Outline and Navigation Links
- Introduction and General Information
- Preliminary Exam Components
- Additional Information
- Preliminary Exam Timeline
Introduction and General Information
A Ph.D. student must take and pass the preliminary examination, generally within 12 months of defending the M.S. (or within 18 months of admission to the Ph.D. program, if the student completed the M.S. in another department). The outcome of the exam is reported to the department and Graduate School within two working days using the GS16 form.
The preliminary examination is administered by the student's graduate committee. The purpose of the preliminary examination is to evaluate the student's knowledge of their field and their ability to independently formulate and propose a research project.
A Ph.D. student, in conjunction with their adviser, should begin forming a graduate committee as soon as possible after their admission to the Ph.D. program, normally in the first semester. The GS6 form is used to report the composition of the graduate committee (3 faculty members from ATS and one CSU faculty member from outside the department) and the proposed plan of study. Non-CSU employees are required to obtain faculty affiliate appointments in an academic department in order to be eligible to serve on graduate committees. They do not replace CSU faculty requirements.
Preliminary Exam Components
The preliminary exam consists of the following three parts:
- Part 1: Research Prospectus
- Part 2: Written Questions
- Part 3: Oral Examination
PART 1: RESEARCH PROSPECTUS
Purpose of the Prospectus
The purpose of the prospectus is to evaluate the student's ability to independently formulate and propose a research project.
- Statement of the problem and its broader significance that is grounded in a summary of the existing literature which points to gaps in the current knowledge that motivate the proposed research.
- Research questions and hypotheses.
- A description of the proposed methods that is well-organized, appropriate for answering the research questions, and incorporates mechanisms to assess success. The proposed methods should thoroughly describe all tools and assumptions about their use. The approach should also include an explanation of how each research step is linked to the scientific questions and/or hypotheses.
- A work plan that demonstrates a realistic understanding of the extent of the work involved.
- A summary detailing the expected benefits that will result from the research.
- A financial budget or statement of resources is not necessary.
The prospectus should be submitted to the graduate committee at least three weeks prior to the scheduled written portion of the exam, and the committee should be notified by the student regarding when to expect this document. The three week window can be shortened in response to a written request by the student, if all members of the committee agree there is sufficient time to create the written questions.
- The prospectus should be no more than 10 pages long no smaller than 11-point font. The 10 pages do not include the title page or the references but otherwise include all text and figures. References should be listed separately at the end of the prospectus.
- The subject of the prospectus may be shared with the adviser prior to writing the prospectus, but the subject is at the discretion of the student.
- While interactions with the adviser or other committee members are not forbidden during the writing process, it is incumbent upon the student to ensure the main objective of the prospectus, the demonstration of independent capabilities, is not compromised by these interactions. For example, having the adviser or other students read the prospectus and comment upon the content prior to submission is in clear contradiction of the objectives. Interactions with the CSU Writing Center (intended to aid non-native English speakers) are permissible as long as they do not impact the scientific content of the prospectus.
- Advisors can assist students in planning their time to appropriately manage the prospectus writing process among other competing responsibilities.
- Students are allowed access to a set of examples of successful prospectuses.
Part 2: WRITTEN QUESTIONS
Purpose of the Written Questions
The primary purpose of the written questions is to test the student's ability to use their understanding of topics pertaining to their field of research to synthesize and process complex information by critically analyzing the research literature through the use of written arguments, appropriate equations and current theory.
- The graduate committee will meet and together develop three questions. The external graduate committee member is not required to attend this meeting.
- At least one of the three questions must be based on one or more journal articles from the literature that fall within the general research area(s) of the student. In the context of the journal article(s), the questions may require the student to, among other things, critically review the article(s), place the article(s) in the broader context of the field, perform back-of-the-envelope calculations, defend a statement from first principles, discuss how to apply ideas in the article(s) to a different situation, etc.
- The student may use any reference materials required to answer the questions but may not consult with other persons.
- The student has 48 hours to prepare and submit written answers to the questions. History has shown that working for the entire 48 hours is not beneficial.
- If you have circumstances that make it difficult to complete the written questions in a single 48 hour period, please consult with the Associate Department Head about potential accommodations.
- If you discover an error in the answers you have submitted, please correct the errors without consulting others and bring your revised responses to the oral examination.
PART 3: ORAL EXAMINATION
Purpose of the Oral Examination
The purpose of the oral examination is to provide an opportunity for the student's graduate committee to ask questions about the student's prospectus, their responses to the written questions, and related topics in the student's area(s) of research.
