MIT requires that all doctoral students successfully complete a General Examination consisting of written and oral evaluations to qualify as a candidate for the doctoral degree. The DMSE qualifying exam consists of two-step procedure:
- A general examination (GE) consisting of a core curriculum assessment and review of research progress within the first year of the graduate program
- A thesis area examination (TAE) that includes submission of a thesis proposal and an oral examination
Students entering in Fall 2021 or later
Students show competency in the core knowledge of Materials Science and Engineering through the results of their examinations in each core subject. In the first two semesters of the graduate program, doctoral track students enroll in the four core subjects: 3.20 Materials at Equilibrium, 3.21 Kinetic Processes in Materials, 3.22 Structure and Mechanical Properties of Materials, and 3.23 Bonding and Electronic Properties of Materials. Students enroll in these subjects for a letter grade.
Students demonstrate mastery of the discipline by satisfying the following requirements:
- Earning a 4.0 GPA (out of 5.0) in the four core subjects
- Earning no more than one C in the core subjects
- Satisfactory performance in research in the first two semesters of the program, including completing the milestone of selecting a research group in the Fall term and receiving a "J" grade in 3.995 First-Year Thesis Research in Spring term
DCGS provides one of the following results to the students:
- Pass. The student has successfully shown disciplinary knowledge and completed MIT doctoral written component requirement of the General Examination and is eligible to register for step two of the qualifying procedure, the Thesis Area Examination.
- Conditional Pass. Occasionally, students whose performance on the written component of the department’s General Examination, while passing overall, are given a Conditional Pass on certain areas of subject knowledge. In this situation DCGS will require completion of remediation plan such as retaking a subject or enrolling as a listener in a core subject where the student did not exhibit sufficient mastery. Alternatively, DCGS may have recommended the student complete another subject to fulfill the GWE requirement.
- No Pass. Students who do not meet the requirements above receive notification from DCGS with an individualized remediation plan that may consist of retaking a core subject, taking a related subject in the area that required mastery, or requesting the student and advisor propose an alternate plan specific to the student’s circumstances.
Students whose overall GPA is below 3.5 or those who earn more than one C and/or lower grades, will receive a warning letter from the Office of Graduate Education in addition to a DCGS remediation plan.
Students entering before Fall 2021
Incoming doctoral track students who arrived prior to Fall 2021 completed a General Examination process similar to the above, including assessment of core subject grades and research progress by the DCGS, with the addition of a core subject examination called the General Written Examination (GWE).
These students completed earlier versions of the core subjects: 3.20 Materials at Equilibrium, 3.23 Electrical, Optical, and Magnetic Properties of Materials, 3.21 Kinetic Processes in Materials, 3.22 Mechanical Properties of Materials. In the Spring Term of Year 1, students were offered the GWE to test the and integrate knowledge from the core curriculum.
A GWE Committee was appointed to create the examination and arrange its grading and adjudicating of the students’ performance.
The GWE Committee graded recommended the following outcomes to DCGS:
- Pass. The student successfully showed disciplinary knowledge and was eligible to register for step two of the qualifying procedure, the Thesis Area Examination.
- Conditional Pass. Occasionally, students whose performance on the GWE, while passing overall, were given a Conditional Pass on certain areas of the test. In this situation DCGS recommended a remediation plan such as retaking a subject or enrolling as a listener in a core subject where the student did not exhibit sufficient mastery. Alternatively, DCGS may have recommended the student complete another subject to fulfill the GWE requirement.
- No Pass.The student has not shown adequate performance on the GWE and is required to retake the examination the following Spring. DCGS may have also recommended a remediation plan such as retaking or enrolling as a listener in a core subject where the student did not exhibit sufficient mastery or recommended the student complete another subject or supervised project to be approved and reviewed for satisfactory completion by DCGS.
Upon successful completion of the GWE, core subject grades review, and research progress assessment, students became eligible to register for step two of the qualifying procedure, the Thesis Area Examination.
Thesis Area Examination (TAE)
After completion of the General Examination, students must show their ability to successfully identify a problem, design a research plan around this inquiry, and defend their approach through the Thesis Area Examination. The preparation required for the written proposal will assess the student’s fundamental understanding of the literature in 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 oral examination further evaluates the students’ skills by allowing them to demonstrate how they would address unanticipated and tangential questions from an audience.
Students select a research project for their Thesis Area Examination within the first two years in the graduate program. This project serves as the point of inquiry for the TAE, though the student’s future research projects may better shape and inform the final thesis.
The TAE is administered once per year, during the first two weeks in the Spring term of Year 2. The DMSE Academic Office schedules the two-hour TAE oral examination for February after confirmation of the TAE Committee with the Departmental Committee on Graduate Studies.
Students write the thesis proposal and provide the document to the committee in January, in advance of the oral examination. This document includes the following sections: literature review and background, problem statement, research design, and methods. Students then prepare and deliver a 30-minute presentation following the content of the written thesis area proposal. This will be followed by 75 minutes of questioning, during which blackboard time may be expected.
At the conclusion of the exam, the TAE Committee makes a recommendation to the Departmental Committee on Graduate Studies based on performance on the written proposal and oral examination.
DCGS provides one of the following results to the student:
- Pass. The student has met all requirements to register in the program as a doctoral candidate starting the following term.
- Conditional Pass. The student will need to address areas that require further mastery in their written proposal and/or their oral presentation. The TAE Committee will outline an individualized remedial plan. Once the student successfully completes this requirement, they will be eligible to register as a doctoral candidate.
- No Pass. The student is required to retake the TAE by scheduling another oral presentation and preparing another written proposal, if recommended, by the TAE Committee.
Thesis Area Examination Committee
The Thesis Area Examination is administered by a TAE Chair and two committee members. The chair of the committee is appointed by the DCGS and must be a DMSE faculty member whose principal area of research and intellectual pursuits differ from that of the student’s thesis advisor(s). At least one of the other two faculty examiners must also be DMSE faculty. The third member of the committee may be an 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 Studies. TAE Committee assignments are finalized by the end of October of Year 2.
The choice of suggested committee members should be discussed between the student and thesis advisor. The thesis advisor is not formally a member of the TAE Committee but is a non-voting attendee at the TAE who may make comments to the Committee and provide information regarding the student and their research and progress following the examination after the student is excused from the examination room.