University of Minnesota
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Electrical and Computer Engineering

PhD Preliminary Oral Examination

Preliminary Oral Examination—Students take the preliminary oral examination after completing a substantial part of the coursework and passing the preliminary written examination, but before writing the dissertation. Oral prelims should take place during the third year of study.

Preliminary Oral Examining Committee—The examination is administered by the committee appointed by the dean of the Graduate School on recommendation of the faculty in the major field at the time the student’s official doctoral degree program is approved. The examining committee includes a minimum of four members: three (including the student’s adviser) from the major field and one from the minor field or supporting program. Committee members cannot represent more than one field simultaneously.

All assigned members must be present at the preliminary oral examination; the absence of any member results in an invalid examination.

Changes in the Preliminary Oral Examining Committee—Substitutions on the examining committee may be necessitated by such circumstances as a faculty member’s temporary absence on leave from the University. The adviser or the director of graduate studies must request the Graduate School’s approval of such substitutions well in advance of the examination. Substitutions necessitated by emergency situations also must be approved in advance. In such cases, the adviser should consult with the Graduate School staff by telephone before the start of the examination.

Scheduling the Preliminary Oral Examination—It is the responsibility of the student to schedule the preliminary oral examination with the examiners and with the Graduate School, 160 Williamson Hall, at least one week in advance. In certain health science fields, however, the faculty requires 30 days’ notice of the date of the preliminary oral. The Preliminary Oral Examination Scheduling form is available online .

Preliminary oral examinations should not be scheduled during the summer unless the members of the assigned committee can be assembled without substitution.

Before the oral examination can be scheduled, a degree program form approved by the Graduate School must be on file, along with a written examination report form indicating that the student has passed the preliminary written examination. The Graduate School also must confirm that the student has maintained active status (see Registration Requirements under Registration ).

If these documents are on file and the student has active status, the Graduate School issues the preliminary oral examination report form and instructions for conducting the preliminary oral examination to the chair of the examining committee. A copy of the student’s degree program form also is sent to both the chair of the examining committee and the student. This may be useful to the committee in reviewing the student’s preparation and in confirming the completion of degree requirements, including coursework and any language requirements. The preliminary oral examination may be authorized in spite of deficiencies in these requirements, unless more stringent standards have been established by the major field. All requirements must be completed before the final oral examination may be scheduled.

Preliminary Oral Examination Content and Outcome—All doctoral students are required to pass a preliminary oral examination in the major field. The preliminary oral examination covers the major field, the minor field or supporting program, and any work fundamental to these areas, including possible plans for thesis research. Unlike the doctoral final oral examination, the preliminary oral examination is conducted as a closed examination, attended by only the student and the examining committee.

Immediately before the preliminary oral examination, the committee chair stipulates the objectives of the examination and, in consultation with other members of the examining committee, determines how the examination is to be conducted. Immediately after the examination, the candidate is excused from the room and a written secret ballot is taken before discussing the examination. Following the discussion, a second and final vote is taken, and the participants sign in the appropriate place on the report form, which is to be returned to the Graduate School, 316 Johnston Hall, no later than the first workday after the examination.

The outcome of the examination, with all committee members present and voting, is recorded in one of three ways: pass, pass with reservations, or fail. The voting proportions necessary for these decisions are as follows: if the committee consists of four members, a favorable verdict for passing consists of either a unanimous vote or a vote of 3-1; if the committee consists of five members, a unanimous vote or a vote of 4-1 is needed; if the committee consists of six members, a unanimous vote or a vote of 5-1 or 4-2 is needed; and if there are seven members, a unanimous vote or a vote of 6-1 or 5-2 is needed. Candidates who do not earn committee votes in these proportions fail the examination. If, to achieve the minimum number of votes to reach a verdict of pass, any vote of pass with reservations is included, then the outcome will be recorded as a pass with reservations. A vote to pass the student with reservations still constitutes a passing vote.

Pass With Reservations—If the student passes the examination with reservations, the student is informed immediately, but the committee is permitted one week in which to convey its reservations to the student in writing, informing the student of the steps that must be taken to remove them. A copy of this letter must be sent to the Graduate School and should accompany the signed oral examination report form. When the student has satisfied the committee’s reservations, a second letter informing the student and the Graduate School that the reservations have been removed and that the student may proceed toward the degree also is required. Both letters should be written by the committee chair. The final oral examination may not be scheduled until the Graduate School has received a copy of the letter indicating that the reservations have been removed.

If the committee members disagree as to whether the reservations have been removed satisfactorily, the committee chair asks for another vote, the results of which are subject to the same voting proportions as the initial vote. If the student is unable to satisfy the committee’s reservations, his or her doctoral candidacy and graduate student status may be terminated.

Failure of the Preliminary Oral Examination—Students who fail the examination may be excluded from candidacy for the degree or may be allowed, on unanimous recommendation of the examining committee, to retake the examination, providing the reexamination is conducted by the original preliminary oral examining committee.

In no case may the reexamination take place before 10 weeks have passed. No more than one reexamination is allowed.

Recess of a Preliminary Oral Examination
—If the preliminary oral examining committee recesses without having determined whether a student has passed the examination, the chair of the committee must send a letter to the dean of the Graduate School explaining the reasons for the recess and noting the date on which the examining committee will reconvene. If the recess will be longer than one week, the examination report form must be returned to the Graduate School, 160 Williamson Hall, and the student must reschedule the examination with the Graduate School one week in advance. A new examination report form will be mailed to the chair of the committee one week before the date on which the committee will reconvene. The reconvened committee must be composed of the same members as the original preliminary oral examining committee.