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Ph.D. Qualifying Exam in MSE

The qualifying exam (QE) assures that all Ph.D. students have a general understanding of structure-properties-processing relationships and specific knowledge in their area of interest/expertise within MSE.

assignment As a Ph.D. student, you must take the QE autumn quarter of your second year.

The exam consists of three parts:

  • Written exam
  • Oral exam, which includes a written research report
  • Portfolio and evaluation

Be sure to get feedback from your faculty adviser for each step of the process.

QE preparation

  • Complete the MSE Core Course requirement (MSE 510, MSE 541, and MSE 525)
  • Earn a minimum grade of 3.0 for each core course.
  • Earn a minimum 3.2 GPA in these core courses.
  • Complete an elective course relevant to bio, functional or mechanical materials or polymers, or have the general knowledge in one of these areas based on research. 

QE written exam

The written exam is offered two times a year, in early autumn and in spring quarter for retakes. The MSE Graduate Program Adviser (GPA) sends an announcement, along with a QE study guide and QE written application, at least one month before the exam.

The written exam is approximately three hours and consists of four questions:

  • Three questions are from each of the core courses (510, 525 & 541).
  • The fourth is based on elective courses. Since these courses can vary, you will choose to answer one question based on the following topics: mechanical properties, functional materials & properties, biomaterials or polymers.

Completing the written exam

  • Take the exam at the start of year 2 in the Ph.D. program.
  • The GPA sends out a QE Study Guide & application at least one month prior to the exam date.
  • Exams will be graded by faculty who teach the various courses. Grades will then be reviewed by the Graduate Committee.
  • The GPA emails the results to the students approximately one month following the exam.

The faculty who teach the various core courses determine your grade, which is then reviewed by the MSE Graduate Committee. You will receive your results approximately one month after the exam date.

If you do not take the QE written exam in the autumn quarter of your second year, you will be placed on academic warning, followed by one quarter of probation, one quarter of final probation, and may subsequently be dropped from the program.

Retaking the exam

If you do not pass the exam, you can take it a second time. The consequences of failing the exam include:

  • You must meet with your faculty adviser to discuss how this will affect your progress.
  • You will be placed on academic warning.
  • You will not be able to hold TA appointments within the department while on academic warning.
  • Your second attempt at the QE should happen within 6 months of your first attempt.
  • If you fail a second time, you are placed on probation with additional probationary actions if a third attempt is not granted.

A third attempt is allowed only under exceptional circumstances and must be taken within 6 months of failing the second time. The following actions will need to take place.

  • You must write a letter to the MSE Graduate Committee to request the test be taken a third time.
  • You will be on academic probation with additional probationary actions that follow if a third exam is not allowed.
  • At the discretion of your faculty adviser, funding support may be taken away during probation.

If you fail the exam three times, you will be placed on final probation and dropped from the program the quarter following this failed exam.

QE oral exam

The QE oral exam tests your ability to identify a problem, ask appropriate research questions, use appropriate methods to analyze data, and summarize results. Your faculty adviser, along with the exam committee makes this assessment.

assignment Take the QE oral exam within six months of passing the written examination.

assignment You are responsible for scheduling your presentation in either Roberts 321 or Wilcox 243 using CORAL. Note: you must create a CORAL account before reserving space. Register for CORAL.

assignment You are responsible for contacting all three faculty members who will attend your presentation to arrange a date for your presentation.

assignment You must provide a written research report at least one week before your presentation.

QE oral exam format

  • The oral presentation generally lasts about one hour: 30 minutes for your presentation and 30 minutes for questions and answers.
  • Your faculty adviser and two other MSE faculty members sit in on the presentation and assess your ability to conduct research.
    • Your faculty adviser chooses the second faculty member, usually one who will later serve on your Doctoral Supervisory Committee.
    • The third member is assigned in alphabetical order by the GPA and is acts as an independent observer. Contact the GPA for the name of the third member.
  • Your oral exam includes a written research report that you provide to the faculty members at least one week before your presentation. The research report must adhere to detailed formatting requirements and should include:
    • Introduction
    • Research objectives
    • Results and discussion
    • Future work, including a Gantt chart
    • References

Qualifying exam portfolio

Following your presentation, email your Ph.D. portfolio to your faculty adviser and MSE Graduate Program Adviser. Your portfolio consists of the following:

  • Ph.D. QE Portfolio Cover Sheet
  • Copy of your QE research report
  • Optional: slides from your oral presentation
  • Copy of the email verification of passing the written exam
  • List of all publications, if applicable
  • Copy of one major publication and/or technical report, if applicable
  • Date for when your faculty adviser will submit their letter on your research ability. It is your responsibility to follow up with your adviser to ensure this is submitted.

Your final portfolio must be completed and submitted within three years after entry into the graduate program.

QE evaluation process

  • Following your presentation, your faculty adviser writes a formal letter assessing your research abilities based on the written and oral presentations and on their overall interaction with you. The additional faculty members will either concur with this report or write a separate report.
  • Your portfolio and formal letter will be reviewed by the MSE Graduate Committee. The Graduate Committee may agree or disagree with the faculty adviser’s recommendation. You will receive the committee’s determination from the MSE GPA. For details of the evaluation, talk to your faculty adviser.

Students who receive an RA/TA salary and pass the exam advance to the Predoc RA/TA I salary. Students who are already at this rate (earned their master’s degree previously) will remain at the same rate until passing the General Exam.