DAIS PhD Qualifying Exam Process (Revised Jan. 2023)

Revision on the DAIS PhD Qualification Process (Effective on January 1, 2023)

Written exam (Four hours):

  1. The written DAIS qual exam will be given in a classroom and last for 4 hours. The exam will be closed book and closed notes, but a student is allowed to bring in a one-page “cheat sheet” where they can record any information that they feel might be useful for taking the exam. The answers will be manually written on booklets. Use of a computer or a smart phone is not allowed. No online activities are allowed.
  2. A reading list of papers grouped under multiple sections will be provided to the students about one month before the written exam and the questions in the exam will be based on those papers. Each section in the reading list will include two to three papers and contribute one (in the case of two papers) to two questions (in the case of three papers) to the written exam. The reading list is generally updated every semester. A question generally includes multiple parts, testing a student’s mastery of in-depth knowledge on specific topics in a research paper as well as the capability of thinking beyond a paper to solve some open problems.
  3. Each examinee is expected to answer 4 of the questions, with each worth 10 points (40 points in total).   (Note: If more than 4 questions are answered, the committee will randomly choose 4 to grade.) Each question is expected to be answered in approximately 60 minutes.
  4. The examinee should answer the questions independently without communicating with anyone else. If an examinee finds any question ambiguous, the examinee should interpret it in any reasonable way, write down the assumed interpretation, and proceed to answer the question based on the assumed interpretation.
  5. Double-blind grading rules are enforced for the written exam. The DAIS Qual Exam proctor would assign each examinee a unique numerical identifier, which the examinee should write down on every answer sheet to enable anonymous grading. The identities of the examinees would not be disclosed until all the exam questions have been graded when the DAIS faculty would meet to discuss the qual exam results.

Oral interview (up-to-one-hour one-on-one meeting with non-advisor):

  1. Each examinee will meet with 3 non-advisor DAIS faculty members.
  2. Each examinee needs to send by e-mail their CV, unofficial UIUC transcripts, research plan, and a set of presentation slides to the interview professor at least two days before the scheduled interview time. At the interview, each examinee needs to present their research interest, progress so-far and research plan.  Each examiner needs to raise questions and make a judgement on the capability of research, research potential, and thinking on-feet of the candidate.   The interview time is expected to be 30 minutes to one hour, depending on the need and the progress of the interview.

Decision process: Pass, additional oral exam, conditional pass, and fail:

  1. The DAIS Faculty will meet to discuss and determine the result of a qual exam after finishing the grading of all the examinees.
  2. The result can be (1) Pass, (2) Conditional Pass, or (3) Fail. In the case of Conditional Pass, the condition can vary, including, e.g., taking a particular course with a satisfactory grade or submitting a first-author research paper by a particular deadline.
  3. Occasionally, the DAIS Faculty may request a candidate to take an additional oral exam to further examine the candidate’s knowledge about a topic. In such a case, the candidate should be informed at least three days before the additional oral exam. The oral exam should be conducted with a Special Oral Exam Committee consisting of at least three DAIS faculty members closer to the candidate’s research area, excluding the candidate’s thesis advisor.  The Time, duration (expected to be one to two-hours), and contents of the oral exam should be determined by the Special Oral Exam Committee and made known to the candidate beforehand.  After the exam, the Special Oral Exam Committee should decide one of the following: (1) pass, (2) conditional pass (and what the condition is), and (3) fail.  
  4. The decision made by the DAIS Faculty will be submitted to the Office of Graduate Study in the Department of Computer Science, which will then decide whether to approve the decision and pass it to the candidate.