A mechanical engineering PhD degree requires depth of knowledge in the dissertation/research area, as well as breadth of knowledge across the mechanical engineering curriculum. Consequently, the comprehensive exam is designed to test student knowledge of their proposed research area, and any general knowledge in the field. It is also intended to evaluate whether a student’s proposed research project is original and creative work, whether it will make a significant impact in the field, and whether it will qualify for publication in quality peer-reviewed journals. The exam is also an opportunity to demonstrate an ability to present scientific concepts orally. In short, the comprehensive exam serves as the gateway to the next phase of the doctoral program: completion of a dissertation.

Students must complete a comprehensive exam between six and 12 months prior to defending their PhD dissertations. At the time of the comprehensive exam, the dissertation committee will be formed and given preliminary approval by the department and Graduate School. 

The comprehensive exam consists of the following core requirements:

  • Submit a Doctoral Examination Report and a Candidacy Application for Advanced Degree to the mechanical engineering graduate advisors at least three weeks prior to the comprehensive exam. 
  • By email, send the comprehensive exam proposal to (i) the examining committee and (ii) the graduate advisors at least two weeks prior to the examination. The proposal should describe the work that has been completed to date and proposed work that will be completed for the dissertation. 
  • Included in the proposal should be a comprehensive literature review of the field of concentration, the subject of the dissertation, as well as a detailed timeline of work to be completed prior to the dissertation defense. In most cases, the proposal should be written in the style and format of the final dissertation document. 
  • Students must prepare a professional oral presentation that covers what is written in the proposal. This presentation should be 45-50 minutes in length and must be delivered at the comprehensive examination to the examination committee. The oral presentation portion of the examination is open to all students and faculty, and questions are entertained at the end of the presentation. 
  • The final part of the examination is restricted to only the student and the examination committee. During this portion, questions are asked that cover the field of concentration and related fields. 
  • Successful candidates must receive affirmative votes from a majority of the members of their examination committee. 

Students who fail the examination may attempt it once more after a period of time determined by the examination committee.

Additional administrative requirements of the comprehensive examination are as follows:

  • All program coursework must be completed before taking the comprehensive exam. 
  • Students must be registered as regular degree-seeking students when they take the comprehensive exam (thus requiring a minimum enrollment of 1 credit hour).
  • Each comprehensive exam committee is comprised of five members. The department requires that three of the members be mechanical engineering faculty and one must be a regular CU faculty member from another department.
  • Each committee member must have a regular or special faculty appointment on file with the Graduate School prior to submission of the Doctoral Exam Report. Please contact the graduate advisors at megrad@colorado.edu as soon as you form your committee, and no later than six weeks prior to your comprehensive examination, to verify that the necessary appointments are in place. It takes two to four weeks to process a faculty appointment. Students should submit a recent CV for any committee member who does not have a faculty appointment to the graduate advisors as soon as possible