FAQs for Computer Engineering Qualifiers
What is the Objective of the Qualifying Exam?
The objective of the qualifying examination is to assess the student’s potential to begin doctoral-level research. Specifically, the student is expected to demonstrate for one primary and two secondary research areas: an ability to state a problem clearly, provide its motivation, and the requirements for a solution.
- an ability to understand and explain a solution to the problem.
- an understanding of the broader research context in which this work appears.
- an ability to summarize and present the major points of the work.
- an ability to recognize the limitations and implications of the work.
- working knowledge of the field.
- an ability to communicate effectively, both in writing and in speaking and to answer questions relating to the problem, its solution and the field.
When should I take the exam?
Students desiring a PhD should take the qualifying examination as soon as possible. Students entering with a master's degree should take the exam no later than the end of their first year of study. Students entering with a bachelor's degree should ideally take the exam by the end of their first year, but no later than the middle of their second year.
Students must pass the qualifying exam before beginning their fourth academic semester after admission to the graduate program, unless approved by the CpE graduate committee.
What is the format of the oral exam?
The exam is a 2-hour oral exam, in three parts. There is also a written component due 2 weeks before the exam.
Part I: Primary area test
This is a 1-hour examination, which will start with the student's 20-minute presentation on the paper selected by the student in their primary research area. The committee will then ask in-depth questions on the presentation, the assigned paper, related papers and other topics in the selected primary area.
Part II: Secondary areas test
This is a 1-hour examination, in two parts. Each part starts with the student's 10-minute presentation on one of two secondary papers selected by the student. The committee will then ask broad questions on the presentation, the assigned papers and other topics in the selected secondary areas.
Two weeks before the oral exam date, the student will submit a written report (max 3 pages in IEEE standard format *) on the paper in the primary area to the head of the CpE qualifiers committee (electronically, in pdf). This report should demonstrate the abilities listed under the “objectives” section of this FAQ. The report is expected to cover relevant work: both too little and too much will be considered negatively. The paper should include the student’s analysis of the work, not simply a summary.
2 months before the exam
The CpE qualifiers committee announces the 6 selected papers, one paper for each area.
One month before the exam
Students provide the CpE administrative coordinator their selections for the primary and secondary areas. Please note if your adviser is on the committee so that a substitution for can be made.
2 weeks before the exam
Students submit a written report (max 3 pages in IEEE standard format *) on the paper in the primary area to the head of the CpE qualifiers committee (electronically, as a pdf file).
Yes. Students will be evaluated on the combined written submission and oral examination. The result will be a clear-cut pass or fail for the entire exam; no remedial work will be allowed to alter the outcome.
A student who fails the qualifying exam on the first try must retake it at the next offering. A student who fails the examination twice may lose support and leave the program at the end of that semester.
Each student will meet with the CpE Program Director within a few days of the exam. At this meeting, the student will be told the outcome, will receive a copy of the completed assessment form, and will be provided with feedback from the committee. The CpE Program Director will also communicate the results and feedback to the student’s research adviser and the Graduate Dean’s Office. The results are made available only after all students have taken the exam and are not made available to the student by email.
Research advisors are invited to observe the examination in order to witness their student’s performance and provide moral support. Advisors do not otherwise participate in the examination or evaluation of the student. If a student’s adviser is on the qualifying exam committee, a substitute examiner will administer the appropriate part of the exam and participate in the evaluation.
Yes, students are allowed to study together. Clearly there should be no collaboration while writing the report.
No sources are barred but significant sources must be cited. An annotated list of citations will help the committee gauge the student’s ability to perform research. Each student should prepare an annotated list of up to 20 relevant published works that were consulted as well as a list of all non published sources (people, internet sources, etc) that were consulted.
Examinees are expected to demonstrate a solid understanding of the foundational topics in the areas, and the ability to understand and evaluate the content and context of a chosen publication. Students are expected to demonstrate understanding of the material covered in these courses, regardless if whether, when, and where they took the course. Further, since a course in architecture is required by the program, it is expected that examinees would have taken this course before taking the qualifying exam. This is required even for secondary areas, but on a "lighter" scale than for the primary area.
Students may practice their presentations with their research groups for feedback. Reviews of technical material in the written report is not allowed. Student are allowed to seek asssitance from the writing center.
No Recording devices are allowed!
Students may use their own laptops. Please be sure to test your equipment in the conference room where the exam is to be held prior to the day of the exam. Also please post a copy of your presentation slides on the COLLAB site.