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ME Doctoral Preliminary Exam

Exam Dates (Tentative)

  • Oral Exam: Fall Semester of your second year

Exam Objectives, Structure and Procedures

The Preliminary Exam is designed to evaluate your grasp of a specified spectrum of Mechanical Engineering as well as your ability to think creatively. Although the factual material is limited to material that you should have seen before, you can expect questions to be phased in a way that you have not seen before, and to require creative processes. The academic level and the subject matter of the exam correspond mostly to the BS program in Mechanical Engineering, although some material corresponds to the MS program .


A change to the prior PhD preliminary examination was proposed to enhance the preparation and professional development of our PhD students. The new examination format exclusively focuses on the oral examination. The written portion is excluded; however, this exclusion was replaced with a 3.5 GPA requirement for mechanical engineering graduate courses taken the first year of study as detailed in item 6 below. The 3.5 GPA automatically guarantees the requirement to take the oral exam. A GPA less than 3.5 but greater than or equal to 3.25 must submit a petition to the graduate committee for approval to take the exam. Extenuating circumstances beyond these requirements may be submitted to the graduate committee on a case-by-case basis. A petition to the graduate committee regarding GPAs must occur within 30 days after the spring semester for taking the preliminary exam in the fall of the following school year.

The key requirements for the new preliminary examination are described as follows:

  1. A 1.5 hour oral examination will be given to each PhD candidate.

  2. Content of the examination will include:
    1. A brief presentation (~10-15 minutes) on the candidate’s chosen area of research. This presentation should describe the problem, articulate its impact on science, engineering, and society, and anticipate expected research outcome
    2. The remaining time will focus on open ended questions within the field of study based upon the current mechanical engineering PhD topic list.

  3. This field of study will be identified by the PhD mentor and student guided by the mechanical engineering PhD topic list (see Preliminary Exam Topics). The topic list must coincide with one existing topic area previously agreed upon by the department and published for student examination preparation. The questions will be based on the aforementioned topics at a fundamental level required for open ended research problems appropriate as a graduate research assistant. 

    For example, the current three areas include: a) dynamics and controls, b) fluids and heat transfer, or c) solid mechanics and materials science, or an agreed upon set of topics approved by the graduate committee for students conducting interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research. Flexibility in the topics within each area is left at the discretion of the oral examination committee, but must include breadth as well as depth.

  4. The oral examination will be given by three faculty members determined by the graduate coordinator in consultation with the PhD advisor, who is excluded from serving on the examination committee. The PhD advisor is strongly recommended to be present during the oral examination.

  5. Grading will be pass/fail and determined through deliberation at the end of the oral examination for each candidate. It will include one vote pass/fail from each faculty member on the examination committee. The PhD advisor is recommended to participate in the first round of discussion of the student’s examination performance. This will be followed by a closed discussion by the three committee members who will vote pass/fail. The results will be submitted to the graduate committee for final approval. Upon a second unsuccessful attempt, a petition to the graduate committee must be made for extenuating circumstances if the student has shown other significant evidence worthy of continuation in the PhD program. A plan of corrective action(s) must be put in writing to ensure the PhD student will be successful as a PhD candidate.

  6. Exam dates: the examination will occur during the second fall semester of the graduate student’s tenure within the mechanical engineering graduate program. The list of exam topics selected by each PhD student in consultation with the faculty member should be submitted to the graduate committee by the end of the spring semester prior to the fall examination. A minimum of 3.5 GPA average must be satisfied comprised of two 3-credit hours of graduate mathematics courses (inside or outside of the mechanical engineering department) and another two 3-credit hours of courses in the declared major subject. Courses within the major subject areas include: 

    Dynamics & Controls

    Thermal Fluids

    Mechanics & Materials

    Introduction to Controls

    Fluids Dynamics

    Continuum Mechanics

    Advanced Dynamics

    Heat Transfer

    Computational Material Physics



    Solid Mechanics and Electromagnetics of Continuous Media


    Gas Dynamics



    Computational Fluid Dynamics

    Design Using FEM



    Materials Selection in Design

    Any alternate courses must be approved by the graduate committee. The math courses includeAnalysis I and Analysis II or alternate graduate level mathematics courses approved by the graduate committee. 

    Students desiring a spring exam must petition to the graduate committee before the end of the fall semester. As noted above, a student with a GPA between 3.25 and 3.5 may petition to the graduate committee to take the oral exam. Such petitions should be submitted to the graduate committee 30 days after the spring semester for fall examination. Extenuating circumstances beyond these requirements must be petitioned to the graduate committee on a case-by-case basis. Requirements to correct any deficiencies will be put in writing and agreed upon by the PhD advisor and student.

  7. During the transition of this examination change, accommodations will be made for students that fall outside of the requirements. Students who have not completed the required courses fall 2016, or who have not satisfied the GPA requirements, will be permitted to take the new oral examination.