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Candidacy Exam Info

Candidacy Qualifications, Committee, and Exam  (last update 6/9/21)

PAGE under Repair for timeline table -12/21/2023

Faculty and Student Information for the Department of Physics

Overview: Candidacy Timeline

The following is a sample timeline for a 5 to 6-week Candidacy Exam, including all preliminary events as detailed in the document below.




Student: Discuss when to schedule Candidacy.

Faculty Advisor: Discuss Examination committee and any possible ODS accommodations with the student.

At least 1 week prior to start of exam period


Faculty Advisor: Discuss topic with other members of the Examination Committee; draft Candidacy Exam letter. Notify Grad Studies Office if Exam Committee has an external (i.e., non-physics) faculty member.

Day 1

Faculty Advisor: Email Candidacy letter to the student, Examination Committee and the Graduate Studies Office. – Start of exam period

Word template for candidacy exam letter Physics dept REV 6.2021

Between Week 1 and Week 3


Student: set and confirm Candidacy Oral Exam date with advisor and your other 3 committee members.

No later than 16 days before oral exam date –Graduate School departmental approval (Advisor & Physics Grad Studies Office) deadline is 14 days before exam date


Student: Submit “Application for Candidacy” form on gradforms.osu.edu to official register with the Graduate school to formally schedule your Candidacy Oral Exam.

Faculty Advisor: Approve “Application for Candidacy” form on gradforms.osu.edu after submission by student.


End of week 4


Written exam due to committee. 

Week 5 or 6


Student, Advisor and 3 Faculty Committee members: Oral presentation – End of exam period

Zoom Guidelines

Faculty Advisor and 3 Faculty Committee members: Report exam results within 24 hours using the “Report on Candidacy Exam” on gradforms.osu.edu.


Candidacy Eligibility:

  • One-year Quantum Mechanics sequence (Phys 7501-7502)
  • One-year Classical and Statistical Physics sequence (Phys 7601, 7602)
  • One-year sequence consisting of Analytical and Numeric Methods of Physics with Electromagnetic Field Theory (Phys 7701 & 7401)
  • Average GPA across the 6 core courses of at least 3.3 (B+)
  • Three Physics advanced topics courses at the 6000 level or higher, two prior or concurrent with the term of candidacy and the 3rd is expected to be taken within 1 year of passing Candidacy. Please note that only one course is allowed to be outside of Physics, and at least the two of the three advanced topics courses must be at the 7000 or 8000 level.
  • Per Graduate School Guidelines, all graduate students must maintain an average of 3.0 GPA overall for their graduate coursework.
  • Student needs to have completed 30 graduate credit hours. (Students earn approximately 25 hours per precandidacy year.)
  • Department recommends scheduling candidacy by the end of the student’s 2nd year, usually during their 2nd summer in our program. Students must complete candidacy before the end of their 3rd year in our program.
  • Per the Graduate School’s Handbook, a student can only take the candidacy exam twice to pass it.

Advisor Guidelines for Candidacy Exam Process:

  • Exam should be scheduled to be completed during a current term in order to change student status from Precandidacy to Postcandidacy for the following term.  Exams scheduled between finals and the start of the next term will count as completed during the current term.
  • Advisor consults the other faculty on student's advisory (candidacy) committee to select exam topic; it is recommended this be done at least a week in advance of the start of the exam period.
  • Advisor uses the Graduate-Studies-approved Candidacy letter template to draft exam letter to start candidacy exam process. The letter should be approved by the full candidacy committee.
  • Advisor emails the student the Candidacy Exam letter with copy to the committee members and the Grad Studies Chair. This is the start of the exam period.
  • Advisor should instruct the student that if there are any Office of Disability Services accommodations for the exam, the student will need to meet with the Office of Disability Services at least a week before the topic is assigned to allow time for that office to consult with the Physics Graduate Studies Chair and the Graduate School for agreement on the accommodations.


Selecting the 4-member candidacy committee from the Physics faculty:

  1. Advisor
  2. 2nd faculty in same research area as advisor
  3. 3rd faculty member is either a theorist or experimentalist in advisor’s research area. (If first 2 are experimentalists, then would need a theorist in the same research area. Vice versa if advisor and 2nd member are theorists, then would need an experimentalist in the same research area.)
  4. 4th member should be completely unrelated to advisor’s research area and can be either a theorist or an experimentalist.

Example: For a student in Condensed Matter Experiment (CME), the committee will need to be the student's advisor in CME, 2nd faculty member in CME, 3rd faculty member in Condensed Matter Theory (CMT) and the 4th member from outside of the Condensed Matter research area.

There are some research areas for which this committee composition may not be possible, in which case the composition should be discussed in advance with the Graduate Studies Chair.

