PhD Qualifying Process


The purpose of the PhD qualifying process is to make a reasonable determination that a PhD student has attained the level of formal coursework education, and has developed the ability to conduct independent research consistent with attaining the PhD. Research ability for successful PhD students must be consistent with eventually publishing an original, significant dissertation, and discipline specific refereed, archival journal papers.

Qualifying Process

The PhD qualifying process has three parts:

  • Coursework requirement - This assessment is based on performance in three graduate courses determined by the research advisor as appropriate for the area of specialization. Making this assessment is a shared responsibility of the Department faculty. Details are provided below.
  • Research requirement - This assessment is based on the performance on a written examination designed to demonstrate the student’s ability to conduct independent research. Making this assessment is the responsibility of the student’s research advisor and research committee members. Details are provided below.
  • Dissertation Research Proposal Defense - This is an oral presentation of the dissertation proposal and an oral examination on the proposed research by the advisory committee. The proposal defense must be passed within one year of passing the PhD qualifying exam.

Coursework Requirement

All existing University and Department coursework requirements remain in place. In addition:

  • The advisor will pick a set of three classes which are required to conduct research in the area of specialization. These classes must be at the 5000 level or higher, and at least two of these courses must be EE5XXX classes. No directed study or special study courses will be allowed for completion of the coursework requirement. Courses specifically disallowed from being used to satisfy the coursework requirement are: EE5805, EE5900, EE5990, EE5991, EE5992, EE5994, and EE6990.
  • To pass the coursework requirement a grade of AB or better must be achieved in each of the three classes used to satisfy the coursework requirement.
  • There is no requirement to pick these courses at the start of the program. However, they must form a sensible major area of study that is supported by the research advisor.
  • When this milestone has been satisfied the advisor will complete the “PhD Qualifying Exam Request for Written and Oral Presentation” form which includes a list of the courses taken, and the grades obtained. This form will also indicate the research advisor and the research committee members, and will require their signatures to indicate their concurrence that this requirement has been completed.
  • The form is submitted to the ECE Graduate Program Committee for Review.
  • Failure to complete this requirement within four semesters will result in dismissal from the PhD program. Students may petition the Graduate Program Committee to handle exceptions to this policy based on extraordinary circumstances.

Research Requirement

The research requirement of the PhD qualifying process is conducted by the student’s research advisor and at least two additional members of the research committee, henceforth referred to as the examining committee. The first attempt at satisfying the research requirement will be taken no later than the 5th semester. The process by which the research requirement will be completed is as follows:

  • It is necessary for a research committee to be formed before the research requirement can be completed. There is no proposed change to the rules governing PhD research committees.
  • The examining committee will assign one or more papers to define a topic for a written research paper and oral presentation by the student.
  • The student will conduct a thorough review of the assigned topic and prepare both a written paper and an oral presentation summarizing the information in the paper(s) and the relevant references. The examining committee is expected to make discipline-specific and student-specific requirements for the written and oral presentations.
  • Both the paper and the presentation should contain:
    • A succinct statement of the problem and why it is relevant to the field.
    • A review of the background literature.
    • A summary of the approach and key results.
    • Discussion of technical accomplishments by the student in the course of preparing. This will be highly discipline-dependent, but may consist of replicating calculations, extending results to a new case, etc.
    • Conclusions, which should contain a discussion of possible future work.
  • Students are expected to become thoroughly familiar with the topic, and be able to handle questions from the research committee as part of the assessment process.
  • The examining committee will assess the student's capabilities including conceptual understanding, applied math, key applications of concepts in given area, creativity, and general research capabilities.
  • The paper, which represents fulfillment of the university requirement for a written exam, will be presented to the examining committee two weeks before an oral presentation of the results.
  • After assessing the student’s performance, the examining committee will complete the graduate school “Report on Qualifying Exam” form and submit it to the Graduate Program Coordinator for entry into Banner.
  • If the student’s performance is judged inadequate on the first try, the examining committee will provide feedback to the student.
  • A maximum of two attempts may be made by the student to pass the research component of the qualifying process. If a second attempt is required it must be completed in the semester immediately following the first try. Failure on the second attempt will result in dismissal from the PhD program.

Dissertation Research Proposal Defense

This is an oral presentation of the dissertation proposal and an oral examination on the proposed research by the advisory committee. It is expected that this presentation will cover a sufficient body of original, significant research that a credible plan can be presented for completing the dissertation at this milestone. The form of this presentation will similar to presenting original work at a technical conference:

  • Sufficient mastery of the relevant background literature must be demonstrated.
  • The problem must be stated and justified succinctly.
  • The approach must be presented.
  • Original significant results must be presented, and how they fit into the existing body of knowledge in the field must be discussed.
  • Conclusions, and a definitive plan for completing the dissertation must be presented.
  • The PhD student must field questions from the committee.

The PhD research advisory committee will make an assessment of the presentation and determine whether or not the student has passed. Regardless of the outcome, the “Report on Research Proposal Exam” Form must be completed and submitted to the ECE graduate program coordinator after the completion of the presentation. Two attempts are allowed, subject to the approval of both the research advisory committee. If a second try is required, it must be completed in the semester following the first attempt. The proposal defense must also be passed within one year of passing the PhD coursework and research requirements.