PhD Qualifying Process

The Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) PhD Qualifying Process will consist of a Qualifying Exam and a Comprehensive Exam.

  • The Qualifying Exam is intended to allow the candidate to demonstrate depth of understanding in his/her chosen area of research, and to demonstrate the ability to identify research problems and approaches to their solution.
  • The Comprehensive Examination is intended to allow the PhD candidate to demonstrate competency in the breadth of topics associated with the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) discipline.

PhD Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam is intended to allow the PhD candidate to demonstrate the ability to study technical literature relevant to his/her dissertation research topic, identify a significant scientific or engineering question, propose an experimental approach that promises to answer that question, and to conduct and interpret preliminary experiments. The main elements of the Qualifying Exam process will be:

  • Written Research Proposal: The candidate will prepare a detailed research proposal. This proposal should be based, at least in part, on preliminary research during the first year of enrollment in the PhD program. The recommended format and structure of the proposal will be provided separately.
  • Oral Defense of the Proposal: The candidate will present an oral defense of the research proposal.

It is the candidate's responsibility to schedule the oral defense of the research proposal within one month after completing his/her first spring semester in the MSE PhD program. Candidates wishing to postpone the Qualifying Exam must request postponement in writing, to the Department Chair, before February 1 of the Spring semester after which the candidate would normally be required to take the exam.

The examining committee for the research proposal will consist of three members of the MSE graduate faculty proposed by the MSE Graduate Program Committee and approved by the MSE Department Chair. The candidate's advisor is not eligible to serve on the examining committee, but may attend the oral defense. The Department Chair may also attend the oral defense as a non-voting ex-officio observer. The committee must receive the research proposal and approve scheduling of the oral defense at least two weeks prior to its scheduled date. The oral defense will not be open to the public; and will consist of a short (25 minute maximum) presentation of the proposed research, after which the candidate will respond to questions by the committee. The oral examination is intended to probe the depth of the candidate's understanding of fundamental issues relevant to the proposed research and interpretation of preliminary research results.

Outcomes of the Qualifying Exam will be one of the following

  • Pass
  • Fail (the candidate may retake the PhD Qualifying Exam not more than one additional time the following Spring)

The examining committee will determine the outcome by a majority vote at the conclusion of the oral defense.

Comprehensive Exam

The Comprehensive Exam will consist of ten problems, two on each of the following five topics:

  1. Phase Diagrams
  2. Kinetics
  3. Structure-Property
  4. Mechanical Behavior
  5. Electrical-Magnetic-Optical Properties

The scope of the exam will be based on the textbook:

Fundamentals of Materials Science and Engineering. An Integrated Approach 4th edition. W.D. Callister, Jr. & D.G. Rethwisch, John Wiley & Sons.

You need to be have an understanding of all areas of the textbook that relate to the five exam topics. To reiterate, the comprehensive exam emphasizes the learning material in the Callister textbook and you really need to make an in depth study or review of the Callister textbook in preparation for the comprehensive exam.

The exam will take place on a single day in July or early August within the time periods 9:00AM-12:00PM (for the first five problems) and 1:00PM-4:00PM (for the second set of five problems). You will have one hour (12:00-1:00PM) for lunch break (lunch not provided).

Your best preparation for the Comprehensive Exam is to study the Callister textbook !!!