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PhD Qualifying Exams

Effective Fall 2021

PhD students must make the first attempt of the qualifying exam within 14 months of their enrollment if they already have an MS degree from LCSEE, or within 26 months otherwise.

The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam contains two parts:

  1. Research Exam: A written project report along with a presentation and oral defense.
  2. Coursework Exam: A written coursework exam.

There are no constraints on the order of the exams.

Both parts must be first attempted in the same semester.

Both parts must be passed for the student to pass the qualifier.

At the start of the semester, the student shall file the Request for Ph.D. Qualifying Examination with the Graduate Administrative Assistant. The form includes a selection of courses for the Coursework Exam part and a description of the research area for the Research Exam part.

Research Exam

The intent of this portion of the exam is to assess the student's preparation and potential for graduate level research work in their chosen field. This part of the process consists of completion of a one-year research project and oral examination. The project is intended to demonstrate the student's ability to assemble and analyze the relevant literature for a given research problem and to make preliminary steps towards his/her own contribution. Selection of an appropriate first-year research topic should be made with the approval of the student's advisor. The project may be started at any time after matriculation. Completion of the project must be accompanied by a written report of approximately 20 pages in length, roughly half of which reviews the field (with appropriate references) and half of which describes the student's own progress to date. Both the report and the oral presentation are expected to be predominantly the student’s own work (without extensive editing assistance, for example), although students are encouraged to practice their presentation before a technical audience of their peers.

Once the Request for Ph.D. Qualifying Examination submitted, the request will be reviewed by the department’s Qualifying Approval Committee (QAC.) If approved, the QAC will appoint a Qualifying Research Examination Committee (QREC) who will conduct the research portion of the examination. The QREC typically consists of three members, an advisor and two members with a background in the subject matter of the research. At the discretion of the advisor, QREC may be expanded to four members.

Once the student is notified of approval and of the members of the QREC, the student must fill out the Qualifying Examination "Results" document. This document formalizes a time and place for the research part of examination. It is student’s responsibility to personally contact every member of the QREC and to establish a time and place for the examination and to obtain the signatures of all examiners. This document must be submitted to the Graduate Administrative Assistant, and it will also be used to document the results of the examination.

Student submits a written research report to the QREC at least 2 weeks before the Research Exam.

The student will undergo the oral research part of the Qualifying Examination at the established time agreed by QREC members. The Research Exam will be limited to 120 minutes.

If a student fails the research exam, that student MUST repeat the qualifying Research Exam one time and one-time-only during the next regular semester. Failure after the second attempt will result in dismissal from the program.

Coursework Exam

The Department has been organized into five graduate areas. They are:

  1. Electronics & Photonics
  2. Systems & Signals
  3. Computer Systems
  4. Software & Knowledge Engineering
  5. Theory of Computing

Each area has designated at least two Ph.D. qualifier core courses. Each degree program (EE, CpE, CS) is associated with graduate areas. Areas 1, 2, 3, 4 associate with EE program; 2, 3, 4 associate with CpE program; 3, 4, 5 associate with CS program. Each program has at least six Ph.D. core courses. A student seeking to be qualified must first pass three of the six Ph.D. core courses associated with his/her program with a grade of B or better in each, and these 3 courses must be in at least two areas.

Students who have a MS from another institution may have already completed these courses or equivalent courses at their MS institution. Selection of all courses, particularly in the student's major area, is tailored to the student's background via consultation with his/her advisor. Accordingly, depending on the student's preparation and field of research, courses beyond the above minimum may be deemed necessary by the student's advisor.

  1. Scheduling: The Qualifying Exam is held once per semester (Fall / Spring) administered by the Department.
  2. Course Coverage: At the start of the semester (and no later than two weeks prior to the exam), the student must pick THREE COURSES from at least TWO numbered Areas that are associated with the PhD degree that is being pursued.
  3. Duration and Format: The exam shall last four hours on the same day and is closed book. It will be proctored.
  4. Question Guidelines: The section associated with a given course may contain multiple questions, as long as the entire section can be completed in less than one hour by a student who is skilled in the topic. Questions may include relevant foundational (i.e., undergraduate) materials.
  5. Grading: Each section is graded Pass/Fail, and the student must pass all three attempted sections to pass the exam. The score of 70 or above out of 100 on each course signifies passing grade.
  6. Repeat Attempts: If a student Fails a section of the exam, then that student may repeat that section only once and must do so during the next semester’s exam. Failure after the second attempt will result in dismissal from the program.