Qualifier Exams

The General and Thesis Qualifier Exams occur at the end of a grad student's 2nd year at the Department. Below are notes from my year's General Qual study sessions, and a general outline on approaching the Thesis Qualifier.


General Qualifier Exam Solutions

Below are the most up-to-date versions of the 2012 General Qualifier Exam Question Bank, my solutions to said questions, and JD Emberson's solutions. Many thanks to JD, whom I stole derived many solutions from!

2012 Qual Question Bank

Zhu Qualifier Solutions
Emberson Qualifier Solutions

Feedback, corrections and comments are greatly appreciated for my document! At this time JD has not committed to updating his soluions.


Thesis Qualifier

The thesis qual consists of an oral exam consisting of a 15 - 20 minute G2000-style presentation with a 75 - 100 minute question period. A written thesis proposal of maximum length 20 pages (single-sided) AASTeX one-column preprint (though shorter is better, so long as you can get your proposal across) should also be sent to the committee at least a few days before the actual qualifier.

My written thesis proposal had the following sections:

  • Introduction, including the general scientific justification and a thesis statement (a short paragraph outlining exactly what I propose to do).
  • Several sections detailing proposed projects that make up the thesis. I included all thesis work already completed to date first, and briefly went over results from these works. I also sketched out my future work. Be as specific and polished as you can here. In my case, this meant specifying the astrophysical questions I was trying to answer in each project, the kind of simulations I would perform and why they're appropriate to answering the questions, and suggestion of which codes I would use and who I would be working with. Obviously many of the details you'll write down will change, and might even change during the qual, but the point is to show that you have enough knowledge of the field and your proposed project to make specific plans.
  • A section outlining more speculative/branching work that I don't plan to, but could, work on. This is important to show that your thesis is not so narrow-focused that if any part of it fails you need to completely change projects.
  • A timeline going out 3 years with start and end dates for your projects (month/year specified).
  • A bibliography.

Everyone's thesis qualifier is obviously unique to their project, supervisor and thesis qualifier committee. The best advice I've heard regarding the thesis qual is to speak to your supervisor about the sorts of questions that you could potentially see on the exam. Ask about whether the focus of the questions will be on the physical systems you're studying, the techniques you'll be studying them with and/or recent publications in the area (in my exam I mainly got the first). The answers they expect are similar in spirit to those for the general qual - complex derivations aren't necessary, but a good intuition and maturity of understanding on your subject matter must be shown through qualitative answers and simple derivations. I had no questions on the viability of my project or access to resources, which I suspect to be the case so long as you and your supervisor have hammered out a good working plan in the thesis proposal.