The qualifying exam consists of two parts:

(1) Written Qualifier:(2) Proposal Defense:
A written examination covering the candidate’s
chosen area of specialization.
An oral examination involving a defense of
the candidate’s written thesis proposal.

The written portion of the qualifying examination will cover the candidate’s general area of specialization in sufficient depth to demonstrate their preparation for conducting PhD level research. Each internal member of the student’s supervisory committee will contribute one or more questions to this exam; external committee members must be asked to provide a question but may decline.  However, at least four committee members must pose a question.

The supervisory committee will provide a written evaluation of this portion of the exam, including an indication of whether or not the student will be allowed to proceed to the oral portion of the qualifying examination. Specific details of the written qualifying exam procedures appear below.

The oral portion of the qualifying exam involves a defense of the candidate’s dissertation proposal. At the supervisory committee’s option, it may also include follow up questions relating to the written portion of the exam. All members of the candidate’s committee should certify that the proposal is ready to be defended prior to conducting the oral portion of the qualifying exam.

Consistent with the requirements of the Graduate School, the qualifying examination must be completed at least one semester prior to defense of the thesis.

PhD Written Qualifying Exams

The student will provide the committee with a two-page research summary. Each member of the student’s complete supervisory committee, with the exception of the students’ faculty advisor, must submit at least one question. At least four committee members must pose a question. Faculty committee members will provide the written questions within two weeks of receiving the written research summary.

Question Format
The format of each question can be chosen by the committee members. Possibilities include (but are not limited to):

  1.  “Take home” question, to be researched and answered by the student
  2.  A “closed book sit down” examination, to be written during a fixed period without use of background materials;
  3.  An “open book sit down” examination, similar to (2), but permitting use of reference materials.

In all cases, the examination will be written.

Exam Administration and Grading
The entire exam must be completed in no more than seven days from the initial question assignment to the submission of answers. Grading must be completed within seven days after the student delivers their answers. Each committee member contributing a question will grade that question and provide a specific, written evaluation of the quality and correctness of the answer. Allowable grades on individual questions are:

P – Pass
F – Fail

A grade of P signifies the answer is above the minimal acceptable performance expected from a PhD student.
An F grade indicates that an answer is not up to the standards we expect from our PhD students.

A student automatically passes the written qualifying exam if they pass all questions. A student automatically fails the exam if they fail the majority of the questions. In all other cases, the committee votes on pass/fail, and the Director of Robotics Studies may cast a necessary tie-breaking vote.

Repeating the Exam
A student who fails their first attempt may retake the exam once. However, the supervisory committee can, at their discretion, include fewer questions on repeated exams.

Candidates must work with the Robotics Coordinator to schedule exams and complete milestone paperwork.