Ph.D. Qualifying Exam


Questions about the graduate program in materials science and engineering may be sent to Dr. Kathleen Hart

Timing/Schedule of the Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Examination (QE) will be offered at the start of the Fall and Spring Semesters of each academic year. All students entering the Materials Science and Engineering Ph.D. program must take the Qualifying Examination the second time it is offered after having joined the Department. Students who enter the program in the Fall semester are expected to take the QE the following August, whereas students who enter in the Spring semester will take the QE the following January. The exact dates will be announced during the month before the exam.

Students have the option of taking the exam early if they wish.

Individual requests for a delay—for example, if it is determined that a student is not suitably prepared for the exam—require a petition to the Graduate Studies Committee.  In the case of insufficient preparation, the petition must be accompanied by a study plan outlining how the student will overcome the perceived deficiency.

Students admitted to the M.S. Program must either complete the M.S. degree and apply and be admitted to the Ph.D. program before they can proceed to take the QE, or formally change to the Ph.D. program during their first semester at the University of Maryland, College Park. A Master's student who transfers to the Ph.D. program during their first semester will be able to take the QE the second time it is offered after making the switch, just as a student originally admitted to the Ph.D. program would.


Before the Exam: Choosing Examination Questions and Research Areas

Before the qualifying exam, students will be asked to provide to the Graduate Committee Chair their first, second and third choice of the three research areas in which they wish to take the QE. Students will be assigned a Research Area for the QE that is different from that of their Research Advisor's, and on a different topic than the one on which they are planning to perform their Ph.D. thesis research. The research areas are:

  • Electronic and Information Technology Materials and Processing
  • Organics (Polymers, Biomaterials etc.)
  • Metals and Ceramics
  • Characterization

Two (2) weeks prior to the examination date, the questions will be given to the students by the chair of each research area examination committee.


Taking the Exam

After receiving their questions, the students will have two (2) weeks to work out a solution. The solution to the exam problem is to be presented in the form of a research proposal with the following requirements:

  • The proposal cannot exceed 10 double space pages in a 12pt font, including figures, with 1 inch margins. The page limitation and formatting rules will be strictly enforced.
  • The report must contain a one-page project summary, a project description including background information and references, the proposed approach to solving the stated problem, preliminary calculations or research results, the expected outcomes of the project, and a summary of the laboratory equipment and computational resources necessary to carry out the project.
  • Each student is given the e-mail addresses of the members of his or her Examining Committee and is asked to submit his or her proposal in PDF format to each member of the Committee individually.
  • Within 24 hours of the paper submission, the student will have an oral examination of about 1 hour on his/her solution. The student should plan a 30 minute oral presentation. The advisor may choose to attend the oral portion of the qualifier exam for their student but must remain silent during the exam.


Examination Results

A copy of the exam question and the report will be kept in each student's file. 

The grades of the Qualifying Examination are pass/fail, based on the pass/fail grades given by each of the three-member Research Area examination committee.

Students are permitted to fail the QE once, and will have to retake the QE at the next available date. Students who fail the QE a second time are no longer in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering Ph.D. program and can either complete an M.S. degree within the Department or leave the graduate program. 


Beyond the Qualifying Exam: Advancement to Candidacy

Two steps must be taken to be advanced to Ph.D. candidacy:

  1. Passing the Qualifying Examination
  2. Completion of the four core courses with a minimum of 2 grades of A- or higher and 2 grades of B- or higher.

The next steps are to select an advisor (if the student has not already done so), begin thesis research, and prepare for the Ph.D. Proposal Defense. For more information, please see our "Ph.D. Proposal Defense" page.