Ph.D. Preliminary Examination Guidebook
(Last Updated August 2012)
This document discusses the format of the Department of Mechanical Engineering's Ph.D. Preliminary Exam. Prospective Ph.D. students and faculty administering the examination will find the contents of this document useful. Questions may be directed to the current Chair of the Graduate Committee or the Graduate Program Coordinator.
The Ph.D. Preliminary Examination in the Department of Mechanical Engineering is to assess a student's potential to successfully complete a Ph.D. It is designed to evaluate a student's analytical skills, to appraise their knowledge of mechanical engineering fundamentals, and to gauge their potential to do creative independent research. The exam requires the student to consolidate his/her grasp of the fundamentals of mechanical engineering and to demonstrate aptitude for conducting original research. The content of the examination re?ects consensus across the department faculty. The examination is administered by the Graduate Committee, acting on behalf of the entire faculty.
What is the Preliminary Exam?
The preliminary exam is a two-part exam that must be passed by students before they can continue in the Ph.D program. The ?rst part of the exam is an academic written exam and the second part of the exam is the research oral exam.
Academic Written Exam
The academic written exam part of the preliminary exam consists of two written exams that cover graduate material in mechanical engineering. Typically the exams are linked to specific courses, but are written so that they are more comprehensive than the course's final exam. Content from course prerequisites can also appear on these exams. Students will select 2 exam topics from the available lists of topics. At least one of the 2 exams must be taken in a fundamental area. Students have the option of taking one exam in a technical area.
Instructors for the courses linked to the exams will work with two additional faculty, selected by the Graduate Committee, to write and grade the written exams. These three-faculty written exam committees will decide pass/fail for each student in that exam.
The academic written exam will be administered the week before the start of the spring semester. All students will take the exam at the same time. Over a six-hour period (with a lunch break), each student will have to complete both exams. The faculty groups will then grade within 3-4 days. The graduate committee will assemble the results and inform the students ASAP.
Research Oral Exam
An oral exam will be administered towards the end of the spring semester by a three-member committee (3 members must from the ME department) chosen by the student, preferably as part of the already existing Intro to Research experience. The exam must be completed by the last day of final exams. An oral preliminary exam report must also be prepared by the student and submitted to their committee one week before the oral exam. The maximum length of the report is six pages and the required format of the report will be distributed to students at the beginning of the Spring semester.
Students should give a professional presentation of approximately 30 min in length. Professional attire is encouraged. The presentation and subsequent discussion should show a depth of knowledge of the past literature on the research topic, should present how their work fits into the broader picture, what is their original contribution, and include detailed quantitative results and future work. Students should discuss this presentation with their advisor prior to the exam date, so that there are common expectations.
The committee can ask the student disciplinary questions to further probe the student's ability to perform PhD caliber research in their chosen specialty. Questioning should take approximately 30 minutes. The committee can evaluate student knowledge in relation to the research, not just the results. The exam committee will determine pass/fail once the exam has been completed and inform the Graduate Chair and Graduate Advisor of the results. There will be no research prelim retakes, unless a student can find a new research advisor willing to support him/her on an RA, in which case that student must take a 2nd research oral exam within the year.
What are the Topics for the Preliminary Exam?
The topic area should have at least one exam taker (but is up to the discretion of the lead) and should reflect the department's research areas and graduate degree tracks. Students fill out a form that lists their exam choices and the form is signed by their advisor. This form is submitted to the Graduate Committee prior to taking the exam.
Methods of Engineering Analysis I
Materials Chemistry and Structure
Anatomy and Physiology for Engineers
Who can take the Preliminary Exam?
First year Ph.D. students are required to take the preliminary exam and must have a 3.25 GPA. Students that have extenuating circumstances that do not allow them to take their exams in the above areas in the fall, may petition the graduate committee to take one of their exams in the spring over material taught in the spring and must take one exam in the Fall. Only in rare circumstances, will the student be allowed to take both exams in the spring, by petition only.
When is the Exam Administered?
The academic written exam will take place on Jan 9, 2013, between 9-4 p.m. One exam will be in the morning, from 9-noon. There will then be a 1-hour break, and lunch will be provided. The second exam will be in the afternoon from 1-4 p.m. Proctors will be present all day.
The research oral exam will be administered towards the end of the second semester (spring semester) of the first year of the Ph.D. program. Specific dates are TBD.
The exams will mostly be open book, as per exam requirements, and no computers are allowed. Calculators will be allowed, as per exam requirements.
What happens if a Student Fails?
Academic Written Exam
If a student fails one written exam, they will be required to retake it at the end of their second semester, in the spring. If a student fails two subjects, then they are done at the M.S. Students will only be given one opportunity to retake, so by the end of May, every student's position will be determined. Departmental support of ?rst-year PhD students will be maintained through their ?rst academic year regardless of performance on the written exam. Successful completion of the prelim is required for subsequent support.
Research Oral Exam
There will be no research exam retakes, unless a student can ?nd a new research advisor willing to support him/her on a Research Assistantship, in which case that student must take a second research oral exam within the year.
An assessment process will be undertaken after both the written and oral exam parts of the preliminary exam have been administered. The assessment process will be used to further re?ne and improve the preliminary exam process.
Preparation for the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination
Professor Daily has prepared a separate document that provides very specific strategies for preparing for the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination.
If you have any question, please contact Prof.Michael Hannigan, Chair of the Graduate Committee at Hannigan@Colorado.Edu