A few weeks ago, I completed my qualifying exam for the PhD program at Syracuse University. It consisted of a written portion from three classes I have taken during my graduate education and an oral exam following the grading of the written questions. This is typical for most engineering PhD programs.
Several students in my department suggested not to worry too much about this exam, as it is primarily a reflection of how well you grasp advanced concepts from your coursework (i.e. if you did well in the relevant course you should also do well on the exam question). However, this experience was quite stressful for me, partially due to the fact that the questions came from courses I had taken two to three years ago. To make matters worse, I had never taken an oral exam before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
Thankfully I passed both portions of the exam without much trouble. Looking back, I am thankful for the opportunity to have had my work thoroughly critiqued and questioned by some of the best professors in my college. This process gave me a much clearer idea of what to expect in my PhD career and how to proceed with some of my work. The candidacy exam will be a much more difficult task, and this qualifying exam has given me a small taste of what to expect down the road.