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Doctor of Philosophy Qualifying Examination Policy

Exam Structure

The Qualifying Exam (QE) is a written exam, and, in some cases, may include an oral exam. The student has two attempts to pass it.

Mandatory written portion

The written exam is a four-hour closed book exam wherein the student is required to answer eight questions consisting of:

  • Core nuclear engineering set - The student is to select and answer four questions from the provided core nuclear engineering set of eight questions.
  • Research set - The student is to select and answer four questions from the 15 questions focusing on the topics of research tracks in the department. Three questions for each of the five research tracks will be offered.

While both core and research track sets are provided by nuclear engineering faculty to form the required set of eight QE questions, it is left up to the student taking the exam to select specific questions to answer from the given sets of eight and 15 questions.

The student’s answers to eight questions will be evaluated by nuclear engineering faculty. Any questions in excess of the required eight will not be graded.

Exam Structure at a Glance

The above-described exam structure and question selection policies are summarized below.

Core content

Required number of questions to answer: four
Number of questions on exam to select from: eight

Research tracks

Required number of questions to answer: four
Number of questions on exam to select from: 15 (three questions from each research track)

Total number of questions

Required number of questions to answer: eight
Number of questions on exam to select from: 23

The core nuclear engineering set is based on the nuclear engineering body of knowledge represented, in principle, by NUEN604 (Radiation Interactions and Shielding), 605 (Radiation Detection and Measurements), 601 (Nuclear Engineering Theory), and 606 (Nuclear Engineering Analysis and Experimentation).

The research set (flexible content set) is based on the research tracks in the Department of Nuclear Engineering:

  • Computational Nuclear Engineering
  • Health Physics
  • Nuclear Materials Engineering
  • Nuclear Security and Safeguards
  • Power Engineering

The questions may contain multiple parts, open design issues, and detailed calculations associated with each question.

Oral exam - Those students who clearly pass the written exam are judged as qualified academically to enter the Doctor of Philosophy program. The faculty may convene an oral exam for any student whose written exam result is marginal. (See oral exam policy).


Announcement of intent - Examinees must announce their intentions to take the written examination no later than the end of the semester preceding the semester when the examination is planned to occur.

Examination period – One four-hour closed book exam, early in the fall and spring semesters.

Permitted number of attempts – Two times:

  • Two times in three semesters (excluding summers) for students with Master of Science degrees in nuclear engineering, or
  • Two times in five semesters (excluding summers) for students without Master of Science degrees in nuclear engineering.

Results – Written exam results will be delivered within one month. Oral exam results will be given within one month of the written-exam results.

Exam format - The exams are graded following the double-blind anonymous grading procedure – students will not be identifiable by name in the grading process until the final stage of the exam results review process. Arbitrary alphabetic identifiers will be used during grading and evaluation. The connection between identifiers and students will be unknown to both students and faculty.

Oral Examination Policy (Guidelines for Faculty)

The written exam taken by a student may have one of the three outcomes: 1) pass, 2) fail, or 3) needs assessment. In the event of outcome No. 3, an oral exam committee will be formed to assess the student’s knowledge based on the written exam results. The student will be informed of their need for an oral assessment. The examination shall focus on the deficient written responses as well as the student’s understanding of the underlying principles behind the original question(s). Upon exam completion, the committee will then make a pass or fail recommendation.

The purpose of the oral exam is to examine those students whose performance on the written exam is such that a clear “pass” or “fail” outcome is difficult to declare. Students who clearly pass or clearly fail the written portion will not be examined orally.

The student will have the option to decline the oral assessment, thus opting to retake the written exam at the next available opportunity (if eligible). Failure of an oral exam does not preclude the student from taking the written exam again if the student remains eligible under the current eligibility policy.

Qualifying Exam process under COVID-19 restrictions

The Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 examination will be proctored and administered online with video supervision. The exam is administered in an open-book format with a time limit of 4 hours unless longer duration is warranted following medical restrictions for a student taking the exam.