PhD Examinations

All students working towards a PhD in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) must complete the Qualifying Process and pass the Preliminary Examination prior to taking the Final Oral Examination. The requirements, listed in order, are:

Qualifying Process

The process for this certification is to ensure that the graduate student has acquired research area knowledge and general research methodology skills and has applied them to solving a problem in the area of study. The certification process consists of a course work requirement and a problem-solving component.

Coursework Requirement

Take two research area courses and two skill/methodology courses with an overall grade point average of 3.5 or higher on these courses. Each individual course grade must be B+ or higher. These courses will be listed on the PhD Qualifying Process form and submitted the first semester.

Problem-Solving Component

Work with the adviser or prospective adviser on a research problem. It is expected that the adviser guides this research. The product will be a written report, an oral presentation of this report, and an oral examination following the presentation.


Completion Timeline

All the requirements must be completed by the fourth semester for post-BS students and by the third semester for post-MS students. A post-MS student can start this certification process as early as possible if the appropriate research area and skills courses have been taken at another university or ISU with a grade of A- or better. The third or fourth semester guideline is an upper bound.

Course Guidelines

The course guidelines are minimal guidelines. Students may take additional research area foundation and skills courses in consultation with their advisers.


  • Examining Committee Constitution: The area committees designate the examiners. Each examining committee must consist of at least four members.
  • Oral Examination: The oral examination will emphasize the declared two area courses, two skills courses, the written report, and the presentation. The focus should be on establishing connections between the area courses and skills course and the problem solution rather than on the research product itself. A desirable outcome at this stage may be a conference or journal submission of this work.


ECpE offers the knowledge courses. The basic skill courses are most likely offered by other departments like statistics, mathematics, computer science, or physics. See the Research Area (Knowledge) and Skills Development Courses List for possible courses that could be used to meet this requirement.

Preliminary Examination

A student is admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree after he/she passes the Preliminary Examination.


The objective of the Preliminary Examination is to evaluate and test the graduate student’s knowledge of the subject area and review his/her research plans. Two weeks prior to the preliminary examination, the student must provide each POS Committee member with a dossier, including a resume, copies of published reports and/or papers, and a written prospectus of the proposed research. The research prospectus should be typically 20 double-spaced, typed pages and should include:

  1. a concise statement of the problem,
  2. a review of relevant literature,
  3. a well-formulated work plan detailing the approach to the problem, and
  4. the expected contribution.

The Program of Study (POS) Committee, as part of the preliminary examination, also may elect to have the student a) review and critique appropriate technical publications, b) provide an oral presentation of his/her research plan, and c) face any test deemed appropriate by the POS Committee. The Committee may, as a consequence of the examination, decide to (i) pass the student and admit his/her candidacy, (ii) have the student retake the examination, or (iii) terminate the student’s PhD program.

Final Oral Examination

All students pursuing a PhD are required to pass a Final Oral Examination. This also is called a dissertation defense. See Completion Requirements for more details.

Revised March 2011