Ph.D. Qualifying Examination Rules and Procedures

The purpose of the qualifying procedure is to certify a reasonable standard of individual competence in core physics topics among students who will receive a Ph.D.

The following summarizes the rules for the Qualification Procedures for Ph.D. candidates.

In Spring 2018, the Qualification Procedures were changed, with the new rules effective for those entering the Ph.D. program in Fall 2018 onwards. Both sets of procedures are described by following the links below.

In both cases, there is an oral/research component to the Qualifying Procedure, as also described below.

These guidelines have been approved by the Physics Graduate Faculty.

Written Component

Oral/Research Component

There is a research-based oral component to the qualifying procedure. It consists of a short presentation on a physics research topic that is to be scheduled and completed according to the following guidelines. The goal is to ensure that doctoral students have successfully begun the transition from formal coursework to engagement in research work.

  • Each student will choose a faculty member to serve as chair of his/her oral committee. Students are advised to choose a chair whose research specialty is in the area that the student expects to pursue. If the student is already working with, or tentatively working with, a research advisor, that faculty member should be the chair. The chair will select one other faculty member to serve on the committee.
  • The student will identify a research topic of interest related to any of the research fields represented in the department and consult with the chair to ensure that the nature and scope of the proposed presentation is appropriate. The name of the chair will be communicated to the Graduate Program Director no later than the beginning of the fifth semester in the program. In the event that the deadline passes without a chair having been selected, the GPD will assign a chair.
  • The presentation is expected to reflect careful research of the topic and to demonstrate that the student has understood both critical points and the larger physics context of the topic under investigation. The role of the chair is not to supervise a research project but to be a source of advice and help in studying the topic. While students that are already actively engaged in research will naturally choose a topic within the field of their own research, they should not simply present a summary of their work. An important aspect of the project is that the student consult several research papers in the field, as this is a key element in doing original research. A list of references is to be handed in.
  • The length of the presentation should be about 30-45 minutes, followed by 15-20 minutes of discussion with the committee. It may be scheduled any time after completion of the written component of the qualifying procedure and no later than the end of the fifth semester in the program. Following the presentation, the chair of the committee will send to the GPD the Oral Qualifying Exam Checklist. If the presentation is deemed inadequate, the committee may ask the student to perform additional work, such as preparation of a short document or a second presentation, which must be completed by 15 December.

With mutual consent of the student and research advisor, this may serve as a dissertation prospectus presentation, as well. In that case, the full dissertation committee must be formed and a written prospectus document prepared.