Ph.D. Qualifying Exams

The Ph.D. qualifying exam will consist of the three phases described below and will be required of all doctoral students.

Phase One

Written Qualifier Students starting in the summer or fall semesters are required to take the exam the following May after the end of the spring semester (~1 year after they enter the program). Students starting in the spring semester are required to take the exam in May of the following year (~1.5 years after they enter the program). Written qualifier contains only general fundamental exam.

  • Scopes - All students will take an exam based on the "Introduction to Materials Science" class which is currently based on the book by Callister. This is intended as a "leveling" exam since students from different natural science and engineering backgrounds are in the graduate MTSE program. All faculty may participate in writing questions.
  • Time - 2nd Monday after final week of spring semester
  • Information session - Exam coordinator will provide detailed information of qualifying exam at the beginning of each spring semester. Email notification will be sent to students regarding the time and location.
  • Specialty declaration - When students register qualifying exam, please declare the specialty on one of the following areas:
    • Metals and intermetallics
    • Ceramics/composites
    • Electronic/optical materials
    • Polymers

The general exam will be written by faculty committees with the appropriate specializations. The Ph.D. exam coordinator, Dr. Xiao Li will oversee formation of the committees. The exam will be based on specific elective courses and/or a specific reading list (book(s), edition, specific chapters or pages). The exams will incorporate fundamentals from the core classes wherever possible. The core classes may be a part of the reading list.

Please click here for reading list details.

Phase Two

Oral Specialty Qualifiers / Ph.D. Proposal Defense must be completed after the end of year 1, but no later than the end of year 2 in the Ph.D. program.

  • Research Proposal - Research proposal is up to 10 pages, including at least following sections: Title; Project Overview; Background Introduction; Research Plan; Preliminary Data; References. The written proposal must be given to all PhD committee members at least one week prior to the student’s scheduled proposal exam date. The student with consultation from their PhD advisor will determine who the members of the committee are. Every Ph.D. proposal must be presented within the Heilmeier framework and must address the following questions:
    1. What are you trying to do? What is the problem? Why is it hard?
    2. How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
    3. What's new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
    4. Who cares?
    5. If you're successful, what difference will it make?  What impact will success have?  How will it be measured?
    6. What are the risks and the payoffs?
    7. How much will it cost? How long will it take?
    8. What is the midterm and final "exams" to check for success?  How will progress be measured?
  • Time - Students are responsible to discuss with their advisor and reach out committee members to arrange the oral qualifier during following fall semester (Sept.-Dec.)
  • Format of Oral Qualifier - The total oral qualifier for individual student will be up to 1.5 hours. 1st session is specialty fundamental questions from your research committee (30 mins-45 mins); 2nd session is research proposal presentation (15 mins presentation + 15-30 mins Q/A).
  • Expectation - 3 evaluation sheets will be sent out to committee members to grade written proposal, fundamentals on research related specialty, proposal presentation.

Students will propose and defend a topic that is expected to lead to their Ph.D. dissertation. The topic must therefore be approved by the Ph.D. advisor. All faculty may participate in the exam. The Ph.D. committee is expected to participate in the exam. Students will be admitted to Doctoral Candidacy after successfully passing the "Ph.D. proposal defense".

Phase Three

A Pre-Dissertation Presentation must be conducted between 6 and 12 months prior to final dissertation defense.

This presentation is to the Ph.D. committee members only.  Committee members will identify weaknesses and shortcomings in the research, and will make specific, actionable recommendations to strengthen the dissertation.  It is expected that all recommendations would have been implemented by the student at the time of final dissertation defense.

Please click here to view the MTSE qualifying exam policy.