Qualifying Exam | Physics | SIU

Southern Illinois University



College of Agriculture, Life and Physical Sciences

Qualifying Exam

To be admitted to candidacy, the prospective doctoral candidate must satisfactorily complete the Qualifying Procedure.

The Qualifying Procedure includes:

  • three written examinations
  • a research proposal
  • the student’s performance in required courses
  • the recommendation of the research advisor (if  the student has a research advisor)

1. Three written examinations. 

  • The students will take three written exams. The exams are chosen by the student from the following five possible topics: Quantum Mechanics, Classical Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics, Electromagnetic Theory and Solid State Physics.
  • The students will have to select three out of the five exams to take (i.e., they will not be allowed to pick the best three out of four or five).
  • The students will have to pass the three exams, as evaluated and determined by the Graduate Committee. 
  • These written exams will be prepared at the undergraduate level. That is, at a level that is consistent with the corresponding courses at the 200-, 300- and 400- level at SIU.

The level will be specified by the corresponding textbooks used in these courses at SIU. 
For Classical  Mechanics Halliday and Resnick (or equivalent) specifies the 200 level and Symon or  Thornton and Marion specifies the 300- and  400-level;

For E+M theory, Halliday and Resnick (or equivalent) specifies the 200- level and Lorrain and Corson, or Griffiths or equivalent specifies the 300 and 400- level;

For Statistical Mechanics, at the 400 level only, Kittel and Kroemer or Baierlein;

For Quantum Mechanics at the 200- level it would be the Modern Physics text by Serway, Moses and Moyer (or equivalent)  and at the 400- level Griffiths (or equivalent);

For Solid State, at the 400- level only, Kittel.

  • The written exams will consist of a set of questions from which the students will get to choose a subset that they will answer. Where it is applicable (i.e., for Classical Mechanics, E+M and Quantum), some of the questions will be at the 200-level and other at the 300- and 400-level.
  • The written exams will be held one per day over the course of a week.

2. A written research proposal.

  • The research proposal has to be completed by the end of the first year in the program.
  • It should be written as standard scientific text (i.e., with appropriate referencing), and it should be between 10 and 15 pages in length.
  • The style that should be used is that appropriate for a manuscript submitted to Phys. Rev.

3. The course performance of the student in the required classes for the program.

4. If the student is engaged in research by the end of the first year in the program, the recommendation of the research advisor.

General Considerations:

  • Students are expected to have completed the Qualifying Procedure by the end of their fourth semester in the doctoral program.
  • Students are required to take the exam at the end of their first Spring semester in the program. The written exam portion of the Qualifying Procedure will be prepared and administered by an examination committee appointed by the Chair. The written exam portion of the Qualifying Procedure will be held on a yearly basis, generally in early August.
  • Students will be allowed to participate in the exam portion of the qualifying procedure twice. The one exception to the above rule is that students who so desire can have a "free try" at the Qualifying Examination by taking it at the beginning of their first semester in the program  without this instance counting as one of the two allowed opportunities to take the exam.  Students are encouraged to attempt the written exam portion of the Qualifying Procedure as early as at the beginning of their first semester in the program in order to make use of the free option.
  • Students will be allowed to change one exam area (of the three) per each time they take the exams. This adds up to a maximum total of two changes, if the student takes the exams in the free try. Note that what is limited to two times (or to three times, if the student takes advantage of the individual try) is the number of times the student can participate in the qualifying exam procedure; i.e. it is not that the student can repeat two times each individual exam.  The students can participate in the exam process twice (or three times with the free try) and must pass three exams at the end of their tries.
  • Those students that start at SIU in the Spring semester will have their free try at the beginning of the following Fall; they will be required to take this free try.
  • Students that complete the Masters degree at SIU and then proceed to the Ph. D. will be considered as incoming doctoral students for the purpose of the free try exam. They will, however, be required to take the free try.
  • Those students that that begin at SIU in the Fall can have their free try only in the Fall in which they start.
  • The Graduate Committee will evaluate all four portions of the Qualifying Procedure for each student applicant and will decide on admission to candidacy for each applicant. The Graduate Committee will decide on what weight will be given to the different portions of the Qualifying Procedure.
  • Upon successful completion of the Qualifying Procedure, the Department will request the Graduate School to admit the student to candidacy for the doctoral degree, once the applicant has completed the required 24 hour residency period.

Special Considerations

These are for the students that took part in the “old” qualifying process.

  • Those students that passed in full the older version of the qualifying are done with the Qualifying process. They do not need to prepare a proposal or take any further exams.
  • Those students that passed some of the exams but not others will not have to repeat the exams that they passed.
  • Students that passed some exams but not others may choose either the old or the new procedure to complete the qualifying process.
  • If they choose the old procedure, they will need to pass the exams that they had previously failed.
  • They will complete these exams in their new version (i.e., at the undergraduate level).
  • If they choose the new procedure, they will need to pass a total of three exams. The exams that they have already passed in the old procedure will be counted towards these three. 

The students will all need to complete the other portions of the new procedure: they will have to complete the research proposal satisfactorily, they will need to have appropriate grades in the required classes, and they will need a positive recommendation from the research advisor.