MSE Prelim Exam Process

Students seeking Ph.D. candidacy must successfully pass the Prelim Exam within two years of their initial enrollment in the MSE department. The Prelim Exam will consist of an oral defense of the thesis proposal based on student’s research performed as a pre-candidate or, if approved by the faculty research advisor, prior work towards the Master's degree.

A thesis proposal document should be submitted to your committee members 10 working days in advance of the prelim examination; and should provide the motivation for the proposed research based on a critical review of the background and relevant literature, a statement of the objective, a description of the proposed research approach, including new proof-of-concept research results, a thorough analysis of the results, a plan for future research, and a list of references.  The document should be less than 20 pages (single-spaced, 12-point font, 1” margins), including figures, but not including references.  Successful completion of the prelim exam is a requirement for advancing to candidacy.

The examination is conducted by a committee (selected according to Rackham dissertation committee selection requirements), which is expected to become the doctoral thesis committee if the student becomes a Ph.D. candidate. The committee will report to the Graduate Committee whether the student has passed; and, if not, whether a rescheduled exam is recommended.

Committee make-up:

  • The prelim exam committee will include at least three members, the research advisor, one other MSE faculty and one cognate (non-MSE) member, picked by the advisor in consultation with the student and approved by the Graduate Committee Chair before your exam.  

Masters Requirement:

  • Students must submit a master’s thesis to an examining committee of three faculty members, two of which must be from Materials Science and Engineering.

Instructions before exam:

  • Consult with advisor to choose committee members and determine date to hold exam.
  • Download the Prelim Exam Report Form from the MSE website.
  • Write committee member’s names on the front of this form.  
  • Email Graduate Chair with names of your committee and their roles for approval and forward or cc: Graduate Coordinator.
  • Schedule a room to hold your Prelim by emailing

After exam:

  • Committee members check off their decision in both Master’s and Doctoral boxes.
  • Committee members sign next to their printed name.
  • Return the completed form to Graduate Coordinator following the exam.

 Advancing to Candidacy:

  • Students must complete all candidacy requirements by Rackham’s Candidacy Deadlines for the term they are seeking to be eligible for Candidacy Enrollment.