Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering

Ph.D. Required Exams and Forms

Oral Qualifying Exam | Preliminary Exam | Dissertation Defense

Oral Qualifying Exam


The main objective of the exam is to ensure that all Ph.D. graduates are able to demonstrate a mastery of the underlying theory specific to their dissertation research and a thorough understanding of theory in their engineering sub-discipline. The Oral Qualifying Exam is private and only open to the student’s Examination Committee and his/her graduate advisor.

Examination Committee

The examination committee will consist of four examiners, one of whom will act as a chair of the committee as soon as it is formed at the request of the student to be examined.  The chair and one additional committee member must be tenure track or tenured faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The other two committee members can be filled by faculty inside or outside the department.  However, if they are not faculty at Colorado State University, they are permitted on the Examination Committee only by approval of the graduate education committee (GEC).

The faculty advisor is not part of the examination committee but can be present during the examination as a courtesy.  The faculty advisor has no voice on the committee.


1.) The student must complete at least one year of graduate course work and all of the required Core Courses prior to taking the Qualifying Exam.

2.) The student must take the exam by the beginning of their fourth semester in the PhD program. The exam can be taken earlier provided that criterion 1 is satisfied.

3.) The student and examination committee must establish a day and time for the exam to be administered and the student must submit the intent to take the oral qualifying exam form at least 60 days prior to exam date.

4.) The report of the oral qualifying exam must be submitted by the chair to the Graduate Program Specialist within 1 week of the examination.

5.) With permission of the Associate Department Head for Graduate Studies, it is permissible to have one and only one committee member who is not the chair give their portion of the exam up to one week (7 calendar days) early due to scheduling conflicts.  In this case, the committee member must provide, in writing, the examination results and comments from their portion of the exam to the committee chair. That examiner then gives up their voice on the outcome of the exam. The early examination of a single subject must occur prior to the rest of the exam.  In the case of absence due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances, the exam must be rescheduled within 2 weeks. If this pushes the exam into the students 4th semester, this does not constitute a violation of point #2 above.


1.) The exam will be a 2-hour oral exam administered  in four 30-minute segments by the Examination Committee.

2.) The exam will consist of 4 topical areas, at least 2 of which will be from the following list of core subject areas. The associated Core Course is listed in parentheses as a general guideline for the topical area. However, the topical content of the oral exam is at the discretion of the examiner.

  • Thermodynamics (MECH 538)
  • Dynamics of Mechanical Systems (MECH 529)
  • Materials (MECH 532)
  • Solid Mechanics (CIVE 560)
  • Fluid Mechanics (MECH 539)
  • Heat Transfer (MECH 544)
  • Mathematics for Scientists and Engineers (MATH 530)
  • Computational Methods for Mechanical Engineers (MECH 568)

The remaining 2 subject areas may be based on the candidate’s dissertation research topic subject at the approval by the Advisor and Examination Committee or otherwise should be based on coursework similar to the core subject areas listed above.

3.) The Examination Committee can choose to conduct the oral examination on these topics in the context of the candidate’s dissertation topic.

4.) The Examination will be graded on an integer scale of 0 to 8.0 (scoring in increments of 0.5), with a maximum grade of 2.0 for each of the four topical areas. The final number grade will determine the outcome of the exam as follows:

Integer         Outcome
6.0 to 8.0     Pass
4.5 to 5.5     Pass with Conditions
2.5 to 4.0     Fail with Permission to Retake
0 to 2.0        Fail  

Note that any committee member can require that a student complete additional work for any integer grade less than 8.0.

5.) The Examination Committee will meet in private (without the presence of the thesis advisor) to determine a final score on the 0 to 8 scale and assign the associated final grade of pass, pass with condition, fail with permission to retake, or fail. Those students who fail with permission to retake will only be allowed to retake the exam once.  

6.) The Examination Committee will report the results of the qualifying examination to the Associate Department Head of Graduate Studies.

Research Advisor's Role

1.) The student’s Research Advisor will work with the student to identify the 4 subject areas of the Qualifying Exam and the appropriate members of the Examination Committee for each subject area. 

2.) After agreeing on the recommended constitution of the Examination Committee, the student will contact the members of the Examination Committee to request their participation in the Qualifying Exam process and solicit a chair.  

3.) Having obtained consent from the Examination Committee members and Research Advisor, the student will obtain approval for the proposed topical areas and Examination Committee make-up by the Associate Department Head for Graduate Studies. 

4.) The Research Advisor may be present during the Qualifying Exam but will not participate in the examination process. 

5.) The Research Advisor may not be present for the private Examination Committee deliberation during which the final grade is assigned but will be a part of the post-examination debriefing (after the score has been determined). 

6.) The committee chair will communicate the results to the student and their advisor.

Preliminary Exam


The purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine the candidate’s background knowledge in the proposed dissertation area and to determine the adequacy of the current research plan to develop a satisfactory dissertation. The exam is based on the candidate’s written research proposal that contains a detailed survey of the supporting literature, preliminary data, and a summarized research plan. Upon successful completion of the preliminary exam, the committee and student will agree to a final research plan that includes clear expectations for the content of the dissertation. The Preliminary Examination is generally closed to the student’s graduate committee, but an advisor/student may elect to open up the presentation portion of the exam.


