Candidacy Examination

The Candidacy Examination is intended to establish the student’s preparation and readiness for independent doctoral level research by assessing the following:

  • Intellectual independence of the candidate.
  • Familiarity of the candidate with the literature relevant to her/his research area(s).
  • The ability to formulate a meaningful research problem and a corresponding research plan.

The Candidacy Examination is comprised of a research proposal, a written exam and an oral exam.

Candidacy Examination Committee

The first step in the process leading to the student's candidacy exam is the formation of the candidacy examination committee.

  • This committee consists of at least four faculty members: the student’s advisor (who must have graduate faculty P-status in ECE) and at least three other faculty members chosen by the student and advisor together, subject to the approval of the Graduate Studies committee.
  • One of the members of the exam committee must be an ECE faculty member from the student’s secondary research area.
  • There must be at least three faculty members (including the advisor) with graduate faculty P-status in ECE. The fourth member can have graduate faculty P-status or M-status.
  • To add external members without graduate faculty P-status in addition to the four regular members described above, requires permission from the Graduate Studies Chair.

Exam Schedule and Timeline

The candidacy exam is usually taken in the third year in the PhD program after all coursework is completed. The timeline of the exam is as follows:

  1. After the candidacy examination committee has been formed, the student submits the ECE form, Request for Approval of Candidacy Examination Committee, to the ECE graduate program office for Graduate Studies Chair approval.
  2. The student works with her/his advisor and the members of the exam committee to set a date for the oral portion of the exam that is agreeable to all parties.
  3. The student must be given at least 3 weeks to complete the written portion of the candidacy exam.
  4. The oral portion of the candidacy examination must be completed within one month of the written portion.
  5. At least two weeks prior to the scheduled date for the oral exam, the student submits the Application for Candidacy online at The Application for Candidacy must be approved online by the faculty advisor and the ECE graduate program. This deadline is strict.
  6. A Committee Petition submitted through is required to add non-faculty external members to a graduate exam committee.
  7. The research proposal and the written exam must be submitted to the members of the exam committee at least one week before the scheduled date for the oral exam. This deadline is strict.

Research Proposal

The research proposal forms a major part of the exam. The proposal must be a complete document with a thoughtful, in-depth treatment of the dissertation topic. It should be substantial enough to form the basis of a meaningful oral examination, establishing a worthy research problem and developing an effective research plan. It should only be written after the student has done enough work on the problem to speak meaningfully about it, including discussing her or his preliminary investigations. Above all, it should be a technically sound and scholarly document, not to exceed 15 pages (single spaced, one column, 11 point or larger font), excluding title page, abstract, table of contents, references cited and appendices.

The proposal should include:

  • A cover sheet including title, a one-page abstract and a table of contents.
  • A discussion of the problem and its significance.
  • A history of the problem and previous relevant research.
  • A summary of the student’s own preliminary work on the problem and results to date (details of the preliminary results can be placed in appendices).
  • A research plan leading from the current status toward a clearly defined goal or goals. Listing multiple methods of attacking the problem, or other options, by priority is strongly advised. The research plan should typically be about 5 of the 15 pages.
  • Anticipated results and expected contributions to the state-of-the-art in the relevant field of study.
  • A list of references compiled in IEEE Transactions format.

Written Exam

The written portion of the examination is formulated by the student's advisor with input from the entire Candidacy Examination Committee. The written part of the exam consists of:

  • At least one significant, open-ended problem (to assess intellectual independence).
  • A critique, simulation or analysis of one or two key papers written in the student’s area of study (to assess familiarity with the relevant literature).

Oral Exam

Attendance to the oral exam is limited to the student and members of the Candidacy Examination Committee. Except when video conferencing is involved, all members of the Candidacy Examination Committee must be present during the entire oral examination. The oral portion of the candidacy examination lasts approximately two hours. Questioning of the student should occupy the entire period of the examination. All committee members are expected to participate fully in the questioning during the course of the examination and in the discussion and decision on the result of the candidacy examination.

The vote must be unanimous in order for the student to pass the exam. Results of the candidacy exam are submitted by each committee member online at

Outcome from the Candidacy Examination

For the direct BS to PhD program, three outcomes are possible:

  • The student passes and is awarded the MS degree.
  • The student fails; however, the student is awarded the MS degree.
  • The student fails and is not awarded the MS degree.

For the MS to PhD program, two outcomes are possible:

  • The student passes.
  • The student fails.

Please refer to the Graduate School Handbook for a complete list of rules and regulations.