Qualifying Procedures

Doctor of Philosophy 2The purpose of the doctoral qualifying examination is to assess at an early stage if he/she possesses the necessary intellectual skills and knowledge to earn the degree of doctor of philosophy in Chemical Engineering. This assessment is based on the student’s performance in four written subject examinations. The exam is prepared by faculty members and overseen by the Qualifying Exam Coordinator, who is a member of the Graduate Committee. The qualifying examination is offered twice during the first year whenever there at least two students to take it. New students must approve the qualifying exam before the beginning of the second year of full admission into the doctoral program. According to UPRM’s regulations, students have two opportunities to pass the exam. A second failure will result in the student’s dismissal from the UPRM graduate programs. The doctoral qualifying examination consists of four, two-hour subject examinations on the topics of:

  1. Thermodynamics
  2. Momentum and energy transport
  3. Mass transport
  4. Chemical kinetics and reactor design

Problems included are at the undergraduate level. The four subject examinations are offered in two non-consecutive days, one day apart. Each exam is prepared and graded anonymously by a member of the department faculty. This is a double-blind test, where the student does not know the evaluator’s identity and vice versa. Subject examinations are closed-book. A handout containing standard formulas of the topics examined will be provided.

Thesis Research

The unique feature of graduate education is the development of the skills necessary to conduct and present independent research. The PhD thesis should demonstrate that the student has:

  1. Acquired the skills necessary to conduct high-quality research including the abilities to think creatively and critically
  2. Completed a coherent piece of independent research that makes a solid contribution to the general pool of scholarship

The length of the actual thesis, the number of associated publications, and the time required will necessarily depend upon the abilities and effort of the student, the details of the project, and the philosophy of the thesis advisor. It is impossible for the department to determine, a priori, how long any given student will remain in residence. However, it is important to recognize that the PhD program is a transition period, one which provides students with an opportunity to expand their intellectual horizons, to learn how to conduct research, and to be creative. The transitionary nature means that students should move as rapidly as possible towards completion of all of the objectives/requirements associated with the PhD degree.

Thesis Topic Selection

Each graduate student is associated with a research advisor who plays an important role in the student’s academic and research programs. Since research is such a critical component of the graduate program, students need time to gather information about the available projects, to clarify their own personal research interests, and to think carefully about their own long-term objectives. All first-year students are required to go through the process described herein. Students and potential advisors cannot reach agreements prior to this process. Every semester faculty members will present research opportunities in their groups in 20-minute talks. Graduate students are expected to attend all of the thesis topic presentations (even if they are not predetermined toward that particular research area). These presentations are an ideal way for new students to meet the faculty and vice versa. Additionally, students are exposed to the full range of chemical engineering projects offered. Students should then individually interview faculty members and other graduate students to gain a more thorough understanding of possible research topics. As part of the Seminar course students are required to turn in the “Thesis/Advisor Selection Form” where students are expected to present evidence of having interview at least five faculty members and provide a brief descriptive summary of the research project. Students are then asked to provide their preferences. There must be at least four projects spanning at least three advisors listed. The matching of students to topics is a difficult multivariable problem. There are many factors involved in the determination of the final assignments, including current research group sizes, faculty objectives, department objectives, funding, and student preferences. Often the solution does not match everyone’s requests and some students may be asked to meet again with the graduate advisor to discuss options.