PhD Research Examination Overview

If you entered the Doctoral Program prior to Fall 2001 see Comps & Research Exam Overview and Old Research Exam.

Purposes of the Research Exam

  • Depth. The research exam verifies the student's ability to identify challenges and open problems in a focused area. It is not required that the research exam and the thesis be in the same area. Preparation for the research exam should teach students how to navigate, acquire depth of knowledge, and perform critical analysis in a given research area; the exam should verify such abilities.
  • Breadth. The oral part of the research exam verifies the student's breadth of knowledge. Passing the research exam and the course breadth requirements enables CSE graduates to perform research in a variety of topics, both during and after the completion of their studies.
  • Communication. The research exam will verify the student's ability to communicate past and proposed future research, both orally and in writing.
  • Filter within the Ph.D. program. The research exam is intended to be a strong predictor of success in Ph.D. research. Failure of a student to set up the necessary committee and pass the exam's requirements in a timely manner indicates that the student should not continue in the Ph.D. program.

Details and Logistics

  • The research exam will have the attributes of a "creative survey". A study list will be defined by the student and the research exam committee. The student is expected to survey the area, identify key themes, and observe open/future directions. It is strongly advised that the exam be more than "the first paper" of the student and its related work.
  • The research exam permits flexibility in accommodating different approaches toward research, notably the differences between experimental and theoretical computer science. For example, the research exam may include a program/implementation component.
  • The written part of the research exam entails production of a written project report. It is advised that the report be more than a taxonomy of the papers on the study list. The report must be made available at least two weeks before the exam; any member of the faculty may see this report as soon as it is available.

Department Culture and Visibility of the Research Exam

  • The research exam must become a prominent part of the department's culture, and the entire department must take care to establish and maintain high standards.
  • A departmental web site will contain the written reports of past research exams and announcements of upcoming research exams.
  • Research exams are open to all, and the department will promote attendance. We may allocate specific time slots for research exams to make it easier for people to track and attend them.