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Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 Eighth Street, Troy, New York 12180-3590 USA

Telephone:
(518) 276-6310
Fax: (518) 276-6680

For questions about our graduate program, contact our Graduate Student Coordinator, Nicole McQuade.

Graduate Exam Handbooks >

Candidacy Examination Handbook

The Candidacy Examination is your last formal hurdle on the way to complete the Ph.D. thesis. It establishes the research credential of the student on a firm basis. The Candidacy Committee is assembled by the student, in consultation with the Thesis Advisor and the chair of the Graduate Program Committee. The Candidacy Committee, headed by the student's Thesis Advisor, makes sure that the research project makes good sense, and the student understands the related graduate materials very well.  The candidacy exam is always given as an oral exam.

Once a Ph.D. thesis project has been chosen and a Candidacy Committee assembled, the student presents a brief written thesis proposal to that committee, along with an oral defense of the proposal.  In the oral exam, members of the committee will question the student on the specific research planned, and, more generally on the physics relevant to that research. This examination is normally taken by the end of the third year. Generally, most or all of the members of the Candidacy Committee become members of the Ph.D. thesis committee.

The thesis proposal is just that, a proposal, and need not present completed or even preliminary results. Its type-written length should be limited to approximately eight pages. Longer proposals need to be approved by the student's committee.  This thesis proposal should be submitted to the members of the candidacy exam committee two weeks prior to the exam.

The student is examined by a committee consisting of four faculty members, one of whom is from outside the Department of Physics. The Candidacy committee members need to be first approved by qualifying exam committee and then approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. The members of the Candidacy exam committee will continue to serve on the student's Ph.D. thesis committee, though any unavailable member can be replaced with the permission of the Dean of the Graduate School.

During the exam the committee will evaluate the student on the following:

  • Ability to discuss the physics of the proposed research.
  • Suitability of the proposed research for a Ph.D. thesis.
  • Mastery of the relevant graduate course material.

At the end of the examination the committee deliberates and the advisor informs the student of the result. In the event that the student does not pass the examination, a single re-examination may be allowed. Once the student has passed the examination, the committee will continue to monitor the student's progress to a Ph.D.

Students may request advance approval from the Graduate Program Committee for any needed adjustment of timetable exceeding the end of the third year of graduate residence. Failure to obtain such approval may cause delays in acceptance of the doctoral thesis.

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