GBSE Qualifying Examination

Qualifying Examination


  • General Information
  • The primary purpose of the Qualifying Examination (QE) is to validate that the student is academically qualified to conceptualize a research topic, undertake scholarly research and successfully produce the dissertation required for a doctoral degree. The QE must evaluate the student’s command of the field, ensuring that the  student has both breadth and depth of knowledge, and must not focus solely on the proposed dissertation research. In addition, the QE provides an opportunity for the committee to provide important guidance to the student regarding their chosen research topic.

    All students will complete all course requirements before taking their Qualifying Examination. Passing this exam makes the student eligible for advancement to candidacy.

    There is a lot of great information on the Graduate Studies Qualifying Exam website! 
  • Eligibility
  • - Completed all courses
    - Program of Study approved
    - Completed Deficiency courses (if applicable) - Required for students without an engineering degree
    - Full-time status in the quarter in which the QE is taken
  • Committee Membership
  • The GBSE QE Committee must consist of at least five (5) individuals shall be constituted subject to the following constraints:
    - Five faculty members nominated in consultation with your major professor and Graduate Adviser.
    - The major professor cannot serve on the QE committee
    - Three members must be from the BSE Graduate Program.
    - At least one, but no more than two, member(s) from outside the BSE Graduate Program

    Please see the degree requirements guide for more information about eligibility to serve on the QE committee, or check in with Graduate Program Coordinator

    *Note: Individuals who hold EWOS status are not members of the GBSE Graduate program; if their regular appointment is in GBSE, they also do not qualify as external to the GBSE Graduate program, and cannot serve as a committee member. 
  • Timeline
  • - A student entering with a BS degree in engineering should take the qualifying examination within 9 quarters (excluding summer) and no later than 12 quarters (excluding summer) after admission to the Ph.D. program.
    - A student entering with an MS degree with a significant number of units (18 to 21) used from their MS program, should take qualifying examination in 6 quarters (excluding summer) and no later than 9 quarters (excluding summer) after admission to the Ph. D. program.
    - A student entering with a non-engineering BS degree would be allowed an additional year for taking the qualifying examination. 
  • Oral Portion of the Exam

  • The oral portion of the qualifying exam will be 3 hours in length and is intended to demonstrate the student's critical thinking ability, powers of imagination and synthesis, and broad knowledge of the field of study. The QE committee chair will set the remaining format and communicate this to you and the other committee members.

    An example of a typical format is as follows:
    - Approximately 1-1.5 hours presentation and questioning on the QE proposal
              - Student prepares a 15 – 20 min presentation.
              - Some committees prefer questions throughout the presentation.
              - Others will hold questions until after an uninterrupted presentation
    - Short break
              - Committee members discuss student performance
    - Approximately 1-1.5 hours questioning on coursework
    - Committee deliberations
              - Chair will inform student of the outcome of the exam at the end of the deliberations.
    - The total time for the exam is typically around 3 hours.
  • Written Portion of the Exam – Dissertation Prospectus/QE Proposal
  • At a minimum the written portion of the exam consists of a research proposal called the Dissertation Prospectus. The Prospectus should be provided to members of the qualifying examination committee at least 10 days before the oral portion of the exam. 

    The Prospectus is an independently prepared proposal of 10-12 pages describing the student's dissertation-specific research aims, hypotheses, progress to date, and experimental approach. The QE proposal must be written exclusively by you (the student). PIs may provide guidance and feedback, but not conduct extensive edits. 

    Consult with your PI on their preferred QE proposal document structure and format beyond the page count requirement noted above. Here is an example set of guidelines for the QE proposal document. 

    Example Format (Following NSF proposal guidelines)
    - 10-12 pages maximum
              - Including figures and tables
              - Not including references
              - Not including title page
              - Single spaced, 1” margins, 12 pt. font
    - Proposal Sections
              - Title page
              - Proposal Title
              - Date of QE
              - Committee members
    - Introduction and Problem Statement
              - What main research question will your research attempt to answer?
              - Why is this question important? 
    - Research objectives
              - How will your research address the main research question?
    - Background
              - What is currently known? (i.e. how have others tried to answer this question?
    - Approach
              - How will you fulfil your research objectives?
  • Preparing for the QE
  • Checklist and Timeline 
    3-6 months before QE
    - Verify that your approved final Program of Study is complete with the Graduate Program Coordinator.
    - Discuss your exam with your Major Professor and assemble QE committee
    - Set a date, time and location for the QE; be sure to reserve the room for your exam
    - Start developing the QE proposal (if you haven’t already started)

    6 weeks before QE
    - Submit the signed QE application (and/or the external member form and/or remote participant form as needed) to the Graduate Program Coordinator (The Graduate Program Coordinator will submit the QE Application to Graduate Studies for approval.  The QE cannot proceed until Graduate Studies has approved the committee)
    - QE Applications MUST be submitted to Graduate Studies at least 30 days in advance or they will be denied.  Please try to submit 35-40 days in advance to secure departmental approval and signatures. 

    4-2 weeks before QE
    - Send a final draft of the QE proposal to committee members and discuss requirements
    - Start working on QE proposal presentation
    - Meet with individual QE members to get feedback on your research proposal and specific recommendations on your coursework exam

    2 weeks before QE
    - Practice QE presentation

    3-5 Days before QE
    - Check the room and test the tech

    Night before QE
    - Sleep well
    - Eat well
    - Relax!

    Day of QE
    - Go in with confidence – you know your research proposal better than anyone else in the room!
  • Required Paperwork
  • All students must submit the Qualifying Examination Application (GS319). Students should plan to submit the Qualifying Examination Application AT LEAST 30 days prior to their QE date (35-40 days is recommended).  Late applications will be denied. 

    If you have a member of your QE who is external to the UC faculty, you should check in with the Graduate Program Coordinator, and submit the External Committee Membership Application (GS311) form, along with the persons CV. 

    If you plan to have one member of your QE participate remotely, you will need to submit the Committee Member Remote Participation Request (GS342) form.

    All forms should be submitted together for final approval in one package.

    Current guidance on remote/in person exams can be found on the Graduate Studies website.
  • Reserving a Room
  • It is the students responsibility to reserve a room for in-person QEs (or create a meeting link for remote QEs). 

    Space in Bainer Hall: Reserve a room for your exam using BFTV Event Management System; I highly recommending reserving the space for 30 minutes before and after your QE so you don't feel rushed. If you need assistance with this, please email

    You can also reserve space in Walker Hall (1212, 1004, 1003, 1136).  Visit the Grad Studies Facility Reservations website to learn more about the Walker Hall Rooms, and also find the link to reserve rooms online
  • QE Resources for students
  • Graduate Studies Qualifying Exam website
    Graduate Council Policy - Doctoral Qualifying Examinations GC2005-02 (rev. 06)
    Acing your Qualifying Exam
    Additional Hints to Help You Succeed on Your QE
    QE Regulations (Graduate Studies document)
    Graduate Studies Remote Participation in Graduate Examinations
  • QE Resources for Faculty
  • Click here to download a PDF and learn more about the examination and dissertation process.