The qualifying exam

The Qualifying exam and advancement to candidacy

All students in the PhD program are required to pass a qualifying exam before advancement to candidacy for the PhD degree. This exam should be taken before the end of the third year of study in the program and cannot be scheduled until the preliminary exam has been passed and the core courses completed. Students should expect to take the qualifying exam after working with their research advisor on a specific project for 1-2 years and should work with their advisor to determine the appropriate time to advance to candidacy.

There are two components to the qualifying exam, submission of a proposal and an oral examination.

The qualifying exam proposal

At least two weeks before the scheduled qualifying exam the candidate should submit their research proposal to their qualifying exam committee. This document describes the research topic, summarizes progress to date, outlines the proposed PhD research, why it is relevant and what will be learned. The student should prepare this proposal in close collaboration with their research advisor who will provide guidance on content, format and length. The committee will review the proposal with the student to determine if the student has outlined a project suitable for a PhD. One the proposal is approved the student may take the oral component of the qualifying exam.

The oral examination

The student should arrange an appropriate time for the oral exam in consultation with the committee chair who can give additional guidance on what to expect from the oral exam. Students are also advised to meet with all committee members in advance of the exam to briefly discuss their research plans. The exam will consist of a formal research presentation to the committee after which the committee will question the candidate on a range of topics relevant to their project, including specific details of the project as well as basic physical concepts relevant to the subject of enquiry.

Advancement timeline/checklist

  • Approx 1-2 years after joining a research group consult with your advisor on when to take the qualifying exam.
  • Begin working on the qualifying exam proposal 2-3 months before you expect to take the oral exam. Writing the proposal is a collaborative process with your advisor and they will work with you to produce the final version for submission.
  • Contact your committee chair and members at least 1-2 months before you expect to take the oral exam to arrange a date and time. Finalize the time and location for the exam, then book a room and make sure you will have the appropriate av equipment for your presentation.
  • Submit the proposal to the committee at least 2 weeks before the exam, this should be a final completed version, not a draft. The committee may request changes to the proposal in which case the oral examination can be postponed if necessary.
  • Remember to bring the appropriate paperwork to the oral examination for your committee to sign.
  • In addition, please ensure that your committee chair fills out the following assessment and that it is emailed to the Graduate Coordinator and copied to the Graduate Group Chair.

Physics Qualifying Exam Rubric

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