If Advisor recommends a faculty committee member that does not hold any appointment in Physics, Advisor will need to email a petition to the Graduate Studies Chair at least a week before the start of the exam period, with a copy to the Physics Graduate Program Coordinator, to request permission to have that non-Physics faculty member as part of the 4 person committee. The Graduate Coordinator will need to check with the Graduate School to verify the non-Physics faculty member has the appropriate advising approval from the Graduate School.

Candidacy Exam Information and 6 Week Timeline:

Student has 4 weeks (give or take a few days) to complete the written portion.

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), 1.5 line spacing and 11-12 pt font. 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.

Student is responsible for coordinating with the committee members to confirm their availability for a particular date and time for the oral exam well in advance of the exam date, preferably prior to the start of the exam period. Student is responsible for submitting the "Application for Candidacy" form online via gradforms.osu.edu. Advisor and Physics Grad Studies Office approvals are required no later than 10 working days (2 weeks or 14 calendar days) before date of exam.  If the “Application for Candidacy” form is not submitted at least two weeks before the oral exam date, the oral exam date must be rescheduled in order to meet the two-week-before-oral-exam deadline. The Grad Studies office recommends submitting this online form no later than 16 days before the date of the oral examination to allow time for the 2 approvals.

  • Student should submit the written exam portion approximately 4 weeks (give or take a few days) after the topic is assigned. Note that the written portion should be completed and submitted to Advisor and Committee at least 1 week before the oral exam date.

Oral Exam presentation -- approximately 5 to 6 weeks after topic was assigned:

  • Oral Exam generally lasts two hours, beginning with a summary of the material contained in the paper. The entire oral exam, including committee deliberations after the student has finished and has been excused from the room, must not exceed two hours from the scheduled start of the exam.
  • Student should prepare a summary presentation of his/her paper of no more than 20 minutes in length, if given without interruptions.  Note that exam format can vary by research areas and committee members. Exam questions can start immediately at the exam start time and many students may not actually deliver very much of their presentation.
  • 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 presentation. 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. 
  • The Graduate Studies Office makes the follow suggestion for how to start these exams:  Let the student present a few slides to get through the topic overview and if possible, make the first question something easy for the student to answer. Most students experience a lot of anxiety about this exam process and giving them a chance to present a little of their topic in the first few minutes and then having the first question be one that they can easily answer will help build their confidence to get through that important first 5 to 10 minutes of an exam where anxiety is usually at its highest point. 
  • Attendance at the oral portion of the Candidacy Examination is strictly limited to the student and members of the Examination Committee. No observers (unless approved by the Graduate School), other faculty or other 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 gradforms.osu.edu. 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.
  • Note that the total timeline is usually 6 weeks, give or take a few days, but the time line can be as short as 5 weeks. If there are special circumstances that will occur during the 6-week timeline or that happen while the student is in the middle of the exam 6-week timeline, please contact the Graduate Studies office to discuss what, if any, accommodation(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 NOT start the exam until he/she has filed a "Committee and Examination Petition" form on gradforms.osu.edu; this form needs immediate online approval by the Advisor and the Graduate School BEFORE starting the oral exam.  Graduate School’s Office of Graduation Services will update the “Report on Candidacy” form in order to change out the faculty member name to allow the exam to be valid. Please also contact the Physics Graduate Studies office to alert them of the issue so that they can facilitate the petition to notify the Graduate School that one is pending their immediate review.  Usually the exam can proceed within 5 to 10 minutes of the notification to the Graduate School so the delay is usually minimal.
  • The student passes the exam if and only if all committee members judge both the written and oral portions of the exam to be “satisfactory”. Each committee member must indicate their decisions on the 2 report forms for the Candidacy Exam in gradforms.osu.edu accordingly.
    • If one or more committee members marks either or both of the written and oral portions “unsatisfactory”, then the student fails the exam. The committee must then decide among the following alternatives and inform the Graduate Studies Office:
      • The student should not be allowed to take a Second Candidacy Exam.
      • The student should be given a Second Candidacy Exam using the same topic or a narrower version. A narrower version may facilitate the student acquiring the necessary expertise. If the committee decides that only the oral portion is unsatisfactory, the committee can allow the written portion of the second Candidacy Exam to be identical or nearly identical to the original written portion.
      • The student should be given a Second Candidacy Exam using a new topic.
    • If early or midway into the exam a student becomes extremely flustered and is unable to continue with the exam, then the exam should be halted. The student is given an “unsatisfactory” for the oral exam and the committee must recommend how to proceed as indicated above.
    • For the Second Candidacy Exam, which will be the student’s last allowed attempt, the Graduate School will assign a faculty member from outside of Physics to attend the exam.


