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PhD Qualifying Examination

The purpose of the qualifying examination is twofold.  First, the student is to demonstrate, through both written and oral presentation, the integration of a core body of knowledge in Materials Science and Engineering. Core knowledge is understood to encompass undergraduate-level principles in MSE as relevant to the topic chosen for the qualifying examination. Core knowledge is not constrained to material covered in the four core courses.  The second purpose is for students to demonstrate the ability to apply MSE core knowledge to a research problem, including the ability to state a problem clearly, to propose a solution, to utilize the scientific literature as a means of self-learning, and to recognize the limitations and implications of the proposed work.

Each PhD student must successfully complete the core courses prior to taking the MSE qualifying examination. It is further encouraged, as the qualifier has a strong oral component, that each student practice oral presentations prior to sitting for the qualifier exam.

The PhD qualifying examination:

  • Is given over a four-week period usually commencing in August
  • Emphasizes MSE knowledge synthesis and research practice including literature usage
  • Contains written and oral components

Students enrolling with a BS degree take the qualifying examination no later than two years after enrolling. Students enrolling with a MS degree typically take the qualifying examination within one year of beginning their PhD studies.

Once the questions for the qualifying exam have been disseminated, and until after the oral portion of the exam has been completed, students may neither consult nor work with other students or other individuals. Students who have questions may consult the faculty member in charge of the qualifying exam.  A student who fails the qualifying exam on the first attempt may retake the exam once.  If a student fails the qualifying exam twice, the student will not be allowed to continue in the PhD program.

In addition to the above outlined curriculum and guidelines,  students at the University of Virginia are subject to the University’s academic, financial, and non-academic rules and regulations. Students are also subject to the academic policies of the School for Engineering and Applied Sciences. The information contained herein and any other information conveyed to students is subject to change at any time by the authorities responsible for making these rules and regulations.

The University reserves the right to suspend, enforce the withdrawal of, or expel a student who violates the University’s Standards of Conduct or whose academic standing is, in its judgment, unsatisfactory. In addition, the University will automatically enforce the dismissal of a student certified by the Honor Committee to be guilty of a breach of the Honor System, and, where applicable, will consider revocation of a degree already conferred.

The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only.  The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at