PhD Qualifying Exam Objective

To support and assess students’ development of fundamental subject knowledge that will allow them to be successful in conducting graduate research.

Format Summary

The PhD Qualifying Exam (QE) consists of one oral exam based on two technical publications selected by the exam committee.  During the exam, the student will present a summary and analysis of the technical contents in the publications for 15 minutes, after which the committee members will have 45 minutes to ask questions to evaluate the student’s fundamental and applied subject knowledge. The committee will evaluate the student’s performance based on a standard rubric. 

Timing and Eligibility

Students must take the QE within one year of starting in the PhD program if they have a MSME degree (by beginning of the 3rd long semester), and within two years otherwise (by beginning of the 5th long semester). To be eligible for the QE, the student must identify a PhD thesis advisor by the semester prior to taking the exam. The student must also receive a grade higher than “B+” in three core Manufacturing and Design (M&D) graduate courses (see below). If there is one course outside of M&D that is fundamental towards their research, students may petition the M&D Area Coordinator to count that course towards their three core course requirement. The three core courses identified by the student will be considered foundational towards the background knowledge the student needs for their QE.

Exam Request and Identification of the Subject Area 

The QE will be administered during the first month of the Fall and Spring semesters. Students can declare their intent to take the exam by completing the QE Request Form (see below) and submitting it to the M&D Area Coordinator. This form is intended to provide information on the student’s primary research area and background coursework. The student, in consultation with the student’s adviser, recommends a prioritized list of 3-5 ME faculty members who should serve on the committee. The request should be submitted at least 60 days prior to the first class day of the semester that the QE is to be administered.  

Exam Committee

The exam committee will consist of the three ME faculty members in research areas that are relevant to the student’s thesis work, selected from the list recommended by the student. These faculty members are expected to be in a relevant research area and be potential candidates to serve on the student’s PhD dissertation committee. These faculty members should be tenure-track faculty who are members of the ME Graduate Studies Committee, which can include faculty outside of the M&D area. Students may also petition to the M&D Area Coordinator, with their advisor's support, for one non-ME committee member who would potentially serve as the outside member of the students' dissertation committee, typically a UT Austin faculty member in a different program. One of the ME committee members will serve as the Committee Chair, who will be responsible for overseeing the exam preparation and communicating with the student. The student’s thesis adviser will serve as the 4th committee member in an observer role. The exam committee will be responsible for selecting the two publications and administering the QE exam. 

Selection of the Technical Publications

The exam committee, in consultation with the student’s PhD advisor, will select two technical publications that are relevant to the student’s thesis research area. The technical publications should be related to one another, not to include review articles, and selected through collaboration of the QE committee members. The selected publications cannot include authors that are members of the exam committee or the student’s thesis advisor. The publications will be assigned to the student no more than three but at least two weeks prior to the Qualifying Exam date.

Exam Administration

After receiving the assignment, students have two to three weeks to prepare an oral presentation to summarize the technical content presented in the publications. Students will be allowed to present uninterrupted for 15 minutes and should specifically cover the four elements cited in the evaluation rubric: 1) Demonstration of Required Background Knowledge, 2) Understanding of Research Methods Used, 3) Application of Fundamental Knowledge to Interpretation of Data/Models, and 4) Analysis of Future Directions in the Field. A PDF version of the presentation slides should be submitted to the exam committee prior to the exam but will not be evaluated in advance of the meeting.

After the 15 min presentation, the exam committee will ask questions on the technical content of the publications as related to the criteria outlined in the rubrics. The committee can choose to focus the discussion on one or both publications. The student’s thesis advisor can attend the exam as an observer but will not be allowed to engage in the discussion.

Once the publications are assigned, the student is officially taking an examination and should abide by UT’s Academic Honesty and the University Honor Code. For this QE, students are not allowed to discuss the content of the publications with their thesis advisor, lab members, or anybody else. Students are allowed and encouraged to read other papers in the literature (either cited or not cited by the assigned publications) as well as other resources (books, lecture notes, etc.) to aid in preparing their presentation slides.


Students will be evaluated using a standard rubric (see attachment). The rubric is aimed at assessing proficiency in summarizing, understanding, and analyzing research in the subject area. The criteria will be rated as “unsatisfactory,” “satisfactory,” or “proficient” by each committee member. The evaluation should include written justifications for the ratings to provide student feedback. At the conclusion of the oral exam, the committee members will discuss the results and vote on whether the student passes or fails the exam. A 2/3 majority is required for the student to pass the exam. The student’s PhD advisor can participate in the evaluation discussion but cannot vote. The committee chair will convey the exam result and the completed rubrics to the student and the M&D Area Coordinator. 

Feedback to the Student

After the exam result has been announced, the completed evaluation forms will be released to the student. The official feedback meets the QE objective of supporting the development of the student’s subject knowledge and should be used to guide the student’s thesis research.

Exam Retake

Students will be allowed to take the QE at most two times. The second attempt must be made in the Fall or Spring semester following the first attempt. The student may petition to waive this requirement under extenuating circumstances.

Disability Accommodations

Students seeking accommodations to this QE procedure related to a disability should discuss options with their advisor and the area coordinator. To open discussion of accommodations, the student does not need to be registered with UT's Disability and Access office.


Manufacturing and Design Core Classes

Exam Rubrics

QE Request Form