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 consists of a written qual with questions based on a standard reading list and an oral qual that includes short one-on-one interview meetings between a student and three DAIS faculty members.

The reading list used for the written qual will undergo periodic revision. The reading list for a particular semester’s qual will be announced approximately one month 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 contain multiple parts that differ in difficulty to enable students to fully demonstrate their mastery of relevant knowledge and skills of understanding and extending the cutting-edge research work.

To accommodate the diverse topic areas and research interests of the students, the questions will cover a wide range of research topics. A student is expected to answer k out of n questions, where k and n change from year to year. In the past, k is often set to 4 with n larger than 10.

The purpose of the oral interview is for the DAIS faculty to examine a student’s skills of technical communication and learn about the student’s research progress. The student is expected to prepare some slides for the meeting.

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.

Before the written exam, a staff member in charge of the qual exam will give each student a unique qual ID number to facilitate anonymous grading. 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 generally 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. Sometimes, a student may also receive a conditional pass where 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.

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 taking 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.

In general, 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 may start one 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 strongly encourage students to organize and participate in such group discussion meetings.

For more information, please check out the specific information about the qual exam in the current semester available under the tab “Qual Information”.