Computer Engineering Program Qualifying Exam

The objective of the qualifying examination is to assess the student’s potential to begin doctoral-level research. The latter requires the student to demonstrate the following in their primary research area and two secondary research areas:

  • an ability to state a problem clearly, provide its motivation, and the requirements for a solution.
  • an ability to determine if a solution is correct.
  • an ability to assess to what extent a (presumably correct) solution meets the requirements (solves the problem).
  • an ability to describe how a problem and its solution fits into the big picture (and to understand the big picture).
  • an ability to communicate effectively (both in writing and speaking) and to answer questions relating to the problem and its solution and the broader research context.


Exam Dates:  August 2022 (exact dates TBD)


June 15, 2022  - The CpE Qualifiers Committee will announce 6 papers, one from each area, to be used for the Exam.

July 15, 2022  -- Declare intent to take the Qualifying Exam and state your selections of primary and secondary areas. (Please submit by email to

One week prior to the exam  -- Submit a written report (max 3 pages in IEEE standard format *) on the paper in the primary area to the Chair of the Doctoral Qualifications Exam Committee  

24 hours before your exam -- Submit your presentation slides to the Committee Chair.   You must use the slides that you submit with no changes.   

The areas identified in Computer Engineering Graduate Handbook for the qualifiers are as follows:

  1. Computer architecture and high-performance computing
  2. VLSI, System on chip; low power design
  3. Distributed systems; Dependable and Secure computing; software engineering
  4. Cyber-physical systems; Embedded, Autonomous, Mobile and Robotic Systems
  5. Machine Learning; NLP; Vision, Image and Signal Processing
  6. Networks and Internet; Internet of Things; Cloud computing


NOTE: Please read the handbook carefully and note the committee’s expectations. The committee will both “assess the student’s potential to begin doctoral-level research,” as well as examine fundamental understanding by asking questions on “related topics.” Therefore, students should not only understand the problem and solution presented in the paper (and demonstrate the “abilities” listed in the handbook), but also be responsible for background material (which is *not* limited to references in the paper) for the question-answer session.


  • Papers for the Qualifying Exam
  • How to Read a Research Paper

    How to Read a Paper
    Some thoughts on reading and understanding a technical paper
    Computer engineering program faculty
    March 2007

    When reading a technical paper, try to answer these questions. Read the paper through quickly to get the big picture and then read it again (as many times as is needed) to understand more levels of detail. Notice how words are used as they may have some technical meaning beyond the scope of the paper (of which you may be unaware).

    When you see equations, try to use words to describe what is being calculated. What is the purpose of each equation? Make up simple examples to see if you understand the general idea as well as the details of the calculation.

    Also be careful of exaggerated claims. Attempt to answer these questions in your own words, not in the author’s words, since the author’s words may be biased.

    1. What is the motivation for the work? What problem are they trying to solve?
    2. What is the hypothesis that the authors are investigating? What is the idea that is being considered?
    3. What is the methodology used to perform the investigation of their hypothesis? What “experiment” is defined? What particular problem is being solved?
    4. Is this a valid experiment? Is there reason to believe that results from this experiment would shed light on the problem? (this question is separate from the actual results of the experiment. It relates to the design of the experimental vehicle itself.)
    5. How will the work be evaluated? What are the success criteria? How will the author know whether the approach is a good idea? (This is also separate from the results. It relates to understanding the setup of the experiment.)
    6. What is the novelty of the work described? What’s new? How does it relate to earlier work?
    7. What assumptions (stated and unstated) are being made? How would one test the validity of these assumptions? Do the authors justify the assumptions?
    8. What are the limitations of the work? What questions remain unanswered? What new questions arise?
    9. Do the intro and conclusions adequately convey your impression of the work, its motivation, its contribution?

    Finally, a more personal perspective.

    • How does the topic in the paper relate to your interests and research?
    • Could you have written this paper? If no, why not? Any missing knowledge? Any critical ideas? If yes, why didn't you write it?
    • Do you have any ideas for follow-up work that you may pursue in order to write your own paper on the topic? Do you plan to pursue any of these ideas?
  • FAQs

    Over the years, the students and faculty involved in the exam process have created a list of do's and don'ts to help guide students as they prepare for the exam.  The Exams are typically given in January and August of each year before classes begin.  

    See here for more FAQs.

  • The Computer Engineering Doctoral Qualifications Exam Committee

    The Members are: 
    Barry Johnson, Chair
    Benton Calhoun
    Yixin Sun
    Geoffrey Fox