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Preliminary Oral Exam

The Preliminary Oral Exam is the last exam in your way to a Ph.D. degree before the actual thesis defense itself. At this stage, you 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).

Timing of the Preliminary 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 second or third year.
  • Your adviser and you will jointly decide when the time has come to schedule the exam. Typically you have done a significant literature review, started some research, and perhaps have some preliminary results. At this point you should be prepared to write and defend a thesis prospectus outlining the research that you plan to conduct for your Ph.D.
  • 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.

How to choose committee members

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 remembering 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.

What do you have to do before the Oral Exam

  • File the Graduate Degree Plan 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 officially 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 done at Doctoral Preliminary Oral Examination Scheduling.
  • The Graduate School will prepare a Preliminary Oral Examination Report form. The student needs to pick up the form at the Graduate School, take it to the exam, and give it to the committee chair.
  • Once the exam is finished, the completed and signed Preliminary Oral Examination Report must be returned 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: 2019/06/13 14:12 by vinals