Oral Qualifying Exam

The Oral Qualifying Exam is one of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree, and is taken after a student passes the Comprehensive Exam, and typically after working for 6 months to one year with a research advisor. It is expected that during this period, the student will begin to become familiar with the relevant literature, gain an understanding of the mathematics and concepts related to their particular topic, and complete a substantial portion of a small independent project that is related to their thesis work. Before scheduling the Oral Exam, the Ph.D. Thesis Committee must be formed. The Oral Exam is to be announced to the department as a seminar presentation with title and abstract at least one week in advance.

Format of the Oral Exam

The presentation portion of the Oral Exam is typically 45 minutes in length, open to the public, and is followed by questions from the general audience. The advisor and thesis committee may rule out any questions deemed inappropriate for this Exam. The Thesis Committee then meets with the student for more detailed questions and discussion. Next, the student is excused and the Committee makes an overall decision on the Exam. The possibilities are:

  1. the student Passes the Exam;
  2. the student Does Not Pass, but is invited to repeat the Oral Exam with the same Thesis Committee to demonstrate understanding that was found lacking;
  3. the student Does Not Pass, and is recommended to either identify a different advisor and topic or possibly withdraw from the program.

After passing the Oral Exam, and completing the core course requirements, the student will advance to Candidacy.

Content of the Presentation

The Oral Exam Presentation consists of a proposed thesis topic, background information on the topic and how it relates to larger questions in its subfield, and an outline of what the student will do to successfully complete a thesis on this topic. It is recognized that the topic may evolve or change substantially during progress towards the thesis, and this process will be monitored by the Thesis Committee. However, in the Oral Exam, the student is expected to present as thorough a plan as possible at that time, demonstrating the ability to work independently. The student will be questioned about the topic in some depth, to verify that this topic is appropriate for a Physics Ph.D. thesis, and to identify areas that the student needs to strengthen along the way.