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Qualifying Exam Lore

Page history last edited by Chris Mankovich 3 years, 2 months ago

Excerpt from Orientation Guide


After completing classes, prelim, and all Research Project requirements, it's time 

to start thinking about a thesis.  The Qualifying Exam is the place to propose and 

defend a thesis topic; that means you don't necessarily have to complete lots of 

the thesis work before this exam.  The Qual is a defense-style exam: you give 

some presentation but also face comments, objections, and suggestions from 

your committee (three members of Astronomy Dept. plus one from outside). 

Students are encouraged to complete their Qual by the end of their 3rd year, and 

are required to do so before the end of their 4th.  Upon passing the Qual, one 

becomes ABD student (advanced to candidacy, All But Dissertation).  If you 

don’t take the QE before the beginning of your 5th year in the program, you are 

not within the normative time.  


When you are ready to proceed with your Qualifying Exam, please contact the 

department’s Graduate Student Advisor, David Sugg.  There are several 

documents, deadlines and fees due by various deadlines.  David will assist you in 

coordinating all required steps with the Graduate Division. 


Additional Information 

Once you have qualified, you increase by one pay grade. You also are not longer on the list to bring snacks to colloquium cookies.


To actually qualify you need to write a check to the university of $90!


Your committee includes 4 members and at least one member from outside the UCSC Astronomy Department.


The exam consists roughly of a talk by your for 1-1.25 hours and then the committee kicking you out of the room while they discuss your work. Typically you will be interrupted with lots of questions. Then they call you back in and chat with your about it. The whole thing should take less than 2.5 hours but has been known to go for much longer.


You need to organize a room and reserve it. Do this typically 2 weeks before or earlier your exam.


It is typically ok for one member of your committee to teleconference in, but check with David first. There have been known cases of 2 members teleconferencing in. If one of your committee members is teleconferencing in there are two options: (1) have them skype in and have someone bring a laptop [be sure to get their skype name or (2) use the polycom. There is a polycom available in the CfAO video conference room [see Leslie or Karen in the front office to reserve this room]. Another videoconference unit is available in the director's office in the Lick Observatory rooms on the third floor [check with Paula for the availability of this room]


You need to fill out 2 forms to complete your qualifying exam. See David for the first one about 2 weeks before you exam (if you forget then do it ASAP). The other form you need to have when you arrive at your exam. At the end of the actual exam, you will need all of your committee members to sign this other form. If one of your members is teleconferencing in I recommend the following (1) get your members to sign 2 copies of the form (2) send one of these forms with a self-addressed envelope with postage to the member who was not present (3) send them email that they should be expected this form and what they need to do. Your committee chair, a.k.a. your advisor, will write up a summary and give it to you to attach to these forms when you turn it in to David. I have been told it is ok to include multiple copies of the form with the signatures as long as all 4 members are accounted for (i.e. you can have one form with 3 signatures and attach a second with the fourth).


The department also now has a rubric that the faculty are supposed to use to evaluate you: http://www.astro.ucsc.edu/academics/graduates/QE%20Analytic%20Rubrics.pdf


After you qualify you have 7 years to get your Ph.D. or else you have to do another qualifying exam.


After you pass your exam you typically have not officially "qualified" until the next quarter.


Qualifying steps - Fall 2016

Relevant forms can be found here: http://graddiv.ucsc.edu/current-students/applications-forms/index.html#four

  1. Discuss with advisor who should be on your committee
  2. Invite people to be on your committee 
  3. Figure out day/time for exam, book room
    1. 3-hour block to be safe (depending on what your advisor suggests) 
  4. Fill out the committee nomination form 
    1. You'll receive a confirmation email from the grad division 
    2. This is so you are nominated by the committee to advance to candidacy 
  5. Fill out the “nominations for dissertation reading committee” form (yes this is a different one) 
    1. This is so your committee is officially approved 
  6. If any of your committee members is not tenured, you need
    1. a letter from your main advisor saying why this member is needed on your committee
    2. an up-to-date CV from this committee member
    3. to send the above to Jenna so the grad division can approve 
  7. If a committee member is skyping in, you can send them a copy of your slides for their convenience 
  8. Bring the qualifying “report” form to your exam
    1. The committee will sign at the end of the exam 
    2. Give signed form to Jenna, to be forwarded to the grad division 



The department is making a push recently to have all students qualify by the end of their third year. 


The actual exam experience will likely vary depending on the make-up of your committee but is normally a supportive atmosphere that feels less like an exam and more like getting advice from four people interested in helping you succeed.


Who you pick for your committee is important as some members are likely to be writing letters of recommendation for you when you are looking for jobs. This is especially important for the outside committee member.


Sample Qual Slides

Some sample slides from previous student's qualifying exams are available on the ucsc-astrograds google drive. They include:

Chris Mankovich, 2017

Zach Jennings, 2015

Sri Srinath, 2014

Jenn Burt, 2013

Claire Dorman, 2012

Jerome Fang, 2012



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