THE QUALIFYING EXAM. In September of their second year, all students will be expected to take an oral "Qualifying" exam. Students must pass the Qualifying exam in order to continue in graduate school.
This exam has two main purposes.
(1) A venue at which the student reports on the progress of her/his Proposition.
(2) Demonstrate a broad understanding of current astronomy.
The exam will be held by a single committee of four to five faculty and this committee will also seek inputs from the research advisor as well.
Each student will be examined up to about 1 hour by the panel. The exam has two main parts:
RESEARCH PROPOSITION. We expect all of our first year students to undertake significant research during the first 12 months. The research program can be modest during the first 9 academic months but is expected to ramp us significantly during the vacation period(s). The student is free to chose the research advisor and the particular piece of research does not have to necessarily lead to a thesis project. Ideally, the research effort should be coherent and compact and aim for a modest publication (though publication while highly encouraged is not required). The student is expected to give a AAS-style talk on her/his research. The total duration of the talk is limited to 15+5 min (15 min presentation and 5 min Q&A) and should not involve more than 15 slides. Past experience has shown that most speakers (including experienced astronomers) vastly misjudge the length of the talks and it is best not to have more than 1 (basic slide) per minute (including title slides etc). In any case, the student is expected to wrap up the talk in 15 min and the examining committee will pay attention not only to the results of the research program but also to presentation (clarity) including a timely ending. In advance of this exam, students are expected to turn in a small -- less than 4-page -- report. For uniformity we request the following: 12 point font, no more than 2 pages of text, no more than 1 page of figures and no more than 1 page of tables and references. Please be professional and stick to these guidelines. The report should be turned in one week prior to the exam date and copies of the report will be circulated to all the faculty. Your work will thus get some serious advertisement!
BROAD UNDERSTANDING OF ASTROPHYSICS. The remaining time will be devoted to an hour-long oral exam designed to evaluate and test your broad understanding of astrophysics. The panel will probe breadth by asking questions of topics covered in journal clubs and colloquia and probe depth by going in detail on processes and phenomena considered to be quite basic in astrophysics. We will start this portion of the exam by asking one question from the list of sample questions. Following this, questions not necessarily from this list may be asked.
An oral exam, by its very nature, is open ended. The spirit of the exam
is to determine the research capability of the student. In some cases,
the committee may determine that the student has clear deficiencies to
become a good researcher. At the discretion of the EO a second exam may
be held at a later time (six months) and the decision based on this second exam
will be final. It is possible that some students will be
asked to leave by the end of their second academic year.
UNDERPERFORMANCE DURING FIRST YEAR. Additionally, as noted above some students may be examined in greater detail on specific courses in which they underperformed (obtained less than B grade) during the first year. The usual procedure is to give an exam similar to the final exams offered for other Ay 120 series course i.e. a full 3-hour exam with short and long questions.
WRAPPING UP PROPOSITION EFFORT. It is essential to wrap up the Proposition project by the end of the Winter quarter. The student is then expected to start a serious dialog with an advisor and get ready for the PhD Candidacy Exam (Fall of third year).