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Qualifying Exam Process

PhD Qualifying Exams at LCSEE

This document describes the revised Qualifying Exam Process for all Ph.D. students in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering who have matriculated after fall 2008. PhD students must make the first attempt to pass the qualifying exam within 14 months of their enrollment if they already have a MS degree from the Lane Department or within 26 months otherwise.
When applying to take the PhD Qualifying Exam, please allow time for the request to be processed and your committee to be formed.

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 (CS, EE, CPE) is associated with three areas (i.e. Areas 1, 2, 3 associate with EE program; 2, 3, 4 associate with CpE program; 3, 4, 5 associate with CIS program.) and therefore 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. 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.

Qualifying Examination Committee typically consists of three members, an advisor and two members with a background in two of the subjects. At the discretion of the advisor, QEC may be expanded to four members (e.g., one member from a third area or outside the department). The Department, at its annual retreat elects a Qualifying Approval Committee of five graduate faculty members (one from each area) for the purpose of administering the QEC process. This committee will work with the advisor to select two graduate faculty members who will serve on individual QECs. This consultation helps ensure that faculty members who generally teach the breadth courses are present in the committee.

The PhD qualifying 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. The written project report must be completed and submitted to the examination committee at least ten days prior to the date of the oral examination. QAC meets twice a year to discuss the prospective exam-takers at the start of the spring and fall semesters.

The oral exam will include of

  1. Presentation by the student of his/her research project
  2. Questions about the work, its context, and relevant literature
  3. Questions about course work, focusing specifically on the three core courses for which the student has earned credit

The examiners will also be mindful of other graduate courses already taken, research directions pursued to date, and any specific tentative plans the student may have for future research. The QEC will meet to formulate and ratify Exam questions and must document them with the departmental appointed graduate administrative assistant one business day prior to the oral exam. It is also appropriate for QEC members to ask improvised questions that are closely related to the documented questions to demonstrate the student's ability to think independently. The entire oral exam will be limited to 180 minutes. The intent is to assess the student's preparation and potential for graduate level research work in their chosen field.

The possible outcomes of the first year exam are:

  1. "Pass" — the student is qualified to begin work towards the candidacy exam
  2. "Pass with Recommended Coursework" — the student is qualified to begin work towards a candidacy exam but certain courses must be taken
  3. "Fail"

A "Pass" or "Pass with Recommended Coursework" outcome requires a great majority of affirmative votes (i.e., no more than one negative vote). Any student failing the qualifying exam on the initial attempt will have one additional attempt within six months. Failure of the exam on the second attempt will disqualify the student from further doctoral studies in the LCSEE program.