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The Graduate College Handbook of Policy and Requirements
for Students, Faculty and Staff - 2013

D. Doctoral Committees and Examinations

  1. Qualifying Examination and Qualifying Examination Committee
  2. Preliminary Examination and Preliminary Examination Committee
  3. Dissertation Committee
  4. Final Examination and Final Examination Committee
  5. Preliminary and Final Exam Result Forms (PER/FER)
  6. Thesis/Dissertation Approval form (TDA)

Committees may be formed and examinations given at various stages of graduate study in order to monitor and ensure the quality of graduate work. This chart provides an overview of committee structure and rules. For complete information and further details, see the relevant sections below.

Overview

Overview of doctoral committee structures

 

  1. Qualifying Examination and Qualifying Examination Committee:
    The Graduate College does not require qualifying examinations, but departments may. Qualifying exams, usually given at the end of Stage I of the doctoral work (see chapter VI.C), evaluate the student's knowledge in the field and preparation for the doctoral program. The format of these examinations may be written, oral, or both, as determined by the program. The program must clearly communicate information about the format and rules (i.e. closed-book) to all students in advance. Departments may internally appoint committees to conduct these examinations.
     
  2. Preliminary Examination and Preliminary Examination Committee:
    The preliminary examination is one of the Graduate College requirements for completion of Stage II of graduate study.

    Format:
    • Preliminary examinations may be oral or written or both, depending on the unit's policy, and generally evaluate the student's overall and specific knowledge in the field.
      • Preliminary examinations also usually include an oral presentation to review the feasibility and appropriateness of a student's dissertation research proposal.
    • The doctoral degree program prescribes the scope, format and procedures associated with the examination, including the composition of the committee. The program must clearly communicate information about the format and rules (e.g., closed-book) to all students in advance.
    • The process for selection of committee chairs varies by unit, but the chair must be a member of the Graduate Faculty. At the department’s discretion a co-chair may be appointed. If appointed, a co-chair must meet all the requirements that apply to the chair. The role of the committee chair is described below. 
    • The student, committee chair, and at least one additional voting member of the committee must be physically present for all oral components of the examination (i.e., presence by video or teleconference is not acceptable). If the committee has more than one chair, all chairs must be physically present; in these cases, no additional voting member is required to be physically present.
    • All voting members of the committee must be present in person or participate via teleconference or other electronic communication media during the examination, deliberation and results determination of all oral components of the examination.

    Registration: Students must be enrolled for the entire academic term in which the preliminary exam occurs. See chapter VII.B. for details.

    Committee Appointment Process: The preliminary examination is conducted by a committee appointed by the dean of the Graduate College upon recommendation of the executive officer of the unit. Persons authorized by the department to submit committee requests (as recorded on the Authorized Signatures Form filed with the Graduate College) may make requests on behalf of the executive officer. The committee must be appointed before the exam takes place, and the Graduate College strongly recommends submission of the Request for Appointment of Doctoral Examination Committee form at least three weeks in advance of the exam date.

    Once a committee has been appointed it remains active for 180 days or until a Pass or Fail result is submitted to the Graduate College, except in the case of a Defer result, see below. Any revisions to the membership of an active committee must be approved by the Graduate College in advance of the examination.

    Membership Requirements:
    • The preliminary examination committee must include at least four voting members, at least three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least two of whom must also be tenured at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois.
      • Departments may request the inclusion of non-Graduate Faculty members who make a significant contribution as voting members of the committee. The dean of the Graduate College must approve, in advance, individuals who are not members of the Graduate Faculty who will serve as voting members of the committee. To request the approval of a non-Graduate Faculty member to vote, a curriculum vitae for the individual and a justification from the chair of the committee must accompany the request for appointment of the doctoral committee, and the individual must have an earned terminal degree in their field of study.
      • The tenure requirement can be met by term members of the Graduate Faculty who retired or resigned with tenure for a period following their resignation or retirement, according to the Policy on Graduate Faculty Membership.
      • If there are more than four voting members on the committee, at least half of the voting members must be members of the Graduate Faculty.
    • Non-voting members may be appointed but are rare on preliminary examination committees.

    Role of the Committee Chair: The chair of the preliminary examination committee must be a member of the Graduate Faculty. The committee chair is responsible for convening the committee, conducting the examination, and submitting the Preliminary Exam Result form to the unit in which the student is enrolled and to the Graduate College. If appointed, a co-chair must meet all the requirements that apply to the chair.

