Additional Comprehensive Examination Information: For Students and Advisors
Selection of Examination Areas
The three areas selected for the Comprehensive Examination must be acceptable to both the student and the committee. They may be suggested by the student, and are usually selected in conjunction with the advisor.
The first area should be concerned with the student's specific dissertation research.
The second area is typically the broad area in which the research can be seen to fit (e.g., Data-bases, or Artificial Intelligence). Alternatively, the second area may be an 'ingredient' area of the research - for example, an "adaptive multi-agent systems" thesis might suggest Multi-Agent Systems as the first area, and Machine Learning as the second.
Most committees will insist that the third area should be outside the research, to ensure breadth as well as depth. This provides the student with a 'second strength' for their resume.
In most examinations, most emphasis is placed on the student's performance in the first area, slightly less on the second, and slightly less on the third.
Sample Comprehensive Exam Procedure
The student has three weeks in which to complete the written exam. Each examination area is expected to take roughly one week. The student must produce one written report per examination area. Each report is typically up to 20 pages long, but there are no length requirements. All three reports are submitted at the end of the exam.
The student can contact the committee members during the exam to ask clarifying questions. Besides contact with the committee members, the student may not discuss the questions or possible answers with any other person during this examination period. The student may use any written material (specifications, books, publications) to answer the questions, as long as all material used is properly cited in the report.
All three reports should be turned in to all the committee members by 9 am of the morning after the last day of the exam. This should be done by submitting electronic versions of the three reports (ideally as postscript or pdf files) to all committee members, and also placing hard copies of the reports into the committee members' Computer Science Department mailboxes. The hard copy for the Non-CS Dept. committee member, if requested by them, should be mailed by express mail as soon as possible after the end of the exam.
As soon as possible after the end of the written exam, the committee will set a mutually agreed upon 2 hour time for the committee to meet with the student for the final part of the exam. Typically this will be about a week after the end of the written exam, and should be no more than two weeks later. The student's advisor is responsible for arranging and conducting the meeting.
At the examination meeting, the student will make three brief presentations describing their main findings (about 15 minutes per examination area). The committee members are given the opportunity to ask further questions on the three areas. The committee member who set the questions is usually the one who gets to lead the questioning. It is common, but not necessary, for the student not to know in advance who set which question.
In the cases where non-committee faculty have been asked to contribute to the generation of questions it is acceptable to invite them to participate in the examination. They are allowed to express their opinions about the quality of both the written and spoken answers in their examination area, but they do not get to vote on the overall result of the examination.
This meeting is normally a closed examination. Within one day after this examination meeting, the student will be notified whether he or she has passed, failed the examination, or if additional work is required.
The result of the examination is usually delivered directly to the student by the advisor, within an hour of the examination meeting, after the committee's deliberations. In addition, a letter recording the result, signed by all the committee members, is sent to the student, with copies for the department's and the advisor's files. The CS Department's Graduate Secretary informs the Associate Provost when the student passes the exam.
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