Structure of the Oral Examination
- The oral examination will begin with a presentation of the prospectus by the student. The student's presentation should last 15 minutes. Committee members may not interrupt the presentation except to ask brief clarifying questions.
- The graduate committee will then ask questions related to the prospectus for 45 minutes. An upper-limit of 1 hour is placed on the presentation and discussion of the prospectus.
- Finally, the graduate committee will ask questions about the responses to the written questions and other questions in the student's area(s) of research for 45 minutes.
- At the completion of the questioning periods, the student will be asked to leave the examination room to allow the committee to decide on the exam grade.
- The total length of the oral examination cannot exceed 2 hours.
Grading the Exam
Each of the three portions of the exam (i.e. prospectus, written questions, and oral examination) are weighted equally and each will be graded by the graduate committee as either "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory." Outcomes of the full exam may be PASS, FAIL or PARTIAL PASS.
- Three "satisfactory" ratings will be given a PASS.
- Two "satisfactory" and one "unsatisfactory" rating will be given a PARTIAL PASS.
- One or zero "satisfactory" ratings will be given a FAIL.
A PARTIAL PASS on the preliminary exam may require additional follow-up with the graduate committee, as will be documented in a department memo – but will be considered a pass according to the Graduate School (as specified in the GS16 form). Any follow-up requested by the graduate committee must occur within 6 months or less (to be specified by the graduate committee in the department memo) following the oral examination.
If a student FAILS the preliminary exam, they may be eligible for one re-examination. However, re-examination must be endorsed by the graduate committee on the GS16 form and must be completed within six months of the first attempt. Conditions to be met before re-examination are documented on the GS16 form.
A student who passes the preliminary exam will change status from Ph.D. I to Ph.D. II. The department requires a memo from the student's adviser to be notified of this change.
Notification of Exam
The student is responsible for arranging a time and place for the oral portion of the preliminary exam after consulting his/her graduate committee.
The student must notify the graduate adviser no later than three weeks prior to the exam. The date, time and place of the preliminary examination will be announced to all Atmospheric Science academic faculty members one week prior to the examination. The preliminary examination shall be administered at least two terms before the student’s PhD defense. It is the candidate's responsibility to comply with these notifications.
The student is expected to make every effort to comply with departmental timelines for admission and for passing the preliminary examination. However, in some cases, there may be extenuating circumstances that require modification of these timelines or the exam format itself. In such cases, the student and adviser may petition, in writing, to the graduate committee, outlining the reasons for the request and the proposed modified timetable and/or exam format. The department head will approve or deny the request.
Violation of departmental requirements and timetables will be considered grounds for dismissal from the program.
Preliminary Exam Timeline
|TIME||STUDENT||PhD ADVISER||COMMITTEE MEMBERS||DEPARTMENT OFFICE|
|Up to 3 months prior to oral exam date||Notify committee members and arrange acceptable date for prelim, reserve a room for oral exam|
|As soon as the oral exam date is confirmed (at least 3 weeks prior to oral exam)||Notify graduate adviser of date, time and location||Contact committee members to arrange prep of 3 questions, confirm date of written exam||Prepare potential written questions and submit to department office before written exam date|
|More than 2 weeks prior to written exam date||Fill out GS6 Program of Study form on RAMweb; discuss timing of written exam with department office||Contact student about date of written exam (written prelim exam can be arranged for anytime between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., M, T, W)|
|At least 3 weeks prior to written exam||Submit written prospectus to PhD adviser, committee members, and department office|
|1 day prior to written exam||Submit questions (email) to department office|
|Date of written exam (aprox. 10 days prior to oral exam)||Receive written exam questions via email from department office||Have questions ready to send via email at agreed-upon time|
|48 hours after written exam||Submit written exam solutions to department office 48 hours after receiving||Send copies of exam questions to PhD adviser and committee members; cc student|
|At least one week before oral exam||Initiate GS16 Preliminary Exam Results form in RAMweb||Prepare internal preliminary exam memo|
|Date of oral exam||Relax!||Decide on results and recommendation||Sign off on GS16 form so committee members will receive system emails|
|Immediately after the end of the oral exam||Electronically sign GS16 Prelim Exam Results form||Electronically sign GS16 Prelim Exam Results form||Ensure GS16 Prelim Exam Results form is signed by all committee members and department head|
|Within a week of oral exam||Submit completed internal preliminary exam results memo to department head|