The goal of the Preliminary Exam is to evaluate students’ readiness for creative, rigorous and independent research at the PhD level. The exam tests the general technical background of the students in civil engineering, environmental sciences and engineering, as well as their critical thinking, synthesis, and communication skills (oral and written). This exam will be in the form of writing and presenting a research proposal. The preliminary exam committee comprised by the student’s primary advisor and a committee formed as follows.
First-year CEE Ph.D. students will each be invited to write a short proposal that demonstrates creativity and critical thinking skills, on a topic within the student’s research domain but not directly related to their ongoing research or anticipated Ph.D. dissertation. This topic will be selected by the examination committee in consultation with the student’s advisor. The student will have two weeks to prepare this proposal and aim to present it during the week prior to commencements. A 20-min presentation will be followed by questions from the examination committee, consisting of three faculty members including their advisor. The questions may extend beyond the proposal theme to ensure core competency skills and advise students of potential areas that require strengthening (e.g., through future course work). The exam will be documenting using the PhD prelim evaluation sheet CIVI or ENVI.
Brevity is appreciated (e.g., 10-page limit including figures but not references, 11-point font, 1-inch margins, 1.5 spacing). The proposals should consider the following evaluation criteria:
The following proposal format is suggested:
A. Introduction (Include problem statement and motivation).
B. Objective, Hypothesis and Significance.
C. Literature Review (Should be a brief but critical review that shows you can discern critical gaps directly relevant to your proposal).
D. Approach and Technical Research Plan, including expected results (Should be credible and feasible. You may include original graphics and tables of experimental design with controls as appropriate).
E .Expected Benefits and Deliverables.
NABC -- the four fundamentals that define a project's value proposition:
The exam can last anywhere between 60-90 minutes, unless the committee decides to exceed this time to help with its deliberation. The committee will provide immediate feedback to the student at the end of his/her exam period. Students are requested to submit a copy of their critical review and any prepared slides to the Graduate Studies Program Administrator for record keeping.
Students who fail the preliminary exam either fully or partially can petition for retaking the exam. Petitions will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the graduate committee and the department chair. All pass/fail decisions will be approved by the preliminary exam committee, the graduate committee and department chair. Students who fail the preliminary exam twice will not be allowed to continue in the Ph.D. program.
A student who passes the written and oral part of the preliminary exam becomes eligible for taking the qualifying exam.