Graduate students must be admitted to candidacy by the end of the first quarter of their fifth year (by the end of the first quarter of their fourth year if they were exempted from all core requirements) They are strongly encouraged to fulfill this requirement as early as possible. Students in all areas must pass an oral candidacy exam to be admitted to candidacy.

A candidacy exam is administered by the student’s Examination Committee. Prior to the exam, the student must have an exam proposal approved by each member of their Examination Committee. The committee will decide the format of the exam, but two formats are common.

In the areas of Machine Learning, Computational Mathematics, and Theoretical Computer Science, the candidacy exam is usually based on a reading list. The student and the committee agree on a set of papers that covers the student’s proposed area of research interest. The exam often consists of a talk by the student about the papers followed by a private oral exam that tests the breadth and depth of their knowledge of the material.

In Systems, the candidacy exam usually has the form of a thesis-proposal defense. It provides the opportunity for the committee to evaluate the intellectual merit and feasibility of the candidate’s proposed research. The specific requirements for the candidacy exam are a written thesis proposal, typically 10-20 pages, and a public oral presentation that is based on the proposal. The written proposal should be approved by the candidate’s advisor and committee members prior to scheduling the exam. While the details may vary, a typical proposal will address the following questions:

  • What problem is being solved? What question is being answered?
  • Why is this problem important and its solution non-trivial?
  • What other work has addressed this, or related, problems, and how is the proposed work different?
  • What is the student’s research plan? How much of the work in the plan has been completed?
  • All candidacy exams include a public presentation by the student followed by a private oral exam.

If a graduate student changes advisor after completion of the candidacy exam, the new advisor may require the student to retake the exam.

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