Prior to planning the preliminary exam, students should be actively conducting research with a faculty advisor, have the graduate committee confirmed, and have the GS6 form (Program of Study) on file with the Graduate School. The preliminary exam is conducted after an extensive literature review and collection of preliminary data which leads to a “working title” or definition of the research project and a written research proposal.

Students are advised to complete the preliminary exam within a year after passing the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Exam. The preliminary defense is required a minimum of two semesters prior to the final dissertation defense.

Suggested Timeline

Three weeks prior to the preliminary exam:

  • Confirm a date and time for your preliminary exam with your graduate committee

Two weeks prior to the preliminary exam:

  • Contact the Graduate Program Specialist to schedule the room and provide you with a template for your announcement with abstract
  • Submit announcement with abstract by email to the Graduate Program Specialist for distribution and advertising
  • Email the written research proposal to each member of the committee and the Graduate Program Specialist to be shared with mechanical engineering faculty and graduate students.


On the day of the prelim, the student’s advisor is required to pick up the student file from the mechanical engineering office. Student files are not released to students. The exam will consist of the student’s presentation of the research proposal and questions by the committee to further assess the preparedness of the student to continue the degree, followed by analysis of the proposal by the student’s committee with recommendations for changes in the plan. The student and advisor will prepare a rough outline of the changes to the research plan suggested by the committee. The student has a maximum of two opportunities to pass the preliminary exam.


By completing and signing the GS16 form, the committee shall:

1.) Pass: recommend the student advance to Ph.D. candidacy and accept the research plan as agreed to by the committee during the exam

2.) Fail: Recommend that the student take the preliminary examination again, if the student’s research plan or background knowledge is unacceptable but the committee feels that the potential exists for satisfactory performance

3.) Terminate: Recommend the student be terminated from the Ph.D. program

The student is required to obtain the department head’s signature on the original GS16 form and submit a copy to the Graduate Program Specialist. The advisor is required to return the student file to the Graduate Program Specialist.

The signed original of the GS16 form must be delivered in person by the student to the Graduate School within 2 business days following the examination.

Dissertation Defense


The Ph.D. dissertation is a major effort in which the doctoral candidate undertakes a program of work that will result in a significant contribution to the student’s major field of study.

The purpose of the Ph.D. dissertation defense (also known as the final exam) is to allow faculty members and the public to critically examine and comment on the dissertation work and its significance and contribution to the research area and literature. Final examinations are open to the public and are conducted in a formal and professional manner.


The Department has set deadlines two weeks prior to Graduate School deadlines to avoid last minute emergencies that could prevent a student from graduating. It is the student’s responsibility to schedule a room for the defense, contact the Graduate Program Specialist to obtain a template for the announcement, to submit the announcement with abstract, and submit an electronic draft of the dissertation to the department to be shared with mechanical engineering faculty and graduate students.

Suggested Timeline

Four to six weeks prior to the defense:

  • Provide each committee member with a preliminary copy of the dissertation for review. 

Common courtesy to both the candidate and committee dictates that committee members be given two weeks to reach a decision on the acceptability of a student’s dissertation. During this time, they may request meetings with the candidate to discuss the dissertation and suggest revisions. After this review period, with majority approval by the committee, the candidate may schedule the dissertation defense. In the event that the candidate does not receive approval to schedule the public defense, the committee must make further suggestions to the candidate and set up a follow up meeting.

Two weeks prior to the defense:

  • Schedule the room and contact the Graduate Program Specialist to obtain a template for your announcement with abstract
  • Submit announcement with abstract by email to the Graduate Program Specialist for distribution and advertising
  • Email a draft of the dissertation (pdf format) to the committee 

Two weeks prior to the Graduate School deadline for Thesis & Dissertation Submission:

  • The final examination/defense should be conducted at least two weeks prior to the Graduate School thesis/dissertation submission deadline to allow for unexpected delays.

If circumstances prevent a student from meeting department deadlines, the Graduate Program Specialist should be informed by the student’s advisor so that steps may be taken to ensure that the Graduate School deadlines and requirements are met for the intended graduation term.


To begin the presentation, the candidate is introduced by the advisor. The candidate then presents the findings of the doctoral research to the committee and to the public. The presentation is concluded with a public question and answer period, which is followed by a closed session where the committee members will decide whether to accept or reject the dissertation.

On the Day of the Defense

If the dissertation is accepted the committee members will sign under the “pass” section on the GS24 form. If the dissertation is rejected, the committee will sign under the “fail” section, make recommendations that the student must complete in a given length of time, and may or may not schedule a second defense, noting the requirements on the form. Regardless of the results, all signatures are obtained electronically and are due to the Graduate School within 2 days following the examination.

Survey of Earned Doctorates

PhD graduates must complete the Survey of Earned Doctorates, which may be found on the graduate school website page “Steps to Your Doctoral Degree.” 

Thesis Submission

The student submits the Thesis/Dissertation Submission Form (GS30) to the Graduate School, after which the Graduate School provides directions for electronic submission. Directions may also be found on the graduate school website page “Steps to Your Doctoral Degree.”

Clearance to Graduate

Graduating students should check their “Graduate Degree Plan” in RAMweb for discrepancies or comments. Any issues found there must be resolved before the student will be cleared for graduation by the Graduate School.