After Passing Candidacy Exam: (note these bullet points are also sent to students in Docusign to amend their grad appointments for their raise to the Post Candidacy stipend rate.)

  • Apply to Graduate: Student should file online an "Application to Graduate" on gradforms.osu.edu to receive their Master's after they successfully pass their candidacy exam. This form can be filed the same term the exam is scheduled, but the application is subject to verification that the exam was passed before the start of the following term. Otherwise, this form can be submitted by the 3nd Friday of the term following the one in which the exam was taken.
  • Per the Graduate School’s Handbook, the candidacy period is 5 years. Students can petition one time for a one-semester extension of the candidacy period. If the student would still not finish during that extra semester, then the student and committee will need to do a Supplementary Candidacy Exam.  See below for the Physics Supplemental Candidacy Exam process.
  • For the term following the candidacy exam, a student will register for 3 credit hours of Physics 8999 Thesis Research. If student would decide or the Advisor recommends that they take a class, then the student would register for that class only and skip registering for research hours for that term. If the class would be more than 3 credit hours, the student will need permission to exceed the 3 credit hour standard.  If on GRA, the student will need advisor’s permission to exceed the 3 credit hour maximum.  If a student is on GTA for term then permission is needed from both Prof. Pelz and Prof. Gramila. The Graduate School’s permission REQUIRED if a student is on any Fellowship. If the class is only for 1 or 2 credit hours, then the student would register for that class and the remaining credit(s) under Physics 8999 Thesis Research to total 3 credit hours for that term. 
  • Please note that post candidacy students can only change their course schedules through the 1st Friday of the term, which is the deadline for the last day to add a class online.  Any changes after that 1st Friday will only be eligible for a partial tuition refund.  
  • Please note that auditing a class still costs tuition but does not count toward required 3 credit hours of continuous enrollment or toward the 80 graduate credit hours required for a PhD. Most instructors expect auditing students to still participate in the class so please discuss the restrictions on auditing a class first with Professor Pelz BEFORE you enroll.  In addition, Audit does not count for an International student’s full-time enrollment status, therefore post candidacy international students would have to be over-enrolled for additional credit hours that semester to count toward the 3-credit-hour minimum enrollment. As an alternative, students who may wish to “sit in” on a class informally will need to discuss that with the instructor and their advisor.
  • New post-candidacy students should review the graduate student web page on our Physics website under the “Current Students” heading on the right menu and the subpage “Progress to PhD.”  Toward the bottom of that page there is information a student should review and also included are webpage and PDF links regarding research and publication ethics.
  • Student’s annual review will be conducted annually with the 4-person thesis research advising committee. This committee usually consists of the same faculty members as the Candidacy Exam committee, but a member can be changed as needed due to retirement or change of research advisor. No formal update to the Graduate School is required to update an advising committee.
  • If a student would need to change advisors due to a retirement or other change in the current advisor’s employment, the Graduate Studies Office will need to be notified of the new advisor and an update email sent to the Graduate School to update the student’s advisor in the Student Information System (SIS).

Supplemental Candidacy Exam: 

  • If a student needs to renew their candidacy status beyond 5 years and 1 semester, the student will need to schedule a Supplemental Candidacy Exam before the end of the semester.
  • The new renewal will last for 2 years.  If at the end of the 2 years the student does not successfully defend their thesis, the student will not be eligible to finish their PhD at OSU.
  • All Graduate School rules pertaining to candidacy examinations must be followed.
  • Department recommends a minimum timeline of 3 weeks for the Supplemental Candidacy Exam with the written chapter(s) due to the committee to allow them at least 5 to 7 days to read it.  The committee and Grad Studies office must approve the Application for Candidacy –Candidacy Type=Supplemental Candidacy no less than 2 weeks before the oral exam date.
  • If there was a prior failed attempt at candidacy and then the student passed the 2nd attempt, the Graduate School will assign an outside faculty member representative to this supplemental exam.
  • The exam will consist of both a written report and an oral portion that lasts approximately 2 hours.  The written report can be a chapter or two from the thesis; the advisor should consult with committee members on the chapter selection.  It is recommended that some input from the student about which chapter(s) he/she feels the most comfortable with at that time should/could be considered.  Please note that this process is similar to how a first candidacy exam topic is selected, which is done by the advisor in consultation with the committee. The advisor then communicates the exam topic to the committee, the student, and the Physics Graduate Office.
  • After passing the Supplemental Candidacy exam, the student and committee are free to schedule the thesis defense as soon as 2 weeks from the Supplemental exam date as long as the committee and the Graduate Studies office have approved the “Application for Final Examination” form at least 2 weeks prior. A student’s extension period typically lasts between 1 semester and 1 year


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