Ph.D Qualifying Examination Requirements and Procedures
The Ph.D. qualifying evaluation is a review process intended to provide an early assessment of a student's preparation and aptitude for completing a Ph.D. degree. Date of Effect: Autumn Quarter 2016 (approved by ECE Faculty 02 June 2016, modifications approved June 2017)
The evaluation process is administered by the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) and Graduate Academic Advising Staff.
Format and Exam Content
Well before the quarter in which the exam is taken, the student and their faculty advisor(s) will identify a research project in their area of interest and develop a study plan to assure the student understands the relevant fundamentals related to their area of research (e.g. undergraduate textbooks, related literature, graduate courses).
After the student has completed at least three courses in their specialty area (at the 5xx level, with grades of 3.5 or higher, with at least two EE or EE cross-listed courses) and the faculty advisor agrees that sufficient progress has been made on the research project, the student may apply to take the exam. The faculty advisor(s) should identify faculty members with expertise related to the project to serve as the examination panel. The exam will be based on:
- The student's research, including a written report describing the study (5 pages including references in the format of a major conference or journal paper in your field. If a faculty member contributed to the paper, please indicate student/faculty contribution level) and a 15-20 minute oral presentation describing the research; and
- The student's response to the panel's questions about the research and associated foundational concepts.
The examination panel will assess the student according to the following rubrics:
- Understanding of relevant fundamentals;
- Understanding of related literature;
- Clarity and completeness of written document;
- Quality of oral presentation; and
- Ability to field questions.
A department-level Qualifying Exam committee will meet to review all student exam results and will determine exam outcomes by the end of the 9th week of the quarter. Possible outcomes for each student are: pass, pass with contingencies, not yet qualified, and fail. All students and their advisors will be notified of the results at this time. Students with an outcome of "not yet qualified" on their first attempt are allowed to take the examination a second time and must do so at the next offering.
NOTE: Only panel members, faculty advisor(s), and student examinee may be present during the exam. Any exceptions must be approved by exam panel chair. Per UW policy, students are no longer allowed to provide food or drinks for meetings with faculty members including qualifying, general and final PhD examinations.
Students are expected to take the Qualifying Exam by the end of their second year. The exam is given twice yearly during autumn and spring quarters, during the 6-8th week of the quarter. Students must be registered for a minimum of 2 credits in order to take the exam.
The steps for applying to take the qualifying exam are:
- At least two weeks before the application is due, the student emails their faculty advisor(s) to confirm that they agree that the student has done sufficient work on the project to take the quals. At the same time, the student should provide a list of their depth courses to obtain faculty advisor approval.
- The student completes the online Application for the Qualifying Examination (with project title and abstract) by 5 p.m. the first Thursday of the quarter.
- The advisor completes the online Faculty Advisor Letter of Recommendation (with proposed panel members including panel chair and one alternate panel member) by 5 p.m. on the first Friday of the quarter. When a student has co-advisors, only one recommendation is needed.
Note that depth courses are listed on both the student and faculty advisor forms to indicate approval.
Scheduling the Exam
- After the exam panel is approved by the GPC or appointed Qualifying Exam Faculty Lead, the student will be responsible for scheduling the exam sometime during weeks 6-8 of the quarter. The exam time/date/place (including Zoom Meeting link as appropriate) will be provided by the student to Graduate Academic Advising by the third Friday of the quarter. NOTE: Due to COVID-19, all members of the committee and the student examinee may participate via Zoom meeting. Please refer to the Additional Guidelines for Scheduling Online Exams below for more detailed information.
- The student should deliver their research report to the examination panel and to Graduate Academic Advising at least three weeks prior to the exam. If the student is taking the exam for the second time, the report should include an addendum that explains how the new report differs from the previous attempt.
The oral exam will be 1-1.5 hours followed by a 15-30 minute meeting of the panel to discuss the results. Each panel member will provide an individual assessment of the student. The chair will write a brief summary of recommendations and provide all documents to Graduate Academic Advising staff.
Faculty Advisor Recommendation
In order to initiate a qualifying evaluation, the student's faculty advisor must submit a written recommendation online via the Faculty Advisor Letter of Recommendation, indicating the faculty advisor's impression of the student's strengths, weaknesses, and preparation level for continued Ph.D. study. The statement from the faculty advisor should make a convincing case of why a qualifying evaluation panel should be convened for the student and describe their present degree of willingness to advise the student. This recommendation letter is the primary means through which the faculty advisor's opinions are expressed to the panel, and any unusual or extenuating circumstances should be cited in this letter. If the student has co-advisors, a separate letter of support can be emailed to Graduate Academic Advising staff, but it is not required.
