Qualifying Exams

The Institute mandates that general written and oral examinations be set for doctoral students. The student must pass both written and oral examinations to become a Candidate for the doctoral degree. The results of the examinations will be posted by individual code numbers. A second failure on either the Written or Oral Examination will cause the student to be removed from the Departmental doctoral program.

General Written Examination

The Department sets a single General Written Examination, offered each May, based on the four-subject graduate core material. A General Examination Committee, appointed each year, constructs this examination, arranges for its grading and adjudicating of the students’ performances. Since students enter in September, they must sit this examination after two semesters in residence if they intend to pursue a doctoral program. Students admitted either for the SM with Option to By-pass who do not take the Written Exam at this time must complete the SM before pursuing a doctorate.

(Note: Students admitted for the Master of Science only may not register for the exam until they have been admitted as Ph.D. registrants.)

The examination is given in one day in morning and afternoon sessions (each 3 hours long, closed book and without notes). Questions will focus on material from each of the core subjects (3.20, 3.21, 3.22, and 3.23). Some questions will integrate material drawn from two or more core subjects. There is limited choice in questions to be answered.

The examination will be graded Pass/Fail. The results of the Written Exam are posted by code number outside the Departmental Academic Office. A Fail means the student must retake the entire exam before proceeding to the Thesis Area Examination. Two Failures on the exam eliminates the student from the doctoral program. Occasionally, students whose performance on the exam, while passing overall, is highly deficient in one area of the exam may be given a Conditional Pass. The student must then satisfactorily complete an additional subject or supervised project approved by the DCGS to make up the deficiency.

Copies of previous General Written Examinations are available in the Departmental Academic Office, 6-107.

Qualifying for the Doctorate

The Qualifying Procedure must have been successfully completed before the student may register to take the Thesis Area Examination. Normally this procedure occurs following passing of the General Written Examination. (Note: Archaeological Materials and other interdepartmental Academic Programs have devised separate formats for the general examination; the program directors should be contacted for specific details.)

Graduate student residency for two regular academic semesters is required prior to becoming a Qualified Doctoral Registrant. The student must have passed the General Written Examination. Additionally, students must have successfully passed, for academic credit (letter grade), subjects 3.20, 3.21, 3.22, and 3.23.

Students are expected to maintain a 4.0 GPA in the core classes. If a student earns more than one C and/or a D or F grade in the core subjects will not be allowed to continue in the doctoral program. Students who do no adhere to this requirement will be reviewed and receive a letter at the end of the first semester (usually fall) from the DCGS. Students with an overall GPA below 3.5 are likely to receive a warning letter from the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education. .

The Qualifying Procedure for a graduate student in the doctoral program in the Department is comprised of:

  • completion of the General Written Examination (GWE). The GWE committee provides the results to the Department Committee on Graduate Students (DCGS).
  • the Departmental Academic Office will provide a transcript of the student’s academic record to the DCGS.

In consideration for qualifying, the Departmental Committee on Graduate Students considers the student’s performance in the four core subjects, other subjects, and the student’s progress in his/her research work.

Having satisfied the Qualifying Procedure, the student becomes a Qualified Doctoral Registrant and may register to sit for the Thesis Area Examination.

Thesis Area Examination (oral presentation and examination)

The doctoral oral thesis area presentation and examination will be administered once per year, during the first two weeks in the Spring term of the 2nd academic year / 4th academic semester. The DMSE Academic Office is responsible for scheduling the Thesis Area Examination (TAE) which will be scheduled by the end of November of the 3rd academic semester, soon after the Departmental Committee on Graduate Students confirms the committee selection. A two-hour time in early February will be scheduled for committee and the student. Due to any possible last minute changes in a student's TAE schedule, students should not schedule any travel plans during the entire month of February.

The student will be tested in-depth on subject matter related to the written thesis area proposal document. The thesis proposal document must be summitted to the advisor, committee members, and DMSE Academic Office by the 3rd Tuesday in January. The questioning need not be restricted to the thesis proposal document itself, but may expand into areas tangential to the thesis topic. The examination will test the student’s fundamental understanding of the literature in the field (historical and current), the basic vocabulary/language of the field, the context and implications of the proposed research within this body of literature, the application, integration, synthesis of core knowledge to the proposed research, as well as aspects of research design (e.g. methods, analysis, proposed aims, etc.). The doctoral thesis advisor is responsible for assisting the student to identify this body of knowledge.

The student will prepare and deliver a 30-minute presentation following essentially the content of the written thesis area proposal. This will be followed by 75 minutes of questioning, during which blackboard time may be expected.

The examination will be graded Pass/Fail. A Fail means the student must retake the oral thesis area examination. The timing of the second exam is arranged by the Chair of the Departmental Committee of Graduate Students in consultation with the student and the advisor(s), and will generally involve the same committee members. A second failure on the  Thesis Area Examination will cause the student to be terminated from the Departmental Doctoral Program. In rare instances, students may be given a “conditional pass” on the Thesis Area Examination when the student’s overall performance is judged to be adequate, but with a deficiency in a particular, limited aspect. In such cases, the committee will identify actions that can remedy the deficiency, such as successful completion of a particular subject or special project.

Doctoral Thesis Area Examination Committee

The Thesis Area Examination committee will consist of 3 examiners, including one chair. The chair of the committee must be a DMSE faculty member whose principal area of research and intellectual pursuits differ from that of the thesis advisor(s) is determined by the DCGS. At least one of the other two faculty examiners must also be DMSE faculty. The third member of the committee may be a MIT DMSE Senior Research Associate, Lecturer, or Senior Lecturer. If the student desires a Thesis Committee member outside of the department, that member can be on the thesis committee, but will not be part of the TAE Committee. Suggestions will be taken from the student for committee members and submitted to the Departmental Committee on Graduate Students by Add date (1st Friday of October) of the second academic year, who will make the final assignments by the end of October of the second academic year. The choice of suggested committee members should be discussed between and agreed upon by the student and thesis advisor. The thesis advisor is not formally a member of the thesis area examination committee, but is rather a non-voting attendee at the Thesis Area Examination who will not participate in questioning of the student, but may make comments to the Committee and provide information regarding the student following the examination after the student is excused from the examination room.

In the first 10 minutes when the committee convenes for the oral thesis area examination, the chair will read the scope of the examination to the thesis committee and the committee will discuss logistics and planned topic areas for questioning of the student. At the conclusion of the examination, the chair of the committee will write a brief summary report, including the outcome of the examination, for submission to the Departmental Committee on Graduate Students.