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Prelim Exam

Before your Prelim:

  1. Register for 590 Individual Topics. (After your Prelim, you will register for 599 Thesis Research until your Final Defense.)

  2. Schedule your Prelim. No later than your sixth semester in the program, work with your Advisor to schedule your Preliminary Examination. The first part of the three-hour oral exam will be general and cover the three core areas of emphasis (see Step 5). The second part of the exam will be a defense of your research proposal (see Step 6).

  3. Reserve a Room or provide a Zoom Meeting link for your Prelim after the date and time have been approved by your committee. Inform the PEEC Office Administrator of the date, time, room/zoom link, and the names of your committee members at least 3 weeks before your Prelim date. NOTE: For this exam, a member of the Doctoral Committee other than your major advisor needs to be appointed Chair by the Director of the Program. See PEEC’s Graduate Program Handbook for specifications for your committee. If you need help reserving a room, contact the PEEC Office Administrator.

  4. Submit a Graduate College Preliminary Exam Committee Approval Request through the Graduate College Student Portal exactly 3 weeks before the date agreed upon by you and your committee for your Prelim Exam. You will need to submit the date, time, and place of the exam, as well as the NetIDs of all your committee members while also distinguishing which one is the Chair of the Committee (other than advisor) and which one is your Director of Research (advisor). You can find the NetIDs of most of our faculty and affiliates in the Graduate College Faculty Database.

  5. Get the Prelim Form completed and send copies to all your Doctoral Committee members. The PEEC Pre-Prelim Form is a means for you to get recommendations from your committee regarding the material/areas you are expected to know or study up on. Each member of your committee should fill out the form while you are present. You should then make copies of all to send to each committee member.

  6. Two weeks before your Prelim, send your research proposal to your Doctoral Committee. The proposal should describe the objectives of the research project, the experimental plan and rationale, the results of pilot studies, a budget, and a tentative timetable for its completion. Present evidence of feasibility and significance of the proposal, but the main research for the dissertation must not have been performed prior to the Preliminary Examination.

Best practices for prepping for your Prelim:

  • Your prelim is trying to find the edge of your knowledge, and you need to accept in advance that your committee is going to find it. Be prepared to know when to say: “I don’t know.”

  • Don’t include too much basic background in your presentation. Your committee has read your proposal and are experts in your field.

  • Do mock exams with peers.

  • Be prepared to answer specifics.

  • Be prepared to diagram, etc., on the whiteboard.

After your Prelim:

A detailed report of the exam and a copy of the research proposal will be submitted to the Graduate Committee. A passing grade qualifies the student as a Ph.D. candidate. A failing grade will require the student to take a second Preliminary Examination no later than the following semester. A second failure will result in dismissal from the program.

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