On the way to a PhD degree, students must pass three exams: the
Doctoral Qualifying Exam, the comprehensive exam (both a written and an
oral component), and the final oral defense exam. The purpose and format
of these exams are given below, and further details are available here on the Graduate College website.
Doctoral Qualifying Examination (DQE)
This examination is the principal comprehensive means whereby the
faculty can assess the readiness of a student to undertake advanced
graduate work beyond the Master of Science level. This exam encompasses
the following fundamental areas:
- Probabilistic Models (covered in SIE 520)
- Engineering Statistics (covered in SIE 530)
- Optimization (covered in SIE 545)
- Linear Systems Theory (covered in SIE 550)
Equivalent courses at other institutions should provide sufficient
background in these areas. In addition to the subject areas covered in
these courses, the examination tests whether students have an integrated
understanding of these topics and the ability to extend their
Students must have a GPA of at least 3.50 in these courses (or their
equivalent, as approved by the Graduate Studies Committee) to register
for the DQE.
The exam is administered at the start of any semester in which at
least four eligible students request it, but at least once a year (if
requested). Each student is allowed two attempts to pass the DQE. It
is emphasized that a pass or fail decision is based not only on
performance in the DQE but also on grades in SIE courses and
recommendations of the faculty. Anyone who fails the qualifier twice is
required to withdraw from the PhD program. Further details are
published prior to the exam, and this information may be obtained from
the Student Academic Specialist.
Students are evaluated on their overall performance on all exam
questions. The DQE area committees recommend whether a student receives
the grade of “high pass,” “pass,” or “fail” in each DQE area, for
approval by the faculty at the DQE evaluation meeting. Anyone who fails
the entire DQE but receives a grade of “high pass” on specific sections
of the exam does not need to retake those sections on the second
The purpose of the comprehensive examination is to determine whether
the candidate has sufficient background for research in the field of the
planned dissertation. Successful completion of the examination leads
to formal admission to PhD candidacy.
The examination includes written portions covering the major and
minor fields. Shortly after successful completion of the written
portions, an oral examination is conducted by a committee appointed by
the Dean of the Graduate College in consultation with the departments
The written portion of the exam covers material in the candidate's
area of specialization and, when appropriate, on the student's projected
dissertation subject. The oral portion of the exam is conducted by the
committee members from the major and minor areas. It may include a
presentation based on the proposed dissertation research. When the
candidate asks a faculty member to be a member of her/his preliminary
examination committee, a description of the proposed dissertation should
The oral comprehensive examination is held when sufficient course
work has been completed, but it cannot be scheduled until the written
portion has been successfully completed. The Graduate College does not
record a student’s failure on the written portion of the exam. However,
failure of the oral examination constitutes a failure of the
preliminary examination and is so recorded. Administration of the oral
comprehensive examination is governed by the Graduate College, and
students should refer to the handbook for Doctoral Candidates for
regulations pertaining to this exam. Procedures for scheduling this
exam are also detailed here.
A student who has passed the oral comprehensive examination is
recommended to the Graduate College for acceptance as a PhD candidate.
When the doctoral candidate has met the required standards of
scholarship and has documented the research in a dissertation, the
candidate publicly defends the dissertation and answers any general
questions related to her/his study. The exact time and place of the
final examination must be announced publicly at least two weeks in
advance. The examination is conducted by a faculty committee appointed
by the Dean of the Graduate College in consultation with the major and
minor departments. The presentation portion of the examination is open
to the public. The Graduate College requires timely notice to schedule
the final exam, and students should refer to the handbook for Doctoral
Candidates for exact dates (see here).
a) Before signing up to take the Doctoral Qualifying Exam (DQE), a
Ph.D. student must submit his/her Plan of Study. (The timeline for
taking the DQE is established in point b below.)
b) Ph.D. students must take the DQE the first time that it is offered
after he/she has completed two semesters of study in the Ph.D.
program. A student failing to take the DQE by this time may be
dismissed from the program.
c) A Ph.D. student retaking the DQE must do so the next time that it is offered.
d) A Ph.D. student must take the oral preliminary examination within 24 months of the first attempt at the DQE.
e) Each Ph.D. student must submit a progress report to his/her
advisor by the end of each academic year (last day of final exams in the
Spring semester). A progress report form will be provided to students
by the SIE Student Academic Specialist in April of each year for this
purpose. Based on this input, the Graduate Studies Committee (GSC)
determines whether or not the student is making satisfactory academic
progress. If the GSC determines that the student is not making
satisfactory progress, they state a set of requirements and
corresponding deadlines for the student to achieve to remain in the
program. Students not meeting these additional requirements may be
recommended to the Department Head and Graduate College for dismissal
from the program.
Residence, Completion Time, and Dissertation Submission Requirements
To meet the minimum residence requirement, students must complete two
regular semesters of full-time academic work in residence at the
University of Arizona. In general, any semester during which a student
is registered for at least 9 units of graduate course work or research
is counted toward meeting the residence requirements. However, some
special circumstances (such as an assistantship) may change the required
number of units. For more details, contact the Graduate Student
Special, Linda Cramer.
All requirements for the PhD degree, including the MS (if applicable), must be completed within a period of ten years.
A final, hard-bound copy of the dissertation must be provided to the
Student Academic Specialist for placement in the departmental library.