Ph.D. Preliminary Examination
To apply, please refer to this page.
Ph.D. students in Electrical Engineering are required to successfully complete a Ph.D. Preliminary Examination in order to progress into their Ph.D. studies.
- Purpose of the Exam. The purpose of the exam is to assess the student's competency, knowledge of the fundamentals, and potential for independent research in electrical engineering. The examination provides the faculty with an opportunity to evaluate the student's presentation and communication skills, the student's level of confidence in the mastery of the discipline, and the student's ability to tackle unfamiliar problems in real time.
- Frequency of the Exam. The exam is administered by the department and takes place once every year in January. In case of failure, the student may be re-examined only once subject to approval by the Vice-Chair of Graduate Affairs.
- Participation in the Exam. Ph.D. students are required to complete all their course requirements and the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination within two (2) academic years from admission into the Ph.D. program. It is strongly recommended that students take the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination during their first academic year in the Ph.D. Program. Participation in the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination requires a GPA of 3.5 or above on January 1st of the same year the exam is conducted.
- M.S. Students. M.S. students are not eligible to participate in the preliminary examination, and must petition to the Vice Chair of Graduate Affairs for an exception to this rule before filling out the Preliminary Examination Application Form. Only M.S. students who have completed 24 units of graduate lecture courses in EE or related areas and have a GPA of at least 3.5 on January 1st may petition for participation in the exam prior to completion of their M.S. requirements and prior to their admission into the Ph.D. program. In general, the petition would be approved only for high-GPA students (at least 3.7) who are very close to finishing their M.S. degree (all M.S. requirements must be completed no later than the end of the academic year in which preliminary examination is held). Approval of the petition, if granted, will be conditional on the student completing all M.S. requirements with a minimum GPA of 3.5 by the end of the academic year in which preliminary examination is held. Regardless of the outcome, participation of an M.S. student in the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination counts towards the limit of two participations per student during his/her graduate studies in Electrical Engineering. [Download petition form]
If an M.S. student is permitted to participate in the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination by approval of a petition, then a positive (successful) outcome in the examination becomes void under any of the following circumstances:
- Failure to complete all M.S. requirements by the specified deadline on the approved petition.
- Failure to satisfactorily progress toward the M.S. degree within the time limits specified by the department regulations.
- The student is denied admission into Ph.D. Program.
Regardless of the situation, a voided result still counts towards the limit of two participations by the student in the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination.
A successful completion of the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination by an M.S. student does not guarantee admission into the Ph.D. program. Students must still apply separately for admission into the Ph.D. program. As indicated earlier, students originally admitted to the M.S. program in the Electrical Engineering Department must complete all M.S. program requirements with a GPA of at least 3.5 in order to be considered for admission into the Ph.D. program. Students may apply for admission to the Ph.D. program during their last quarter of M.S. studies in Electrical Engineering. However, if granted, approval will be conditional on completing all M.S. program requirements within the time limit specified by the department.
- Structure of the Examination. Every student is examined independently by six (6) faculty members for a total of 3 hours. The examination by each faculty member lasts 25 minutes, and typically includes an oral part and a written component or record. Every applicant submits a list of all Electrical Engineering faculty ranked by preference. The list may include at most one faculty member from outside the department. The department selects the six (6) examiners. Each of the department's three areas (Circuits and Embedded Systems, Physical and Wave Electronics, and Signals and Systems) ranks its students and makes pass/fail recommendations to the Vice-Chair of Graduate Affairs. A student passes the entire Ph.D. preliminary examination and not in parts. The results of the examination are announced by the Vice-Chair of Graduate Affairs following a departmental faculty meeting. A student who fails the examination may repeat it only once, subject to the approval of the Vice-Chair of Graduate Affairs. The examination should be passed within two (2) academic years after admission into the Ph.D. program.
- Examination Procedure. The Preliminary Examination is conducted during two days in January, typically a Friday and a Saturday. You will be notified of your list of examiners about ten (10) days prior to the exam, although we will attempt to notify you sooner if possible. During examination days, you must arrive at the offices of the faculty examiners promptly. In between exams you would be required to report to and stay in one of the designated holding rooms that will be supervised. The examination by each faculty member will last 25 minutes, and will typically include oral and written components. Each examiner will grade students on the following items: communication skills, creativity and originality, and mastery of fundamentals. The results of the examination are announced by the Vice-Chair of Graduate Affairs. The result will be in one of the following three forms:
- Fail with another attempt allowed
- Fail with no further attempts allowed
- Selection of the Examiners. You need to provide the department with a rank ordered list of all faculty who are participating in the examination. Each faculty member in the department has provided a list of topics that they are likely to examine students from. For ever faculty, the list of topics does not mean that students will be examined in all topics listed by a faculty member. It only means that students should expect questions from any of the topics listed.
- The department will assign you six (6) examiners, at least three (3) of whom will be from the Area you designate at your preferred area for the Examinations (this Area may be different from your advisor’s area in which you are classified for other departmental administrative purposes).
- You may select faculty members from any area across the department and not only from your general area of study.
- Since the examiner selection depends on a multitude of factors such as the time slots provided by different faculty and an equitable treatment of students, and not just the ranking you provide, no specific examiner assignment is guaranteed. Therefore, you should be prepared that in the worst case, you may be examined by one or more faculty whom you ranked low.
- Examination Topics. Each faculty member in the department has provided a list of topics that they are likely to examine students from. The topics are generally expected to be at the advanced undergraduate level. For every faculty, the list of topics does not mean that students will be examined in all the topics listed by the faculty member. It only means that students should expect questions from any of the topics. [View list of examination topics by electrical engineering faculty]
- Dropping the Examination. Following registration, students can only drop their participation in the PhD Preliminary Examination upon approval by the Vice-Chair of Graduate Affairs of a petition to this effect. The petition must be filed at least three weeks prior to the start of the examination and must contain a valid justification such as an emergency situation or medical reasons. Dropping the examination without approval will count towards the limit of two participations by the student in the PhD Preliminary Examination.
- Appeal Process. Following the examination, students who failed and wish to appeal the decision may do so. However, this must be done within one month from the date the examination results are announced. The petition should be filed using the standard petition form provided for this purpose by the Office of Student Affairs in the Department. Any appeal of the decision must be based on making a positive case for overturning the original decision by highlighting and providing evidence of factors such as proven research and academic excellence. Dissatisfaction with or complaints about specific examiners are not generally considered as valid grounds for the appeal. The appeal petition should also be supported by a letter from the student's advisor making a case for reconsideration of the decision to fail. The appeal would be considered by the Vice Chair of Graduate Affairs (or by the Department Chair in case of conflict of interest), who would provide the decision. No repeat appeals would be considered.
- Honor Code. Obtaining a doctorate degree from UCLA Electrical Engineering is an outstanding accomplishment. Passing the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination is one step towards achieving this goal. The examination is a highly competitive process. Some students pass the exam and other students fail the exam. You should not share information about the examination with your fellow students until the examination week has finished. Doing so may jeopardize your chances of passing the examination. You will also be in violation of the University Academic Integrity Policy and the UCLA Student Code of Conduct. Students are required to report any infractions of this rule to the Department's Office of Graduate Student Affairs. Acts of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Office of the Dean of Students and serious penalties may apply.