The preliminary examination is designed to assess a PhD student’s readiness to undertake dissertation research. Once a student passes the preliminary examination, he or she is officially considered a PhD candidate. This is the second major milestone in the PhD program, after the qualifying examination.
The preliminary examination usually takes place when a student has completed most, though not necessarily all, of the coursework but has not yet made a major investment of time and effort toward dissertation research. For this examination, the student performs research under an advisor’s supervision and then defends the work before a Graduate College-approved faculty committee of at least five members.
Students must pass the preliminary examination one year prior to their dissertation defense. Approval by petition is needed if students plan to hold their dissertation defense within a year of the preliminary examination.
Preliminary Examination Committee
A student’s faculty advisor serves as the chair of the preliminary examination committee. The additional members of the preliminary examination committee must be selected in a way that fulfills all of the following criteria:
- Five or more members in total
- At least three members are full members of the UIC Graduate College
- At least two are tenured (not just tenure-track) faculty
Diversity is prized in the creation of a preliminary examination committee; thus, including one or two members from outside the electrical and computer engineering department or UIC is encouraged. For any outside members who are not full members of the UIC Graduate College, students must submit their CVs along with the committee recommendation form so that the Graduate College may determine that equivalent academic standards are met.
The committee recommendation form must be submitted to the ECE student affairs office at least three weeks prior to the anticipated preliminary examination date. Student affairs will coordinate departmental approval of the form and forward it to the Graduate College for approval.
The preliminary examination committee is appointed by the dean of the Graduate College at the recommendation of the electrical and computer engineering department.
Students who are proposing research that involves human subjects must apply for and receive approval from UIC’s Institutional Review Board.
Students who are proposing research that involves animals must apply for and receive approval from the Animal Care Committee.
The timing, content, and nature of the preliminary examination—whether it will include a written component, an oral component, or both—is at the discretion of the preliminary examination committee.
Preliminary examinations are graded as “pass” or “fail.” A candidate cannot be passed if he or she receives more than one “fail” vote from members of the committee. The Graduate College provides an examination report form to the electrical and computer engineering department, which must be completed and signed by each member of the committee.
If students receive a grade of “pass,” the preliminary examination committee still may require that students perform additional work or meet specified conditions before the passing recommendation becomes effective.
If students receive a grade of “fail,” the preliminary examination committee may make a recommendation to the dean to allow a second examination. If the student receives a grade of “fail” on the second examination, a third examination is not permitted.
Once students pass the preliminary examination, they have five years to complete the requirements for the PhD. Failure to adhere to this time period will require a new preliminary examination. (Note: departments may specify shorter time periods than five years.)
Students may not take the preliminary examination sooner than one full calendar year of beginning the program, and they may not conduct their dissertation defense any sooner than one full calendar year after the preliminary examination is passed, unless a special petition is made and approved by the director of graduate studies.