Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam usually takes place in late August/September of a graduate student's 3rd year. This is a requirement in order to become a PhD candidate in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. A more detailed description can be found in the Graduate Student Handbook. This site may not always be as up-to-date as the handbook, so please check it for exact details on page and slide numbers, etc.

Quals consist of 2 different parts: an oral presentation using powerpoint in front of your entire committee and a written part approximately 10 pages long. According to the Graduate Student Handbook: "Both parts include formal descriptions of the research program, including background and objectives, a rigorous and current review of the relevant literature, description of methods, a discussion of research results and accomplishments to date, and detailed plans and milestones required for completion of the Ph.D. degree. In both parts of the exam, the student is expected to demonstrate mastery of chemical engineering fundamentals, proficiency in the research area, general scientific and professional competence and promise, and significant accomplishments in the dissertation research."

The Head Graduate Advisor will ask for students' suggestions for qual committee members and dates for quals around the beginning of the summer. Students will be notified once committees have been formed and again when a date is set.


Qualifying Exam Committee

  • Three members from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering: one of these will be your chair
  • One member from an outside department
  • Your advisor cannot be on your qualifying exam committee

Written portion

We strongly encourage everyone coming up to their qual exam to look at the Graduate Student Handbook suggestions and outline for the written report. It contains helpful questions to think about when writing such as "what is the approach and why is it appropriate and novel?", "how has your work advanced knowledge in this area?", and "what is unique about the measurement and what are possible artifacts?" This information currently starts on page 25.

Format for Written Portion

  • Summary/Abstract (maximum one page, single spaced)
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results/Discussions
  • Conclusions and Future Plans/Timelines

Oral presentation portion

The oral presentation portion of the qual exam can use a maximum of 25 PowerPoint slides and should be designed to last approximately 45 minutes. The student is expected to present their methods, accomplishments, and future steps necessary to complete their PhD degree. Each qual exam is different and they may last from 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on how many questions a student is asked and how much the committee members think you understand your project. The length of the exam is not necessarily a determinant to passing or failing.

The Graduate Student Handbook states "The student will be examined on general knowledge of the research area, understanding of the relevant theoretical and experimental methods, in-depth knowledge of the relevance and uniqueness of hte project, and ability to interprete results and to design a sound research strategy. The student must also show the ability to identify and apply any principles of chemistry, physics, and chemical engineering required for the critical analysis of the research results and of the proposed plan of attack."

Day of Qualifying Exam

The committee will meet for a few minutes while you are outside the room initially and then you will come back in to start your presentation. After they have asked all their questions they will ask you to step outside again to discuss how the exam went. It may feel like 2 minutes or 2 hours before they let you in again but they are not intentionally trying to make you feel bad or make you worry. You will be told then whether you passed or failed as well as comments they have about your project. If you failed they may want you to retake the exam after roughly 6 months or make you wait an entire year. Some people that fail the first time file for a Masters degree as they prepare to retake their qual exam. Your qual chair will let you know what they suggest.