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Advancement to Candidacy

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.

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.

There are three components to the qualifying exam: the pre-qualifying meeting, submission of a proposal, and an oral examination.

The pre-qualifying meeting

At least 4 weeks before the tentative qualifying exam date, the student will meet with the faculty committee for a pre-qual evaluation. At this meeting the student will give an oral presentation prepared for the qualifying exam and receive feedback and suggested corrections for improvement and to aid in his/her preparation. This is a good time to do the "application for qualifying exam" form, which should be submitted one month before the qualifying exam.

The qualifying exam proposal

At least 2 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. Once the proposal is approved the student may take the oral component of the qualifying exam.

The oral examination

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

  • Approximately 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 2 months before you expect to take the oral exam to arrange a date and time for the exam and the pre-qual. Finalize the time and location for both, 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.

Procedures after passing the qualifying exam (info current as of 2021-22)

  • Please ensure that your committee chair fills out the following assessment. Physics Qualifying Exam Rubric

  • Receive the qualifying exam report (passed) from the committee members

  • See the flow-chart for advancement to candidacy.

  • Email the qual report to Graduate Dean (currently Chris Kello) and Then apply for candidacy from this link. You are suggested to apply for the masters degree "on the way" to PhD, with the check box in the Academic Information section. Pay the fee ($90), and then notify committee members and grad chair that they will get approval links from graduate services for OnBase.

  • For the masters along the way, once your candidacy application is approved, fill out the form for the final report for the masters degree and send it to and the program chair in SNS (currently Paul Roberts). Select Option II, and the qualifying exam counts as the comprehensive exam.

  • You will receive an email (after few days of getting the application approval) from Graduate Division to apply for masters (along the way) graduation. You need to go to MyStudentRecord and then Graduation Application. Follow the instructions to submit your graduation application for the current term. You need to pay a fee ($40) (which supports the purchase of your diploma and diploma mailing). Other information: