Ph.D. Examinations

Qualifying Examination

Full-time Ph.D. students should sit for their Qualifying Examination by the end of their third semester at UMBC.  Students must have a GPA > 3.0 to take the Qualifying Examination. The qualifying examination is usually offered immediately before the Fall and Spring semesters (end of January/end of August).

A Qualifying Examination is given for each thematic area:  Solid Mechanics and Materials Science (SMMS), Thermal/Fluids Sciences (TF), Dynamic Systems and Design (DSD).[1] The student selects which thematic examination to take in consultation with his/her advisor.  Each examination lasts 2.5 hours and consists of 5 questions based on topics from courses in the thematic area. A topic list and examination format summary is available for each examination: SMMS Thematic Exam, TF Thematic Examination, DSD Thematic Exam.

At least two weeks before the examination date, students must file an “Application for the ME Ph.D. Qualifying Exam” form that requires them to identify their thematic area.


Results of the Qualifying Examination will be announced within 30 days of the exam date.  There are three possible results of the Qualifying Examination:

  1. Pass – 70% or higher
  2. Failure with an opportunity to retake the examination – less than 70% on the first attempt
  3. Failure – less than 70% on the second attempt
What if I don’t pass?

A student who fails the Qualifying Examination on the first attempt will be given an opportunity to repeat it the next time the exam is offered.  A student who fails the Qualifying Examination for a second time will be required to withdraw from the Ph.D. program. A petition for a third attempt will be considered under exceptional circumstances.

Candidacy Examination

All full-time Ph.D. students must take their Candidacy Examination within one year of successfully completing the Qualifying Examination and within 5 years of beginning their Ph.D. program at UMBC.  (A student will not be allowed to continue to the Candidacy Examination until they have passed the Qualifying Examination.)  The purpose of the Candidacy Examination, also known as the Proposal Defense, is to encourage the student to clearly define their research topic and the methods of investigation that will be employed.

The Candidacy Examination committee consists of a minimum of three (3) Mechanical Engineering faculty members, one being the student’s advisor and the other two chosen by the advisor in consultation with the student. The student is responsible for submitting the form nominating the examination committee to the Graduate Program Director at least 3 weeks prior to the scheduled examination date.


The examination consists of a written report of the student’s proposal plus an oral examination.  The written report should detail the specific aims, background work, preliminary results if any, and a research plan. The report must adhere to the required Research Proposal Report Format and should be submitted to the student’s candidacy examination committee at least two weeks prior to the oral examination.  The oral examination begins with a presentation of the research topic by the student (approximately 30 minutes), followed by a questioning period of approximately 90 minutes.

The examination committee will recommend one of three options based on the written report and oral examination:

  1. Unconditional pass
  2. Conditional pass with a statement of the conditions to be met for candidacy
  3. Failure with an opportunity to retake the examination.
Advancing to Candidacy

The student is advanced to doctoral candidacy after successful completion of the Proposal Defense, submission of the Candidacy Application Supplement to the GPD, and submission of the Application for Admission to Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the UMBC Graduate School.  The student must meet with his/her advisor (and possibly the student’s committee) to determine which courses will be applied to the degree, including those taken prior to being admitted to the Ph.D. program, and list them on this application.  The student’s advisor and the Graduate Program Director must approve all courses that are to be applied toward the student’s degree.

Failure of the Proposal Defense may result in low priority for future departmental financial support considerations.  If the student fails to comply with the format of the candidacy examination (for example, by exceeding the allotted length of either the written report or the oral presentation), any member of the candidacy examination committee may call for an immediate end to the examination, without a final committee vote.  The student will be required to change the format to comply with the examination requirements and must repeat the examination (without prejudice).

Dissertation Defense

After the student has completed the research proposed in the Candidacy Examination, he/she must defend his/her dissertation in public and stand for an oral examination by a committee.  The dissertation committee is composed of the advisor and at least four other members of the Graduate Faculty of the University of Maryland, Baltimore Graduate School.  At least three (3) members of the committee (which may include the student’s advisor) must be regular faculty members in the UMBC Department of Mechanical Engineering, and at least one (1) member of the committee must be from outside the Mechanical Engineering Department.  The dissertation committee is created by the student in consultation with his/her advisor at any time after the Candidacy Examination by completing and filing the Nomination of Members for the Final Doctoral Dissertation Examination Committee with the Graduate School.  This must be approved by the Graduate Program Director and submitted at least six (6) months prior to the Dissertation Defense.

The student is required to deliver copies of the dissertation to the committee members at least two weeks before the defense. The student must also file a Certification of Readiness to Defend the Doctoral Dissertation form and Announcement of Ph.D. Dissertation Defense form with the Graduate School at least 2 weeks before the defense.

The dissertation defense begins with a presentation (approximately 45 minutes) of the dissertation by the student, which is open to the public. After the presentation, the audience will be allowed to ask questions.  The general audience will then be excused and the student will stand for a closed questioning period of approximately 90 minutes.  All members of the student’s dissertation committee, and any member of the UMBC Graduate Faculty, may participate in the closed questioning session.

After evaluating the student’s written dissertation, presentation and performance in the oral examination, the examination committee will recommend one of four options:

  • Unconditional pass
  • Conditional pass with minor revisions to the dissertation
  • Conditional pass with major revisions to the dissertation (which may require a second oral examination at the discretion of the committee)
  • Failure (which requires major revisions to the dissertation AND a second oral examination)

The student is responsible for understanding the requirements and completing all the necessary paperwork designated by the Graduate School to present and defend their dissertation and to apply for their degree.


[1] For PhD students enrolled prior to Fall 2015

Prior to Fall 2015, the Qualifying Examination was given in three (3) sections: mathematics, a major area, and a minor area.  The major and minor examinations consisted of 6 questions each, with the student answering all 6 for the major exam and selecting 4 for the minor exam.  The mathematics exam consisted of 5 questions.  A list of potential topics for the subject examinations can be found here:  Mechanical Engineering PhD Qualifying Examination Topics List.  PhD students enrolled prior to Fall 2015 may elect to take the new qualifying examination or continue with the old format.  All PhD students beginning their programs in Fall 2015 or later must take the new (thematic area) qualifying examination.

If a student passes the major and the math sections of the old Qualifying Examination, but does not pass the minor section, the Graduate Committee may allow the student to pass IF the combined overall average of all three sections is greater than 70%.  Additional conditions, such as recommending further coursework, may be imposed by the Graduate Committee in such cases.

A student who fails one or two sections of the old Qualifying Examination on the first attempt will be given an opportunity to pass those sections the next time the exam is offered.  The Graduate Committee may recommend that the student retake only the portion of the exam that he/she failed and, in consultation with the student’s advisor, may also require that the student take or retake courses appropriate for building the knowledge base required to pass the exam.

A student who fails any section of the Qualifying Examination for a second time is no longer eligible for departmental financial support (except as a Graduate Research Assistant through his/her advisor) until all three sections are passed.  A student who fails all three sections of the exam for a second time may be required to withdraw from the Ph.D. program.