Ph.D. Qualifying Exam in CSE

Overview and Purpose

A Ph.D. student taking the Computational Science and Engineering Ph.D. Qualifying Exam (CSE Exam) or Computer Science Ph.D. Qualifying Exam with CSE specialization (CS/CSE Exam) should follow the College of Computing’s guideline of the qualifying exam. In addition, the following CSE guidelines should be followed. Both the CSE and CS/CSE Exams are administered by the CSE Qualifying Exam Committee. 

The CSE Exam consist of two components. This examination is designed to ensure the student has achieved sufficient knowledge in core areas of computational science and engineering as well as in their chosen specialization area as preparation for advanced research.

  • Core exam: This written exam encompasses core areas of Computational Science and Engineering. Students select two areas among the five core CSE areas: numerical methods, discrete algorithms, modeling and simulation, computational data analysis, and high performance computing. Material covered by the examination will normally include topics covered in core courses in the core area augmented with a reading list provided to the student as preparation for the examination. The format is a day-long written examination.
  • Specialization and artifact defense: This oral exam has two purposes: to ensure that the student has acquired sufficient knowledge in his/her specialization area in a computing, engineering or science discipline for advanced research, and to ensure that the student can demonstrate an ability to integrate knowledge in mathematical foundations/computational methods and knowledge in a specific engineering or science discipline to synthesize a concrete computational artifact, e.g., a significant computer program. The student will have created and documented the computational artifact prior to the examination, and must answer questions regarding the artifact itself. For example, the student may be required to describe the purpose of the artifact and assess its strengths, weaknesses and aspects of its design such as the choice of computational algorithms or data structures. The artifact will typically have been created by the student based on initial research conducted by the student with the supervision of his/her research advisor.

The CS/CSE Exam has the following three parts:

  • Core exam: This written exam encompasses core areas of Computational Science and Engineering. Students select two areas among the five core CSE areas: numerical methods, discrete algorithms, modeling and simulation, computational data analysis, and high performance computing. Material covered by the examination will normally include topics covered in core courses in the core area augmented with a reading list provided to the student as preparation for the examination. The format is a day-long written examination.
  • Deliverables: The submission of a high-quality research deliverable, evidenced by a portfolio of an exam committee-reviewed and publishable article, and possibly other work products as approved by the exam committee
  • An oral presentation and examination

 

What You Need to Do as a Ph.D. Student?

At the beginning of the semester in which a Ph.D. student will take the qualifying exam, she should

  • Select the committee members: Each student’s Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Committee consists of the student’s advisor and three additional faculty members. At least one of them should be CSE tenure-track faculty. The committee needs to be approved by the CSE graduate program coordinator.
  • Select the two sub-areas: Declare two sub-areas from the five sub-areas listed below.
  • Submit the CSE Qualifying Exam Form: Submit the CSE Qualifying Exam Form to the CSE division (to Ms. Lometa Mitchell) within ONE month of the beginning of the semester.

 

CSE Exam Administration

The written core qualifying exam is to be offered once in the Fall semester and once in the Spring semester each year, usually around the 10th week of the semester. The second part of the CSE exam (i.e., the artifact oral exam) must be attempted within four weeks of completing the first portion, excluding semester breaks. Each student is to schedule the artifact oral exam only after passing the written core exam. The qualifying exam must be attempted by the end of the second year of enrollment in the CSE doctoral program. If the exam is failed, the student is allowed to retake it one more time in the next semester when the exam is offered. However, for those students with CSE as the home unit, the written core exam has to be passed by the end of the second year of enrollment in the CSE doctoral program.
 

Core Exam Sub-Areas

The Core Exam is subdivided into the following five sub-areas based on the CSE core courses:

  • Numerical Methods 
  • Discrete Algorithms 
  • Modeling and Simulations
  • High-Performance Computing
  • Data Analysis Coordinator

Each of these sub-areas provides a reading list composed of books and articles, and its scope covers the general topics taught in the corresponding courses plus more advanced materials and application-oriented special topics (such as bioinformatics, transportation research, text mining, etc.). The CSE Qualifying Exam Committee consists of the five coordinators from the five sub-areas.

The written exam contains four questions from each of the above sub-areas. At the beginning of the semester in which a Ph.D. student will take the qualifying exam, a student must submit the CSE Qualifying Exam Form to the CSE division (to Ms. Lometa Mitchell) to declare two sub-areas and propose the committee members (see below regarding the committee). The written exam for this student will contain a total of eight questions (four questions from each of these two selected sub-areas), and the student is expected to answer six of these questions (three questions from each sub-area) during the written exam.

The following examples provide the guideline in choosing two sub-areas based on the “threads”:

  • Discrete-event and numerical simulations
    • Modeling and Simulations
    • Numerical Methods
  • High-performance algorithms and systems
    • High-Performance Computing
    • Discrete Algorithms
  • Computational data analysis
    • Data Analysis
    • Numerical Methods

Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Committee of a student

To propose the Ph.D. qualifying exam committee, a student must submit the CSE Qualifying Exam Form to the CSE division (to Ms. Lometa Mitchell). Each student’s Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Committee consists of the student’s advisor and three additional faculty members. At least ONE of them should be CSE tenure-track faculty. The committee needs to be approved by the CSE graduate program coordinator.
 

Grading and Results

Each question in the written exam is graded using the scale 0-10. Each student is expected to answer exactly six questions. If a student answers more than six questions, then only the lowest scored six answers will be counted toward the written exam result. 1. There will be three possible outcomes for a written exam: “pass”, “conditional pass”, and “fail”. Students with either “pass” or “conditional pass” will be allowed to go on with the portfolio and/or the oral exams. Students with “fail” will need to retake the written exam. The result of the written exam is determined by the CSE Qualifying Exam Committee. The results of the portfolio and/or the oral exams are determined by each student's Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Committee. The final outcome of pass or failis determined by the CSE Qualifying Exam Committee based on the results of all the components of the qualify exams.
 

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