Preliminary Examination• Exam Application Form • Preliminary Exam Timeline
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 overall purpose of the preliminary examination is to evaluate the student's knowledge of the 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 and the proposed plan of study.
Preliminary Exam components
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.
- A clear statement of the problem and its broader significance
- A summary of the existing literature and its relevance to the specific problem being addressed
- A description of the tools, assumptions or understanding that represents the starting point of the proposed research
- A description of the planned research and an explanation of how each research step will contribute to the desired outcome
- 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 three weeks prior to the scheduled written portion of the exam.
- The prospectus should be no more than 10 pages long using single-spaced text with a 12-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 generally discussed with the adviser prior to writing the prospectus, but the subject is ultimately at the discretion of the student.
- As stated above, the purpose of the prospectus is to evaluate the student's ability to independently formulate and propose a research project. 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. Asking the adviser if a certain data set that might be useful for the research is available, on the other hand, would not be considered a problem. 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.
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.
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.
Oral Examination Elements
- The oral examination will begin with a presentation of the prospectus by the student. If uninterrupted, the student's presentation should last 15-20 minutes (but no longer than 20 minutes).
- If the graduate committee chooses to ask questions during the presentation, the graduate committee chair is charged with ensuring the student is able to finish their presentation in a reasonable amount of time.
- The graduate committee can then ask questions about the responses to the written questions and other questions in the student's area(s) of research.
Oral Examination Guidelines
- The total length of the oral examination cannot exceed 2 hours.
- An upper-limit of 1 hour is placed on the discussion of the prospectus.
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, s/he 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 final examination. 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||ADVISER||COMMITTEE MEMBERS||DEPARTMENT OFFICE|
|Up to 3 months prior to prelim date||Notify committee members and arrange acceptable date for prelim, reserve a room|
|As soon as the prelim date is confirmed (at least 3 weeks prior to 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 adviser before written exam date|
|More than 2 weeks prior to written exam date||Fill out GS 6 Program of Study on RAMweb; discuss timing of written exam with graduate adviser||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 adviser, committee members|
|1 day prior to written exam||Submit questions (email) to graduate adviser|
|Date of written exam (aprox. 10 days prior to prelim)||Receive written exam questions via email from graduate adviser||Have questions ready to send via email at agreed-upon time|
|48 hours after written exam||Submit written exam solutions to graduate adviser 48 hours after receiving||Send copies of exam questions to adviser and committee members; cc student|
|At least one week before prelim exam||Initiate GS 16 Preliminary Exam Results form in RAMweb||Prepare internal preliminary exam memo|
|Date of prelim exam||Relax!||Decide on results and recommendation||Sign off on GS 16 form so committee members will receive system emails|
|Immediately after the end of the exam||Electronically sign GS 16 Prelim Exam Results form||Electronically sign GS 16 Prelim Exam Results form||Ensure GS 16 Prelim Exam Results form is signed by all committee members and department head|
|Within a week of exam||Submit completed internal preliminary exam results memo to graduate adviser|