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PhD general examination


In addition to the goals of the Qualifying Exam, which should persist throughout the PhD, there are additional goals for the General Exam. By the General Exam, students should be engaged in original research. Committee involvement early on will provide valuable feedback to help the student steer their research directions early. PhD candidates should be synthesizing new ideas and proposed research based on their growing big-picture view. The General Exam can provide students an opportunity to propose an interesting, important, and attainable research topic, make a research plan, and execute this plan.

By the end of the second year of PhD study the student should take the General Exam, which centers on the student's dissertation proposal and his or her qualifications to successfully perform the research. Note that the Department views the failure of full-time students to take the General Exam within four years of entering the program as an indication of inadequate progress toward the degree. The following minimum requirements must be met before the General Exam can be scheduled:

  • The student has completed 60 credits (some of these credits may be taken in the same quarter of the exam). A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.00 is required for a graduate degree at the University. For more details see Doctoral Degree Requirements.
  • The Supervisory Committee should have been in existence for at least four months prior to the exam date.
  • The student must have prepared a written dissertation proposal, approved by the Committee members.
  • All members of the supervisory committee agree that the student's background of study and preparation is sufficient and have approved the student to schedule a General Examination.
  • All UW English requirements must be satisfied. See Graduate School Memo #8.
  • The ME Supervisory Committee will determine if the study of another language is necessary for the student. The Committee may defer to the minimum language requirement of the department, which is two years of a foreign language in either high school or college or demonstration of capability in a language other than the native language of the student.

Scheduling the general exam

  • Prior to scheduling the General Exam, the student should notify all members of the Supervisory Committee including the GSR, of the exam date and time. In addition, the student must book a room for the Exam.
  • At least three weeks in advance of the exam date the student must formally schedule the General Exam through MyGrad Program.
  • The student should write an e-mail to the ME Graduate Adviser notifying the department of the exact dissertation proposal title. This is necessary so an announcement can be sent to the ME students and faculty.
  • The student's transcript is then evaluated to ensure that all minimum Graduate School requirements, with the exception of the dissertation credits and the Final Examination, have been satisfied. If there is a problem or question with an evaluation, the Department will be notified. Occasionally a contingency will be noted on the Committee Signature Form in which case candidacy will not be conferred until it has been met.

    Please note: Full or part-time registration is required the quarter the General Exam is taken and Candidacy is awarded.

  • The student will need to pick up the ME Committee Signature Form in the ME office.

Taking the general exam

  • The oral exam is administered by the Supervisory Committee and usually centers on the student's oral presentation and defense of his or her dissertation thesis proposal.
  • The Committee Signature Form is signed by the Supervisory Committee after the successful completion of the exam. Upon completion of the Exam, students need to return the signed Committee Signature Form to the ME Graduate Advising Office no later than the last day of the quarter in which the student is to receive candidacy. If the Committee Signature Form is not received by this deadline, candidacy will be awarded the following quarter, and registration for that quarter will be required.
  • Candidacy will be conferred on the last day of a quarter and certificates are issued by the Graduation Academic Records office approximately 4 months after this date. In addition, the candidacy will be posted to the student's transcripts. For more information see Doctoral Degree Policies.

General exam checklist

Procedure Recommended Deadline
Establishing a Supervisory Committee
After passing the PhD Qualifying exam, in consultation with their faculty adviser, need to decide which quarter they intend to take the General Exam and who will serve on their Supervisory Committee. To request that the supervisory committee be established, students must send an e-mail to
Within 1 year after passing the PhD Qualifying exam
Graduate Program Adviser enters this information into student record and the Graduate School officially appoints the PhD Supervisory Committee electronically.  
Requesting for the General Examination
Submit Request for Scheduling General Exam to the Graduate School through student MyGrad page confirming the date, time, and place with each committee member. The Graduate Program Adviser will then receive your request and be able to approve it.
At least 3 weeks prior to the General Exam
Preparing for the General Exam
Prepare a written summary describing your dissertation topic and your plan of the proposed research. The summary is to include a pertinent literature review and any preliminary results obtained. You will be examined orally on your general area of research interest, and specifically on your proposed plan of research.
Submit copies of your summary to all members of your Supervisory Committee recommended at least 2 weeks prior to the General Exam date
Announcing the General Exam to faculty & students
Notify the Graduate Program Adviser to announce to faculty and students of your upcoming exam. Provide the exact title of your dissertation, date, time, and location of your General Exam.
At least two weeks prior to General Exam
Department prints Committee Signature Form for General Exam, placed in student file about one week prior to General Exam. (Students need to pick up this form to your general exam and have the Supervisory Committee sign off on the form to be placed back in your student file.)  
You must maintain registration as a full- or part-time graduate student for the quarter in which you take the General Exam.  
Following General Exam, the faculty adviser returns the signed Committee Signature Form to the ME Graduate Program Adviser. No later than the last day of the quarter you wish to advance to candidacy

It is your responsibility to know the requirements for your PhD degree. See complete Graduate School requirements for General Examination: Admission to Candidacy for Doctoral Degree.

You also need to refer to the ME department's PhD degree procedures to ensure that you have completed all of the Department’s requirements for your degree.


While not a formal requirement of the PhD program, students are strongly encouraged to begin publishing their research in peer-reviewed journals before completion of their PhDs. Typically, each student should aim to publish at least 2 publications. Peer-reviewed publications allow the broader dissemination of one’s work to benefit the scientific community and demonstrate one’s capability to contribute meaningfully to the discipline. The quantity and quality of papers a researcher publishes can influence job applications, grant applications, and promotions in the future.