- An examination panel of three faculty members is identified by the faculty advisor(s) optionally in consultation with the student. The chair of the panel should be a voting ECE faculty member in the student's research area, preferably at the level of Associate or Full Professor. The other members of the panel can be any UW Seattle faculty member with an appointment in the graduate school and with the expertise relevant to the research project (Assistant, Adjunct or Research professors may be on panel, but Affiliate Professors are not eligible). If this is a second attempt for the student, one of the members must be selected from the previous panel.
- Faculty advisor(s) may not serve on the exam panel. Advisors may be present as an observer for the student presentation, but they may not participate in the panel question and answer portion of the exam.
The examination panel is responsible for probing the student's preparation and fundamental knowledge in his/her chosen specialty area and providing feedback to the student on the presentation of their work during the exam. This is to be accomplished by:
- Reading the research report and faculty recommendation letter, determining the exam duration (1-1.5 hours);
- Agreeing at the start of the exam as to how they will coordinate questioning during and/or after the students talk;
- Asking questions about fundamentals directly related to the research project and/or to the depth courses;
- Completing assessment forms to provide feedback to the student using rubrics associated with different aspects of the exam;
- Reviewing the student's record of coursework and experience and noting any deficiencies which would hinder the student's research work.
The panel chair will be responsible for communicating the exam duration and question areas to the student, ensuring that all panel members have an opportunity to ask questions during the exam, and writing a brief summary of the exam process and panel recommendations.
Department-Level Exam Committee
The GPC, or appointed Qualifying Exam Faculty Lead, will appoint a department-level Qualifying Exam Committee composed of chairs of examination panels and optionally additional ECE voting faculty in areas where there are borderline cases. This committee will consider input from all panel members and the faculty advisor's letter of recommendation in determining exam outcomes.
The faculty advisor's letter of recommendation and the Qualifying Exam Warrant (which includes the faculty panel chair's report and department-wide committee page with final decision), will be added to the student's permanent file.
Petitions, Appeals and Grievances
Students wishing to petition to count a course with a grade less than 3.5 towards a depth course requirement must complete the required petition and submit it to the Graduate Academic Advising Office before applying to take the Qualifying Exam.
Students wishing to petition to count a course taken at another university toward a depth or breadth requirement should complete the Quals Course Substitution Form, provide documentation substantiating the equivalence, and obtain approval from either the faculty chairperson of the appropriate curriculum group or the faculty who most often teaches the course. The Graduate Academic Advising Office can provide the names of the curriculum group chairs and faculty who most often teach the courses. Petitions must be submitted to the Graduate Academic Advising Office before applying to take the Qualifying Exam.
The time limitations and number of attempts are set by the satisfactory progress policy for the Department. Extensions of time or additional attempts beyond these guidelines may only be granted by means of petition to the GPC or appointed Qualifying Exam Faculty Lead, including a letter of support from the faculty advisor. Any challenge to the decision of the Qualifying Exam Committee should be taken directly to the GPC or appointed Qualifying Exam Faculty Lead.
Challenges to the decision of the GPC or appointed Qualifying Exam Faculty Lead will be handled by a subcommittee appointed by the Curriculum Committee. This subcommittee will review the appeal and direct an appropriate response.
Additional Guidelines for Scheduling Online Exams
Typically, either the chair of the committee or the student may create a Zoom meeting link using the UW Zoom Account. They will then share this link with firstname.lastname@example.org to include in the exam announcement and in the calendar posting. The Graduate Academic Advisor will send the warrant and instructions to all committee members the day prior to the exam. Usually, the Chair downloads and signs the warrant after the exam, and asks the committee members to email their confirmation of attendance and decision (do they concur and what the decision was). Then the Chair should email the warrant back to email@example.com.
When creating the Zoom meeting, there are certain options that should be selected to protect the integrity of the exam:
- The Zoom meeting should be set up so that participants (guests) should be asked to "Register". Do not select the passcode option as this is a public exam (for General and Final Exams).
- All Committee Members and the student being examined should be made "Alternative-hosts" so that they may properly participate.
- The committee always has the option to "Record" the exam in Zoom, to review discussion and student's answers. This recording will only be available after the Zoom Mtg is over and the recording downloaded.
Updates or corrections to this page should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.