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 is intended to allow the PhD candidate to demonstrate competency in the breadth of topics associated with the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) discipline. It will be a 3.5 hour exam, during which the candidate will provide answers to approximately ten questions. The exam will cover the following topics:

  • Thermodynamics
  • Kinetics
  • Phase transformations and microstructural design
  • Mechanical properties
  • Electronic, magnetic and optical properties of materials

The level of performance expected in this examination is that of a good advanced undergraduate. PhD candidates must pass the MSE PhD Qualifying Exam before taking the Comprehensive Exam. Normally, the Comprehensive Exam will be administered during each Summer term (approximately one month after all of the PhD Qualifying Exams are completed).

The entire graduate faculty of the MSE Department will participate in evaluating candidate performance(s) on the Comprehensive Exam. Outcomes of Comprehensive Exam will be one of the following:

  • Pass (the candidate can continue in the PhD program)
  • Fail (the candidate cannot continue in the PhD program)
  • Conditional Pass (the candidate must take such remedial action as specified by the MSE Department graduate faculty)

A suggested reading list will be prepared by the MSE Department's Graduate Faculty and made available to candidates taking the PhD Qualifier on or about May 1 of each year.