Ph.D. Qualifying Exam

The objective of the qualifying exam (QE) is to examine your foundation in materials science and engineering. It will enable you to carry out research in a chosen field of study.

All MSEN students pursuing Ph.D. degree (with or without a prior M.S. degree) are required to pass the qualifying exam to continue their doctoral studies.

Note: If you fail your qualifying exam twice, you will NOT be allowed to continue the Ph.D. program.

The MSEN qualifying exam includes:

  • Written review consisting of a critical analysis on chosen, unassigned topic and focused literature review, not directly connected to your Ph.D thesis
  • An oral defense consisting of 
      1. a presentation and defense of the written review
      2. an oral examination testing knowledge of fundamental material science and engineering concepts and your prior coursework.

Qualifying Exam Committee

The graduate program director selects the Ph.D. qualifying exam committee at the beginning of each semester for each student (no later than the end of September for fall semester and the second week of February for spring semester).

The qualifying exam committee is composed of four MSEN faculty members, including the student's chair as a non-voting member. Your dissertation chair (advisor) or co-chair (co-advisor) may attend your qualifying exam. If you do not have a research advisor at the time of the exam, you can select one MSEN faculty to serve in the committee as a non-voting member. Voting members must represent at least two different departments.

The chair of the qualifying exam committee (not the dissertation chair) directs the exam. 

Request for Qualifying Exam

To register for QE, students provide the MSEN senior academic advisor with an electronic version of a completed application form before the end of the first week of classes for that semester. The application form includes the following:

  • name of your chair (faculty advisor)
  • current thesis topic
  • abstract of dissertation research
  • abstract of the master’s degree thesis, if applicable
  • degrees received

In addition to the application, please provide 

  • Unofficial TAMU transcript
  • CV
  • Degree Plan, if filed and approved, include degree plan.

The MSEN senior academic advisor will email the information from the completed form to all members of the qualifying exam committee no later than the end of the first month of classes for that semester.

This information is used by the qualifying exam committee to suggest and assign the topic for the written portion of the qualifying exam. If you do not have an advisor or have otherwise not begun your dissertation research, you should provide a general synopsis of your past and anticipated research area, thereby providing the committee the information to assign an appropriate topic.

Selection of the Topic

Each of the three Qualifying Exam committee members (excludes non-voting member, Academic Chair) suggest one topic that is outside of your dissertation topic but complements your coursework and general area of research. The senior academic advisor will email three topics to you.  Once notified, you should email your selected topic to the committee members and to the senior academic advisor by suggested date.

In case of a retake, a new topic will be assigned to you.


Format of the Exam

Written review

The written review is composed of a critical analysis of the selected topic identifying future challenges and suggesting possible directions and should include rigorous literature review.


  • Must be prepared and written by you alone 
  • No more than 15 double-spaced pages (excluding references) in length
  • Font: Times New Roman, size: 11 or 12
  • Appropriately referenced figures, schematics, and other graphics, if applicable

You must email a pdf of your paper at least one week in advance of your scheduled examination date to your QE committee and the senior academic advisor. Committee members may request a hard copy be delivered to them.

Defense of the Written review

You will be required to present and defend your written review in front of the QE committee. The presentation should be ~30-35 minutes. During or after the presentation, the QE committee will ask questions regarding the written review and related topics. This defense component should be ~15-20 minutes (times noted are at the discretion of the committee).

Oral Exam

Your QE committee will ask questions about other topics related to fundamental material science and engineering concepts and to your prior coursework. This portion of the exam should be ~15-25 minutes (times noted are at the discretion of the committee).

Evaluation of the Exam

The three voting members of the qualifying exam committee decide whether you have passed or failed, along with any coursework recommendations. The voting will take place after the mini defense in your research advisor’s absence. 

At least two "yes" votes from the three-member voting committee will indicate that you have passed the exam. The committee will sign an evaluation form (with comments/recommendations, if any) and return it to the senior academic advisor right after the mini-defense.


The qualifying exam is offered during fall/spring semesters only. It must be taken by the end of your third semester, excluding summers.

You must file an application before the end of the first week of the semester to take the qualifying exam that semester. The graduate program chair appoints three faculty members for each qualifying exam. The committee will come up with three topics no later than the end of October in the fall, and no later than the end of February in the spring. Then you will have at least 4 weeks to write the paper and turn it in to the senior academic advisor and chair of your qualifying exam committee, who will forward the paper to the committee. The mini defense will take place within 1 week after the submission of the report. You will be notified of the date, time and room.

If you are an M.S. student switching to the Ph.D. program before completing the M.S., the three-semester clock starts whenever you begun your studies at Texas A&M. If you have already exceeded the third semester, then you should take the qualifying exam in the first semester you switched to the Ph.D. program.

If you are a transfer student into our program and passed the QE from your previous major, you have the possibility of submitting those results. If you have not taken QE or failed, you must take the QE by your 3rd semester of starting the MSEN program.  

  • If you fail the first attempt, you will be required to retake the exam by the end of your fourth semester
  • If the student does not pass on the second try, he/she will not be permitted to continue in the MSEN Ph.D. program. Such a student can be allowed to continue to study for an M.S. degree in MSEN if he/she has not already earned a master's degree from Texas A&M University.
  • If a student fails to take the qualifying exam before the end of the third semester (excluding summer), they will be considered to have failed the Ph.D. qualifying exam.