Candidacy Exam Info


Candidacy Exam Information and Timeline

Please see the Progress to PhD page for information on the criteria for eligibility for scheduling the Candidacy Exam.  Please note that candidacy exam must be completed BEFORE the start of the next term to be eligible to enroll as a Post Candidacy student. This information is based on the Physics Handbook information

1. Assign Exam Topic. Approximately 4 weeks to complete written portion:

  • Advisor, in consultation with student's advisory committee, assigns an exam topic.
  • Advisor notifies Physics Grad Studies office via an email of the topic assigned & the student's name. (Copying the Vice Chair of Graduate Studies when emailing the student or separately forwarding to the Vice Chair the email sent to the student is sufficient.)
  • Student has 4 weeks (give or take a few days) to complete the written portion. Exceptions to completing the written exam after 5 weeks must be requested from Graduate Studies office PRIOR TO EXTENDING past this deadline.

The written portion of the Candidacy Examination will consist of a professional quality report on the assigned topic. The topic should be sufficiently broad as to complement the intended research project and to ground the student thoroughly in the literature of her/his chosen research area. It should not be as narrow as a thesis research proposal. The topic should serve as a vehicle for the student to review and know the literature of the field. Students who are new to a research area may find it desirable to do background reading in the area before scheduling the Candidacy Examination. The student may freely use all the resources of the University including faculty and graduate students. The Advisory Committee may reserve the right not to answer questions of judgment but may very well answer questions of fact The paper should be from 10 to 20 pages in length (not including figures and references), double spaced. The paper should include a clear introduction to the topic and complete references. It is permissible for the advisor to review a draft of the written paper and/or the oral presentation before the date of the Candidacy Exam.

2. Set oral exam date and submit online via the "Application for Candidacy" form no later than 10 working days (2 weeks) before date of exam. As the online form needs approved by the Advisor AND the Graduate Studies Office, you should plan to submit your form at least 16 days from the date of your exam to allow time for the approvals to be completed and the form ready for the Graduate School review by their published 14 day deadline.

  • Student determines Oral Exam date which should be set for 4 to 6 weeks after your topic is assigned.
  • Student should contact the graduate studies office to reserve a conference room for the exam or you can also work with advisor’s administrative support person.
  • Student should complete the online form for "Application for Candidacy" which can be found at the Graduate School’s web site      The Oral Exam date can’t be any sooner than 2 weeks or 14 calendar days from submitting AND have all approvals completed this form.  Note that the form needs 2 approvals (your advisor and the Physics Graduate Studies Office) prior to submission to the Graduate School therefore please plan to submit your form no later than 16 days before your exam date. Gradforms system will email your advisor and the Physics Prog. Coord. and Vice Chair of Physics Grad Studies to approve the form.    It is the student's responsibility to monitor the status of their form to make sure all approvals are completed by 5pm on 14 days from the exam date.
  • Student should reserve department projector at front desk (clipboard) if research group does not have one for their use.
  • Graduate School generates a "Report on Candidacy" form  and it will be made available for the committee on the GRADFORMS system at the date and start time of the exam.
  • If you are planning to schedule your exam during the between term period the first regular business day after the last day of finals to the business day before the start of the new term, you should still enroll for at least 8 credit hours (12 for Fellows) as a PREcandidacy student. Do this by registering for 3 credit hours of Physics 8999 Thesis research with your advisor and 5 (or 9 for Fellows) credit hours of Physics 7998 and wait until the FIRST DAY of the new term to check your Candidacy status in SIS and make sure you show a new Student Group of PCD and only then drop the extra credit hours so you have only 3 remaining.   If you are NOT enrolled as a full time student by the Fee Payment Deadline 1 week before the start of the new term, your Fee Authorization will NOT post to your student account and you will be assessed a Late Payment Fee of $200 that you will be required to pay. Lastly, you will need to drop the 5 credit hours of Physics 7998 BEFORE the first Friday of the term to receive a 100% refund on that enrollment. This is a case where these deadlines are very critical to follow otherwise, it can end up costing extra to you and your advisor (or the department).

3. Submit written exam portion. Approximately 4 weeks (give or take a few days) after topic assigned:

  • Student's written portion should be complete and submitted to advisor and committee at least 1 week before oral exam date.

4. Oral Exam presentation -approximately 4 to 6 weeks after topic was assigned:

  • Oral Exam generally last two hours, beginning with a summary of the material contained in the paper.
  • Student should prepare a summary of his/her paper of no more than 20 minutes in length.
  • The Candidacy Examination Committee will question the student about the specific topic of the paper and about broader issues related to the research area, including the material covered in the advanced courses, during and after the summary. All members of the Committee shall be given the opportunity to participate in the questioning. The Committee will be testing whether or not the student has learned the background, literature, techniques, etc. appropriate to her/his chosen specialty. This "common knowledge" of the field is considerably wider than that required for a dissertation project, but without it the research cannot be related to other work in the field. The Candidacy Examination should test whether a student is prepared to begin a detailed thesis research project.
  • Attendance at the oral portion of the Candidacy Examination is strictly limited to the members of the Examination Committee. No observers, faculty or graduate students, may be present.
  • Advisor and Committee members should sign the "Report on Candidacy Exam" form ONLINE at the end of the exam at (Approval Timing is expected within 24 hours of the exam and timing is VERY critical for exams taking place on the last business day before the start of a new term.)
  • Graduate Studies Office will record the term, year and month of passing the exam and is responsible for reporting their associated salary increase for the term following the one where they successfully complete their Candidacy Exam and a new contract will be generated to confirm the new stipend.

Note that the total timeline is usually 6 weeks, give or take a few days.  If you have special circumstances that you know will occur during the 6 week timeline or that happen while you are in the middle of your 6 week timeline, please contact the Graduate Studies office to discuss what, if any, accomodation(s) can be made.

If the written or oral exam must be postponed for any reason or if there is a change of committee member due to an emergency, the student MUST file a "Committee and Exam Petition" form on and this form needs immediate approval from the student's Advisor AND the Graduate Studies Office before the form can be reviewed by the Graduate School Office of Graduation Services to approve the change(s). Please also contact the Graduate Studies office to alert them of the issue so that they can monitor the petition and notify the Graduate School that one is pending their review.

Lastly, a student should file online an "Application to Graduate" on gradforms to receive their Master's after they successfully pass their candidacy exam. This form must be submitted by the 3nd Friday of the term following the one the exam was taken. (This form can be filed the same term the exam will be scheduled, but the Application is subject to the verification of successfully passing the exam before the start of the following term.) The "Application to Graduate" form can be found online at

Please see the PGSC "Guide for How To Take Your Candidacy Exam" listed on their Helpful Hints page at

 Last updated 4/2019