Qual Information

About the Database & Information Systems (DAIS) Qual

1. Who should take the DAIS qual?

Students who plan to do a dissertation in the DAIS area should take the DAIS qual. The DAIS faculty will, in general, require their advisees to pass the DAIS qual. If you have questions about the DAIS qual after reading the remainder of this note, please talk to your research advisor. In particular, your advisor can help you with the question of whether this is the qual that you should be preparing to take.

2. When is the DAIS qual offered?

The DAIS qual is offered every semester, during the usual departmental qual period.

3. What is the DAIS qual format?

The DAIS qual is a written qual, with questions based on a standard reading list. The reading list will undergo periodic revision. However, the reading list for a particular semester’s qual will be announced by three months before the next qual. Be sure that your qual preparation efforts are based on the version of the reading list that will be in effect during the semester in which you take the qual. The qual is closed-book.

The qual reading list includes both basic and more advanced material. Students will be expected to demonstrate a good understanding of the basic material in all areas covered by the qual, and an excellent understanding of the material corresponding to the section that they chose as their specialty. Exam questions will usually offer subparts that differ in difficulty, so that students have a chance to demonstrate their level of understanding and ability, whatever that level might be.

A student must answer all questions in the section of the exam that covers basic material. In the remainder of the exam, the student must answer k out of n questions, where k and n change from year to year.

As described below, in borderline cases, the DAIS faculty may ask a student to take a follow-on exam shortly after the written test. The follow-on exam may be oral.

4. How do students sign up for the DAIS qual?

To sign up for the DAIS qual, students contact the academic office and follow the standard academic office procedure for signing up for a qual. In addition, the student must complete two additional tasks, described below.

At the time the student signs up, the academic office will refer the student to a staff member who will give the student a qual ID number. On their exam pages, each student will be identified only by their ID number. Only the staff member who assigned numbers will know which students correspond to which ID numbers.
Each question will be answered on a separate sheet of paper (or booklet).

5. How are the exams graded?

Each question on the exam will be graded by one or two faculty members. All students’ answers to a particular question will be graded by the same faculty member(s). Final decisions on who passes and fails the exam will be made jointly by the DAIS faculty. Examinees will be notified of the qual results by the academic office, once all quals are completed.

If a student fails the qual, he or she may take the qual a second time, subject to the usual time limits for passing quals in the CS PhD program.

As mentioned above, in borderline cases, the DAIS faculty may ask the student to take a follow-on exam the same semester. If the student does not take and pass the follow-on exam, the qual result will be treated as an ordinary failure, subject to the usual rules for retaking the qual.

6. How should students prepare for the DAIS qual?

Obviously the DAIS course offerings will be helpful in preparing for the qual. However, a student must do more than take DAIS courses to pass the qual. The particular papers on the qual reading list are not necessarily covered in any DAIS course. Further, the qual will require students to demonstrate significant depth of understanding, beyond that which is needed to pass a course. In addition, especially in the student’s chosen area of specialty, the student should be prepared to demonstrate ability to go beyond an understanding of the papers and show original thought, e.g., in analyzing, critiquing, and extending the research shown in the papers.

Thus a student should prepare for the qual by taking courses, studying papers on the qual reading list, discussing the papers in depth with other students who are preparing for the qual, and using those discussions as a way of learning to think beyond the borders of the assigned papers. The latter activity is central to the work of every DAIS researcher. The discussion sessions should begin a minimum of one full semester before taking the qual. While a student’s participation in a discussion group will not be a factor in grading the qual exams, the DAIS faculty anticipate that any student not participating in such a group will fail the DAIS qual.