Information for Current Graduate Students

General Exam

A General Examination for the Ph.D. degree is required by the Graduate College before a student can be officially admitted to candidacy. After passing the Qualifying Exams, students must pass the Specialist Examination to continue for a doctoral degree. This exam is usually taken once the student has chosen a Thesis Adviser and an area of research (though not necessarily a specific thesis). The function of the Specialist Examination is to demonstrate that the student is ready to proceed with such research.

That examination must consists of two parts, a written and an oral exam. In the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the written portion consists of a critical review of the subject to be discussed in an oral presentation or candidacy exam. This exam tests your competence in an area of special interest to you (other than your dissertation research topic), as well as your general background in physics.

Within the department this exam has been called the “specialist exam” in the past, much to the confusion of both students in the department and administrators in the Graduate College. From the Graduate College’s point of view the exam is “general,” much like our qualifiers. From the department’s viewpoint, the exam is in the student’s chosen subspecialty and is thus a “specialist” exam.

The General Exam must be completed no later than the fall semester of the student’s fourth year. A student may not schedule the General Exam until all three physics Qualifying exams have been passed for non-astrophysics students, and all four Qualifying exams have been passed by Astrophysics students.