Examination and Completion

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 knowledge. 

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 attempt.

Comprehensive Examination

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 concerned.

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 be provided. 

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).

Performance Requirements

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.

University of Arizona College of Engineering