is reserved for CITP faculty, staff and students.
  • Graduate Lounge, the open area located on the second floor provides a meeting space for graduate students and faculty.  This is a common area shared by all. Please clean the area after using. This space is not to be used for office hours.

Important Contacts

  • Chair, Professor Ronnie Sircar, 609-258-3255
  • Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Matias Cattaneo, 609-258-8825
  • Department Manager, Connie Brown, 609-258-5422
  • Graduate Program Administrator, Kimberly Lupinacci, 609-258-4018
  • McCosh Health Center Emergency, 609-258-3139
  • Public Safety Non-Emergency 609-258-1000 Emergency 9-1-1

Welcome to the department, we wish you success as you pursue your graduate degree!