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Qualifying Exam FAQs

How many basic physics questions will I be expected to answer?

Questions will generally be related to the topic presented, but they may stray far from the initial discussion, depending on the circumstances, as commonly happens in a good physics discussion. This may be the result of an unsatisfactory answer to a previous question or may simply arise from questions from a committee member.

What are the committee members looking for in my presentation?

We are generally looking for command of the material and the related topic. While the main emphasis is on the science, a clear and crisp exposition will generally help the candidate. Note that while most of the exam clearly relates to the topic of your choice, you will need to know enough to provide context and make connections with a broader area of physics.

The presentation should be similar to the style of a colloquium, a talk that is meant to be understandable to all scientific members of a physics department and, as in the case of a colloquium speaker, you should be ready to field questions from any physicist, at any level.

How closely can the selected topic be to our current research?

It is not clear how to provide a metric for selecting a topic close to your current research; this is why the topic has to be approved by the committee. It is in your best interest to provide the topic well in advance so that, should a change be required, you have time to identify and study the new material. In general, if your advisor is an expert on the topic, then it is probably too close to your current research.

How long should my presentation be?

One should expect the exam to last roughly 60 minutes (no more than 90 minutes). The candidate should plan to leave at least 15 minutes for questions by the committee.

Can I nominate my advisor?

Please refer to the Oral Qualifying Examination Policy on how committee members are nominated.

The examination committee for an oral exam will ordinarily consist of three faculty members. One of these will be chosen from the members of the QEC. The student can nominate up to two other faculty members when submitting his or her topic for approval; your research advisor cannot be one of the nominees. The student is expected to choose potential committee members for nomination based on their expertise in a broad range of topics surrounding the subject of the examination.

Are there any examples of past topics that have been approved by the committee?

Please see this table of APPROVED TOPICS for examples of topics that have been approved. The table will be updated as topics are approved.