Program Milestones

student looking into beaker

The road to the PhD begins with selection of a Diagnostic Committee, and then traverses four major milestones: the First Year Project, Qualifying Exam, Preliminary Exam, and Final Exam (defense of the dissertation). Each of these steps is associated with a faculty committee selected by the student.




In the first semester the student selects, with approval of the Program, a major and two minor concentration areas, and a Diagnostic Committee consisting of the advisor and two additional faculty members, who are chosen to represent expertise in the areas of concentration. The Diagnostic Committee guides the student in the selection of courses and independent study leading to the Qualifying Exam. The Diagnostic Committee also evaluates the First Year Project.



Each student selects one major and two minor areas of concentration. These form the nucleus of the student's professional expertise and serve as the basis for the Qualifying Exam. There is considerable latitude in the choices of concentration areas, but these must be chosen to give the student sufficient breadth of knowledge for the student to be successful in a highly competitive and demanding discipline.

In selecting concentration areas, two good places to start are the list of faculty research areas and the concentration areas of current students.



The First Year Project is a piece of research that demonstrates professional competence, and is typically done in the spring and summer of the student's first year. A written report is submitted in the fall of the second year, and the results are presented to the Program in a fifteen minute talk given as part of the regular seminar series.


The Qualifying Exam is a written and oral exam that demonstrates mastery of the areas of concentration. It is given and evaluated by a Qualifying Exam Committee that includes four faculty members, typically the Diagnostic Committee and one additional member.



In the Preliminary Exam the student presents and defends a thesis research proposal. The Preliminary Exam Committee consists of four faculty members, who in most cases also sit on the Final Exam Committee for the thesis defense.



A committee of four faculty members, who in most cases also comprise the Preliminary Exam Committee, hears a public oral presentation by the student of the thesis work, followed by a closed defense of the thesis.


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