PhD Oral Exam

The formal presentation of the Thesis Proposal will serve as the Oral Examination. The purpose of the Oral Exam is to test the student’s ability to explain their thesis project, defend their scientific rationale, and propose alternate approaches, as necessary. The nature of the proposal may vary, depending on the project, but it should provide motivation as well as describe and justify the envisioned approach along with summarizing progress made to date. Preliminary results supporting the proposed research are beneficial, but not required, for the Thesis Proposal or the Oral Exam.

The Thesis Proposal/Oral Exam must take place by December 1 of the 3rd year, with the specific date scheduled before the beginning of the Fall Semester of the third year. If the student and advisor are convinced that a delay would serve the student's interests better, they must petition the Graduate Committee by August 1st of the summer following the 2nd year with their reasoning along with their commitment for a target date; the Graduate Committee will approve or deny the petition request. Failure to complete the Thesis Proposal/Oral Exam according to this policy will constitute unsatisfactory progress with respect to subsequent enrollment and funding support. Under these circumstances the student will not be able to register for the spring semester of their 3rd year.

The student is responsible for arranging the Thesis Proposal/Oral Exam meeting with the Thesis Committee Members and for reserving the location (plan for the meeting to take two hours). Generally, this meeting should be arranged at least two months in advance because it may be difficult to find a mutually agreeable time for all involved. Once this meeting has been scheduled, the Thesis Committee members and the Academic Office must be notified by e-mail about the day, time, and location of the presentation. The Thesis Committee constituted for the Oral Exam may change over the course of the student’s research, as determined by the student and advisor with approval by the Graduate Program Chair. Beyond administration of the Oral Exam, the Thesis Committee is meant to provide guidance on the various aspects of the student’s project; Thesis Committee members should therefore be selected with this goal in mind.

The student should be sure to register for Thesis Proposal (20.951) for 0-24-0 credit units during the term in which the Proposal is defended. At least one week prior to the Thesis Proposal presentation, the student should deliver a copy of the Thesis Proposal to each of the Oral Exam Committee Members and to the Academic Office.

The student should prepare a 30-minute presentation. The Oral Exam Committee members will have read and thought about the Proposal ahead of time. Given that the meeting lasts up to two hours, there will be ample time for questions/discussion during your presentation. If questions arise about the format or style of the presentation, the student should contact the Oral Exam Committee Chair. The student should expect to be examined in depth on subject matter directly and tangentially related to all aspects of the Proposal. The questioning need not be restricted to the Proposal itself, but may expand into areas impinging on the Thesis topic.

The day of the presentation, the student should give the thesis chair a “Report of Thesis Proposal/Oral Exam Meeting” form. The Committee Chair must complete this form to confirm the outcome of a Thesis Proposal/Oral Exam Presentation. The completed form should be submitted along with any comments or recommendations made by the Thesis Committee to the Academic Office. From there, copies will be distributed to the student, the advisor, and the Committee Chair. If the Proposal presentation is acceptable, a “Pass” grade will be recorded for 20.951.