Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam is typically held in September and is oral examination lasting up to one hour.

This year's qualifying exam will be on 20 September 2013.

The examination committe is: L. Hillenbrand (chair), G. Djorgovski, G. Hallinan, N. Scoville, C. Steidel

Location: Cahill 273


8:30 - 9:30    Jensen-Clem
9:35 -10:35    Bryan
10:40-11:40    Anderson
[11:40-12:00 committee discussion and review of notes]
13:00 - 14:00  Kleiser
14:05- 15:05   Barenfeld
15:10 - 16:10  Kaufman
16:15-17:15    Eastwood
[17:15-17:30 committee discussion and review of notes]

We have planned a faculty meeting for the morning of 23 September
to review the committee's assessment of the qualifying exam results with the larger astronomy faculty.

Results will be communicated to the examined students as soon as possible.

Important: Do not talk with anyone else about the exam until after the last student has completed it.

Submissions on first-year research: directory

As in previous years, the exam will have two parts:


Each student should submit a written report to the Option Rep one week before the examination (this year by 13 September 2013), which will be made available to the faculty. We are all eager to learn about your research interests and progress! The report should be 4-10 pages long, all inclusive, with ``brief but complete" being the main guidance. Succint, persuasive writing is an important skill to develop and you might as well start now. The committee will read the report in advance of the exam.

The student will give a 12-15 minute presentation on the research project, followed by a 5-15 minute question and answer session. The presentation should be clear and self-contained. Suggested are no more than 15 primary slides, with perhaps some backups in anticipation of potential points of clarification.

Course and General Knowledge:

The committee will then proceed to ask the student questions intended to probe general knowledge of astronomy and astrophysics, at the level of the Ay 12X classes. There will be both qualitative and quantitative questioning, but we will not ask the student to carry out lengthy calculations that would be more appropriate on a homework set or written exam.

The first question asked in the general knowledge section will come from this list. One of the 21 questions will be drawn according to a random number generator. Subsequent questions may also be drawn from the list, but the conversation is likely to wander away from the list. The panel will probe breadth by asking questions of topics of current general interest, such as those potentially covered in colloquia or journal clubs, and probe depth by going in detail on processes and phenomena considered to be quite basic in astrophysics.

Studying from the following sources may be useful for understanding the types of questions that may be asked: previous sample questions or order-of-magnitude problems (from D. Weinberg and A. Gould via M. Kamionkowski).

In addition to the standard Qualifying Examination, some students may be examined in greater detail on specific courses in which they underperformed (obtained less than B grade) during the first year. We will notify you after the conclusion of the academic year if this applies to you. The format could be either in-depth questioning during the normal Qualifying Exam, or a separate written exam similar to the final exams offered for the Ay 12x series courses.

An oral exam, by its very nature, is open ended. The spirit of the exam is to determine the research capability of the student -- as manifest through a presentation of recent research as well as through a demonstration of comprehension of fundamental knowledge in astronomy and astrophysics. We expect a mastery of standard material such that suitable performance as a TA can be anticipated.

Evaluation of student performance on the Qualifying Exam will lead to a pass/fail determination. We will also strive to deliver detailed feedback intended to help you as you progress through our program and into your career.

In some cases, the committee may determine that the student has some deficiencies. At the discretion of the EO, a second exam may be held at a later time (three to six months) and a decision based on this second exam will be final. It is possible that some students will not be continued in the Ay graduate program after the end of their second academic year.