Doctoral Qualifying Examination

Doctoral candidates are required to pass a qualifying examination. This examination is offered after 12 months (second Fall), the first Friday of the Fall semester.

Qualifying Exam

Definition of Qualifier Exam

This is an exam to evaluate whether doctoral students, on completion of two semesters of courses, should continue with PhD research.

Format of Qualifying Exam

At the exam, students should give a 5-minute presentation on their research interest, defining a broad problem area, and dedicated to a broad audience. This is followed by 50 minutes of questions and answers by the exam committee composed of three members of the EEE department, who represent three areas of the department. The questions will assess the research capacity of the student in addition to their common core courseworks (e.g. thermodynamics in the energy track).

The primary objective is to assess the capacity to think through those questions, which are meant to be very generic but to demonstrate the capacity to use basic knowledge in the field of research of the candidate. Sample questions and guidelines will be circulated before the exam. The candidate will be assessed on his/her fundamental knowledge of the topics and also clarity of presentation.

Outcome of the Exam

Pass; Fail; Conditional Pass (Conditional Pass students will be given one more chance to retake the exam in the same format at the end of the Fall semester to the thesis committee of three faculty members).

Evaluation processes: The committee will meet after the exam and discuss the final decision for the student.

Advisor Involvement in Qualifier Exam

  • Advisor should have the opportunity to provide general comments on the overall contents and research directions.
  • Students are encouraged to have practice talks with his/her peers and group members.
  • Student needs at least 20 credits (2 semesters) of course work (i.e., credits from research do not count) and have taken at least 2 courses taught by EAEE faculty members that are not his direct advisor.

Ph.D. Proposal

Each student is expected to submit a research proposal and present it to a thesis committee that consists of at least three faculty members. Compared to the qualifying exam, this committee does not need to include all three areas of our department. They should be chosen based on the thesis topic since the committee should advise the student throughout his/her PhD.

The committee considers the scope of the proposed research, its suitability for doctoral research and the appropriateness of the research plan.

Outcome of the exam: Pass; Fail; Conditional Pass (Conditional Pass students will be given one more chance within the subsequent semester).

In general, the student is expected to submit his/her research proposal after three semesters of doctoral studies. If the student fails, he/she will have the chance to retake the exam in the same format later in the semester.

Thesis Proposal

  • Expected after four semesters of doctoral studies (including the summer semesters so 1 year after qualifying exam).
  • Committee of at least three faculty members including the advisor, at least two of them hold primary appointments in EEE (with one full time tenured professor).
  • If the primary advisor is outside of EEE (e.g., Civil, ChemE) the advisor from that department will replace one of the three EEE faculty members.
  • A 10-page report (single space) will be submitted to the committee seven days prior to the exam and will be used as part of the evaluation.
  • The proposal defense will last for 1 hour, with 30 minutes for the research presentation and 30 minutes for questions and answers.

Ph.D. Thesis Defense

Committee of at least five faculty members (at least three must be from the EEE department – approved faculty members which includes assistant professors; one must be from another department in SEAS/Columbia and one must be an outsider (outside of SEAS/Columbia).

The defense will last for 1.5 hour, with 50 minutes for the research presentation and 40 minutes for questions and answers.