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Comprehensive Exam

Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam

As a general rule, students are expected to take the Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam during their 1st year of enrollment in the Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. program.

The Mechanical Engineering doctoral degree requires depth of knowledge in the dissertation/research area as well as breadth of knowledge across the Mechanical Engineering curriculum. The Comprehensive Exam (CE) is intended to measure a graduate student's competency in the undergraduate curriculum, provide a measure of their proficiency to teach undergraduate classes, and evaluate their potential for academic research.

The CE will consist of two parts-- three written examinations and an oral examination. The written examinations will occur over a 2 day period in three subject areas chosen by the student in consultation with their research advisor. Subject areas are a) heat and mass transfer, b) thermodynamics, c) fluid mechanics, d) material science, e) engineering mechanics, f) system dynamics and vibration, and g) machine design. Additional subject areas related to research and educational thrusts of the department may be considered for future subject exams. Students taking the CE exam must check with the faculty in charge of the subject area to determine the format of the written exam. The oral exam will be conducted by the Ph.D. Exam Committee one to two weeks after the written exams. It will last approximately 1-2 hours, and probe deficiencies identified during the written exams.

The Ph.D. Exam Committee will assess the student's overall performance on the exam and assign a CE grade of pass, conditional pass, or fail. A grade of fail will require the student to retake the entire qualifying exam at the next available offering. A conditional pass may require the student retake one or more sections of the exam, enroll in additional coursework to strengthen weak areas, complete a special project in the deficient area, or act as a teaching assistant for specific classes to address any deficiencies. Students who fail the CE twice will be expelled from the Ph.D. program.

The Ph.D. Exam committee will consist of the three faculty members administering the written examinations of the chosen subject areas. A faculty member assigned by the department chair (assignment at the beginning of Winter quarter) to a subject area will be responsible for one part of the written exam, proctoring the exam, and grading the completed work. In order to develop exam consistency, all exams and corresponding grading will be available to the entire faculty after student completion of the exam. It is expected that the Exam Faculty explicitly state the expectations for a specific subject exam. It is the responsibility of the student to discuss these expectations with the Exam Faculty and request suitable reference material and/or practice problems.

Students are required to take the Comprehensive Exam within the 1st year of enrollment into the Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. program. If the student chooses to take their CE during their second year only, they do not get a second chance to pass if the first attempt ends in a failure. Masters candidates intending to continue on for a Ph.D. may take the CE in their 2nd year of Masters-level studies. The CE will be offered each year, typically at the beginning of Spring Quarter, with the oral examination approximately one week (as soon as feasible) after the written examinations. Exact exam dates with the corresponding Exam Faculty will be posted at least 1 month prior to the exam date (generally by middle of Winter quarter). Students planning to take the exam must notify the Exam Committee of their preferred subject areas at least 2 weeks prior to the exam date. Failure to do so may limit the available subject areas due to exam scheduling.

Outline of Comprehensive Exam

  1. Written exams in 3 subject areas (2 hours/exam) offered at the beginning of Spring Term (at least one exam must be outside the student's area of interest).
  2. Subject areas are chosen by the student in consultation with their advisor from the following areas:
    1. heat and mass transfer
    2. thermodynamics
    3. fluid mechanics
    4. material science
    5. engineering mechanics
    6. system dynamics and vibration
    7. machine design
  3. Oral exam (1-2 hours) Approximately 1 week (as soon as feasible) after the written examinations.