Q exam rules for AE/ME

These rules are the revision passed Aug 2014.



The primary purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to estimate the student’s potential as a doctoral student.


Qualifying Examinations will be held twice a year. once before the start of the Spring semester, and once at the end of the Spring semester, after final exams.


a) Ph.D and M.S./Ph.D students must take the Qualifying Examination before the start of their third semester.
b) For a period of four weeks after failing the examination a student may (with the support of his or her Special Committee) petition the Graduate Committee to be allowed to take the examination a second time. If the petition is granted, the student must take the Qualifying Examination the next time it is offered. The qualifying Examination cannot be taken more than twice.
c) The Qualifying Examination must be passed before the Admission to Candidacy Examination can be taken.
(these rules apply to students entering the field after Spring 1987.)


A student expecting to take the examination in January must inform the Director of Graduate Studies by November 30 of the preceding year; a student expecting to take the examination in May must inform the Director of Graduate Studies by March 31. At that time, the student selects the topic of his or her examination from one of the following areas:

  • Solid Mechanics
  • Biomedical Mechanics
  • Dynamics and Control
  • Thermal Sciences
  • Fluid Dynamics

At the same time, he or she must also provide the Director of Graduate Studies with:

  • a list of courses taken at Cornell (with grades)
  • a list of courses planned
  • a brief summary of educational background, and a statement of educational objectives
  • a list of Special Committee members, if available

If the DGS specifies, all or part of this communication may be administered by the Graduate Field Administrator.


Based on the distribution of candidates over the areas of concentration, the DGS will appoint a small number of ad hoc Qualifying Examination Committees. Each committee is responsible for examining the students assigned to it by the DGS. The students assigned to a committee (not more than six per committee) will have chosen to be examined in related areas of concentration.

The DGS will select a committee of three field faculty members with expertise on the exam topic. One of these three field faculty members will be chosen by the DGS to be the Committee Chair.

The Director of Graduate Studies may treat Aerospace Engineering Field membership and Mechanical Engineering Field membership as equivalent when selecting faculty for the ad hoc Qualifying Exam Committee.

Any faculty member of the field may join any ad hoc Qualifying Examination Committee as a voting member provided that he or she participates in the examination of all students examined by that committee. He or she must notify the ad hoc Qualifying Examination Committee Chair two business days in advance.

Any faculty member of the field may observe the examination of any student; however, unless he or she is a member of the ad hoc Qualifying Examination Committee, he or she cannot take part in the examination, nor can he or she vote on the outcome. Those wishing to observe an examination are encouraged to notify the ad hoc Qualifying Examination Committee Chair one day in advance.

The responsibilities of each ad hoc Qualifying Examination Committee Chair are:
a) to schedule the examination
b) to solicit a short letter of recommendation from each student’s Special Committee Chair. This letter should include an appraisal of the student’s research performance
c) to discuss the format for the examination with the student
d) to establish a format for the examination and to assign individual responsibilities to committee members (see section 6 below)
e) to notify the students of their examination times, and to provide them with whatever information or instructions are needed for the conduct of the examination
f) to notify all Field members of the time and place of the examination
g) to report the results of the examinations to the Director of Graduate Studies and Graduate Field Administrator, including the numbers of votes cast

The ad hoc Qualifying Examination Committee Chair may delegate some or all of these responsibilities to the Graduate Field Administrator.

Based on all the information available, the committee decides by vote whether each candidate passes the examination; a majority is required. In case of failure, the committee notifies the Director of Graduate Studies to recommend whether a petition from the student to retake the examination should be granted. Petitions are automatically granted if the ad hoc Qualifying Exam Committee recommends so.  If the student petitions to retake the exam but the ad hoc Qualifying Exam Committee has recommended that this not be granted, the final decision is made by the Graduate Program Committee of the Sibley School, which will consider the recommendation of the ad hoc Qualifying Exam Committee and the student’s petition before discussing and voting on the case.  A tie in the committee vote is broken by the Director of Graduate Studies, if necessary.


The format of the exam is as follows:  The student receives instructions from the Qualifying Examination Committee via the GFA approximately 24 hours before the exam.  The student prepares a presentation (of a duration specified by the committee, typically ~15 minutes) on a topic specified in advance by the committee. The topic is at the discretion of the committee.  The topic may be (but does not have to be) related to the candidate’s research work or coursework.  The topic may be open-ended or may constitute the solution to a set problem or exercise.  The committee may present the student with one topic/question, may allow students to choose from a set of topics/questions, or may allow students complete discretion. Following the presentation, the student is then questioned for the remainder of the hour. It is desirable for questioning to have some uniformity across the candidates to facilitate consistent evaluation.  A thorough understanding of related undergraduate courses and of graduate courses taken during the first year should be sufficient to pass the examination.


Q exam committee chairs will inform the Sibley School Associate Director of Graduate Affairs and the Graduate Field Administrator of exam results by email as soon as they are available.  The Associate Director of Graduate Affairs (or the Graduate Field Administrator, if specified by the Associate Director of Graduate Affairs) will notify students and their Special Committee Chairs individually of their results by email as soon as they are informed.  The ADGA will also notify all Field faculty of the collective results as soon as all results are available.

In exceptional circumstance a faculty member can appeal the decision to fail a candidate. He or she must do so within one week of the examination by stating his or her case in writing to the DGS. The appeal will be considered at a joint meeting of the Graduate Program Committee and the ad hoc Qualifying Examination Committee that examined the candidate. The members of these committees will review the matter and decide the question by a vote.
Revision passed by the Field on 22 Aug 2013

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