Oral Preliminary Exam

All PhD students must successfully pass the oral preliminary exam, which is intended to assess the potential to successfully complete a PhD in mechanical engineering. It is designed to evaluate analytical skills, appraise knowledge of mechanical engineering fundamentals, and to gauge potential for creative independent research. The exam requires students to consolidate their grasp of the fundamentals of mechanical engineering and to demonstrate an aptitude for communicating knowledge during an oral presentation. The content of the examination reflects consensus across the department faculty. The examination is administered by the Graduate Committee, acting on behalf of the entire faculty. 

All PhD students are required to take two from a list of multiple topic exams. The department will organize peer-led oral exam practice efforts to facilitate growth with the oral defense. The list of topics and their corresponding preparatory courses are listed below:

  • BioM3 (offered for students enrolled prior to Fall 2022): MCEN 5117 Anatomy & Physiology for Engineers
  • Dynamics and Controls: MCEN 5228 Linear Systems
  • Fluid Dynamics: MCEN 5021 Introduction to Fluid Dynamics
  • Heat Transfer: MCEN 5042 Heat Transfer
  • Materials: MCEN 5024 Materials Chemistry and Structures
  • Mechanics: MCEN 5023 Solid Mechanics
  • Thermodynamics: MCEN 5022 Classical Thermodynamics

Details regarding the content of each topic exam are provided in the Appendix of the Graduate Program Handbook. Although the preparatory courses are strongly recommended prior to taking the oral preliminary exam, they are not required.

The exam is oral and delivered by a committee of at least two faculty. The committee cannot include a student's faculty advisor, and advisors are not consulted when making final decisions on exams. 

Research Preliminary Exam

The research preliminary exam is an oral presentation of research to a committee of three that must include a PhD student’s research advisor and at least one other faculty member from mechanical engineering. Students should view this as an early thesis proposal. 

At least one week prior to the exam, students must send a 250-word presentation abstract, including title and any relevant references, to all committee members. Typically, the research preliminary exam consists of a roughly 30-minute oral presentation by the student on a research topic, followed by roughly 30 minutes of questioning by the exam committee. In nearly all cases, the total exam time should be, at most, one hour. 

Depending on how much research progress a student has made, the exam may consist primarily of a literature review, a plan for future research, or the presentation of preliminary research results. The committee will ask challenging questions of the student in order to test the bounds of the student’s knowledge and research potential. 

The research preliminary exam should be completed within one year of passing the oral preliminary exam, but no later than fall semester of the third year.