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Ph.D. Qualifying Exam in MSE

The qualifying exam (QE) ensures 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.

MSE Qualifying Exam Policy & Rubrics

The QE changed, effective Autumn 2022. Students entering the MSE Ph.D. program in Autumn 2022 or later will follow the new QE policy. Students who joined the MSE Ph.D. program prior to Autumn 2022 will be held to the previous QE policy. Both policies are described below.

  As a Ph.D. student, you must take the QE by the end of your second year.

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 or a minimum score of 75% on the final written exam in each core course.
  • Earn a minimum 3.2 GPA in these core courses.

Oral QE Policy & Rubrics

The Oral Exam consists of three parts:

  • Written Document
  • Oral Presentation
  • Question & Answer session

Each part is graded as satisfactory or unsatisfactory To pass, a student must achieve a satisfactory grade in all three components. A conditional pass is given if a student receives a score of unsatisfactory in one or two parts and in consultation with the adviser. Failing the exam means receiving unsatisfactory grades in all three parts.

The Graduate Committee will announce the results soon after discussing with the student’s adviser. In the case of a conditional pass (granted in consultation with the adviser), the student’s adviser must provide written confirmation of advising that applies until the student has achieved a pass without conditions. The Committee will then guide the student on remedial steps, which may include re-presenting parts of the exam, submitting revised documents, attending one-on-one faculty meetings, or enrolling in additional or core classes, with a passing grade as per the MSE Department guidelines.

If a student fails the entire exam, at the discretion of the Committee they are allowed one more attempt, conditional upon written confirmation of advising support from their adviser. This retake must be completed in the next academic year.

A student who fails the entire exam will be placed on probation per Graduate School Policy 3.7: Academic Performance and Progress (see section 3.7.3 Unsatisfactory Performance and Progress). If the student passes the exam when they retake it, probation will be removed. If the student does not pass the exam, they may be placed on final probation and dropped from the program.

The Oral Exam is conducted by a panel of three faculty members. One of these faculty members may belong to a department other than MSE. The student’s adviser is excluded from participating in the Oral Examination. The student, in consultation with their adviser, will select two of the faculty members. Typically, one of these will also serve on the Doctoral Supervisory Committee. The third member is assigned in alphabetical order by the Graduate Program Adviser (GPA) and acts as an independent observer. Contact the GPA for the name of the third member.

The following is a description of the Rubric for the three parts of the Oral Exam. The criteria are evenly weighted.

Part 1: Document Assessment Rubric (No more than 25 pages, single spaced and font size 11)

Content Quality, Structure

  • Review and provide the status of the field. What is the limitation, what is the primary obstacle, what it needs to be done to advanced the field
  • Depth and accuracy of scientific content
  • Clarity and significance of research question or hypothesis

Structure and Organization

  • Effective introduction and conclusion
  • Clear, well-organized sections and subsections

Writing Style and Clarity

  • Use of appropriate scientific language and terminology
  • Clarity of expression, readability
  • Grammar, spelling, and punctuation

Research Methodology

  • Appropriateness and rigor of methods
  • Clear presentation of results and findings

References and Citations

  • Adequacy and relevance of references
  • Correct formatting of citations and bibliography

Part 2: Presentation Assessment Rubric (25-minute Presentation)

Content and Structure

  • Alignment with the written document
  • Clear introduction of the problem and background
  • Presentation of current results and hypothesis testing
  • Description of future experiments, including contingencies

Delivery and Communication with Scientific Rigor

  • Clarity and effectiveness of verbal communication
  • Engagement with the audience, maintaining interest
  • Effective use of visual aids
  • Logical reasoning and argumentation
  • Accuracy of scientific content

Conclusion and Future Work

  • Clear summary of findings and results
  • Insightful discussion of future research directions and experiments

Part 3: Question and Answer Assessment Rubric (15-minute Q&A)

Knowledge in Basic Materials Science & Engineering

  • Accuracy and depth of responses in core areas of Materials Science & Engineering
  • Ability to relate basic concepts to their research

Overall Understanding of the Field

  • Breadth of knowledge in Materials Science & Engineering
  • Ability to discuss broader implications and trends in the field

Expertise in Specialization

  • Depth of knowledge in their specific area of research
  • Ability to answer complex questions and defend their research approach

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

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 Policy & Rubrics

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 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.