Pitt | Swanson Engineering
PhD Qualifying Examination

The oral examination of the Doctoral Qualifying Process is designed to assess the breadth of the student's knowledge of the discipline,the student's achievement during the first a year of graduate study, and the potential to conduct independent research.  It is used to identify those students who maybe expected to successfully complete a doctoral program as well as to identify possible areas of weakness in the individual student's preparation.

When: Summer of first year.

Format: Each examination will be approximately 65 minutes in length. This will consist of a 20-25 minute presentation (you will be cut off at 25 minutes) and 40-45 minutes for questions from the 5-member faculty panel. The presentation will be on a journal paper from the literature - your paper will be available 1 week prior to the day of your exam.

Faculty Committee: The same faculty committee of 4-6 faculty will examine every student.  The faculty committee will have members covering the three core chemical engineering subject areas: Thermodynamics, Transport Phenomena, and Reaction Engineering.  Where possible the faculty committee will also be chosen with representation from the department’s research areas.

Presentation: Your presentation should include:

  • background suitable to introduce the committee to the research area of interest, and the specific topic of the paper
  • an assessment of the paper, including its success in communicating its stated objectives
  • an evaluation of the worth (i.e., impact) of the research to the field of chemical engineering, related disciplines, and the ChE subarea from which the paper was drawn [i.e., a critical analysis of the paper]

As you prepare your presentation and for the examination, YOU MAY NOT COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR ADVISOR REGARDING THE QUALIFYING EXAMINATION OR THE PAPER YOU ARE ASSIGNED. You may, however, consult with other faculty members and/or research groups who MAY OR MAY NOT ASSIST you in connecting the paper to the broader ChE field.

Examining Period: Questions will generally address 1) Issues related to research methods, assumptions, or interpretations of results; and 2) Knowledge in the core chemical engineering areas. The latter questions will most likely, but not exclusively, be found in the context of your presentation when possible.

Overall Evaluation: Each student’s overall evaluation as to pass/fail for the Doctoral Qualifying Process will be based on performance on the oral presentation/exam.