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Preliminary Oral Exam

Here is some information about the preliminary oral exam.

Why is it important?

  • Once you pass your the exam, you are officially admitted into our PhD program. At this stage, you will also have a research adviser who will guide you to completion of the Ph.D. degree.
  • Only after you pass the oral exam, you can register for thesis credits (you need 24 of them before you complete your degree). And after you finish taking thesis credits (you need at least two semesters to do so), you will reach “ABD status” (All But Dissertation).

How to choose committee members

Officially, the DGS chooses your committee members, but you need to come up with a reasonable committee in consultation with your adviser (see guidelines below). Ask faculty if they can serve on your committee, and then submit the list online. Remember that you need at least one theorist, one experimentalist, and one member from outside Physics. This is for a total of at least four members, including your adviser.

Committee members don't just judge you during the exam. They can also be resources to you besides your adviser. If you have some sort of difficulty with your adviser, this aspect of committee members becomes more important. So choose those who could be helpful in case you need it.

Timing of Oral Exam

  • The Oral Exam needs to be passed before the end of the third year in our program, but you will typically do it sooner sometime during your third year.
  • Plan the date keeping in mind that you will take thesis credits the semester after you pass the oral. Therefore late in the semester is preferable to the beginning. The cut-off date is the day in which the semester officially starts, although it is possible to extend it to the “last day to add a course without college scholastic committee approval” which is two weeks into the semester.

What do you have to do before the Oral Exam

  • File the Degree Program form preferably at least one month before the exam.
  • Deciding on the committee and scheduling the exam is your responsibility, in consultation with your adviser.
  • Once the Degree Program is approved by the Graduate School, you must schedule the preliminary oral examination with Graduate Student Services and Progress (GSSP) online as soon as the dates are set, but no later than one week prior to the exam. Once you schedule it online, a confirmation email will be sent to your UMN email account. The exam scheduling needs to be entered into Doctoral Preliminary Oral Examination Scheduling.
  • The Graduate School will then send the Preliminary Oral Examination Report form to the chair of the committee or email you when the form is ready to be picked up.
  • Once the exam is finished, the Preliminary Oral Examination Report must be sent back to the Graduate School within a day (this should be checked - on the Report).

Paper and presentation

You are expected to write a paper for the oral exam, and give it to the committee members at least two weeks before the exam (some faculty members want more than two weeks to be able to give the paper due attention. Check with them well in advance about this). During the exam, you will talk about the paper for up to 20 minutes. The paper should be written concisely. The recommended length is about 10-20 pages (double spaced). A small difference from the recommended length is acceptable, but the length should not be more than 30 pages (double spaced).

The paper should deal with a research topic that you may work on for your thesis or part of it to demonstrate that you are “ready” to start research. (If you end up doing something else for your thesis, that's OK.) The paper should therefore demonstrate that you understand why it is meaningful to do such research (why it should be of interest to people or at the least other physicists) and why it is possible (probable or likely?) to find reasonable results. To this end, you should present background information about the proposed research, which may include a theoretical basis (if it's experimental research); related research which has been done and how it is related to the proposed research; what you will do differently from previous work to improve on it, if such research exists; some rough description of your proposed research; and expected results. The paper does not have to have any results from your research since it is meant to be an opportunity for you to demonstrate your aptitude to START doing research. However, some professors, particularly those in theory, like you to have done some easy research to see how well you can approach theoretical problems, and may ask you to include some of the work in the oral exam.

The total duration of the exam should not exceed 90 minutes. This time includes your initial presentation of the paper. You should prepare your presentation to be 20 minutes long so that you will not be rushed when you are asked questions later. This phase is followed by an question and answer period about your presentation, and about the paper that you submitted. This is followed by a third phase, the exam phase. Here you will be asked general questions about Physics, although directly related to your chosen area of research.

dgs_advice/oral_exam.txt · Last modified: 2017/11/12 17:28 by vinals