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 20 minutes, after which the committee members will have 30 – 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 the first or second year of their graduate program. Students who did not successfully pass their QE by the end of Spring semester in their second year of graduate studies (or at the end of their second Fall semester if they started their studies in Spring) will not be eligible to continue their studies. 

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 have a minimum GPA of 3.5 and receive a minimum grade of “B+” in three core Thermal/Fluids Systems (TFS) graduate courses (see below). If there is one course outside of TFS that is fundamental towards their research, students may petition the TFS QE Committee with a letter of approval from their advisor 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 two (2) weeks of the Fall and Spring semesters. Students must declare their intent to take the exam by completing the QE Request Form (see below) and submitting it to the TFS QE Committee by July 1st and December 1st, for taking the quals in the Fall and Spring semesters, respectively. 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 advisor, recommends a prioritized list of 2-5 ME faculty members who should serve on the committee. The student can also recommend up to 2 non-ME faculty members to serve on their committee when additional expertise is necessary to fulfill the knowledge gap within 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 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. At least one of these faculty members should be tenure-track faculty who are members of the ME Graduate Studies Committee, which can include faculty outside of the TFS area. Students may also have, with their advisor's support, non-ME committee members to 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 advisor will serve as the 4th committee member in an observer role. 

The exam committee will be responsible for selecting the two (2) publications and administering the QE exam in person (except when there are extenuating circumstances). If there is more than one faculty member who cannot attend the meeting in person, the QE needs to be rescheduled to enable all members to attend in person. 

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 and selected through collaboration of the QE committee members. The technical publications will be assigned to the student no more than four but at least two weeks prior to the Qualifying Exam date. 

Exam Administration 

After receiving the assignment, students have three (3) weeks to prepare an oral presentation to summarize the technical content presented in the publications. Students cannot discuss these papers with their advisor(s), TFS faculty, and committee members. Students will be allowed to present uninterrupted for 20 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 20 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 any or all of the 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. 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 TFS QE Committee and TFS 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 TFS QE Committee. To open discussion of accommodations, the student does not need to be registered with UT's Disability and Access office. 


Core Graduate Courses

QE Request Form

QE Evaluation Form

QE Committee