    Results: Decisions of the preliminary examination committee must be unanimous and are recorded on the Preliminary Exam Result form. The committee may make one of three decisions:

    • Pass the candidate.
    • Fail the candidate. A program may, but is not required to, grant the student another opportunity to take the examination after completing additional course work, independent study, or research, as recommended by the committee. However, if a second attempt is given, a new committee must be appointed by the Graduate College. The new committee may, but does not have to, consist of the same members as the original committee.
    • Defer the decision. If this option is chosen:
      1. the same committee must re-examine the student,
      2. the second exam must occur within 180 calendar days of the date of first exam, and
      3. the outcome of the second exam must be pass or fail.

    Number of Attempts: After a fail result, a student will only be allowed to take the preliminary examination one additional time while working toward the completion of any one program of study. 

    Preliminary Exam Result Form: All results must be recorded with the Graduate College on the Preliminary Exam Result form. All voting members of the committee must sign the Preliminary Exam Result form. See Chapter VII.D.5 for additional details. 
     
  3. Dissertation Committee:
    The dissertation committee does not need to be formally appointed or approved. The purpose of this committee is to advise the student with dissertation research and effectively monitor the student's progress, often before the student is ready to form the final examination committee. The Graduate College encourages formation of a dissertation committee as early as possible after the successful completion of the preliminary examination. In units with preliminary examinations that include the presentation of a proposal for the doctoral research, the dissertation committee membership may be substantially the same as the preliminary examination committee. The dissertation committee membership may also be the same or essentially the same as the final examination committee. There is no time limit on the duration of service of the dissertation committee, other than the length of time that the student is allowed to complete the degree.
     
  4. Final Examination and Final Examination Committee:

    Format:
    • Students must adhere to departmental procedures or requirements. These procedures and requirements must be clearly communicated to all students in advance of the exam.
    • The process for selection of committee chairs varies by unit, but the chair must be a member of the Graduate Faculty. At the department’s discretion a co-chair may be appointed. If appointed, a co-chair must meet all the requirements that apply to the chair. The role of the committee chair is described below. 
    • Committee members should be chosen for their expertise in the student's research area, but may also be chosen to give diversity in viewpoint, methodology, or academic discipline. The faculty of a department may establish procedures or requirements for introducing diversity in the membership of the final examination committee (e.g., by including members from more than one sub-discipline within the department, from other departments, or from other institutions).
    • The committee chair, defending student, and at least one additional voting member of the committee must be physically present for the entire duration of the final examination. If the committee has more than one chair, all chairs must be physically present; in these cases, no additional voting member is required to be physically present.
    • All voting members of the committee must be present in person or participate via teleconference or other electronic communication media for the entire duration of the final examination, and the deliberation and determination of the result.
    • As a crucial milestone in a student’s doctoral experience at Illinois, as well as a significant event within the campus scholarly community, the final examination should take place on campus.
    • Final examinations are oral and open to the public.
       
    Registration: Students must be enrolled for the entire academic term in which the final exam occurs. See chapter VII.B. for details.

    Second Preliminary Exam: If more than five years elapse between a doctoral student's preliminary and final examinations, the student is required to demonstrate that his or her broad knowledge of the field is current by passing a second preliminary examination (see Time Limits in chapter VII.E. for details).

    Committee Appointment Process: The final examination committee is appointed by the dean of the Graduate College, upon recommendation of the unit executive officer. Persons authorized by the department to submit committee requests (as recorded on the Authorized Signatures Form filed with the Graduate College) may make requests on behalf of the executive officer. The committee must be appointed before the exam takes place, and the Graduate College strongly recommends submission of the Request for Appointment of Doctoral Examination Committee form at least three weeks in advance of the exam date. As a matter of professional courtesy, the Graduate College recommends that individuals who served on a student’s preliminary examination committee and who are not being appointed to the final exam committee be notified as part of the committee appointment process.

    Once a committee has been appointed, it remains active for 180 days or until a Pass or Fail result is submitted to the Graduate College. Any revisions to the committee membership must be approved by the Graduate College in advance of the examination. 

    Membership Requirements:
    • The final examination committee must include at least four voting members, at least three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least two of whom must also be tenured at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois.
      • Departments may request the inclusion of non-Graduate Faculty members who make a significant contribution as voting members of the committee. The dean of the Graduate College must approve, in advance, individuals who are not members of the Graduate Faculty who will serve as voting members of the committee. To request the approval of a non-Graduate Faculty member to vote, a curriculum vitae for the individual and a justification from the chair of the committee must accompany the request for appointment of the doctoral committee, and the individual must have earned a terminal degree in their field of study.
      • The tenure requirement can be met by term members of the Graduate Faculty who retired or resigned with tenure for a period following their resignation or retirement, according to the Policy on Graduate Faculty Membership.
      • If there are more than four voting members on the committee, at least half of the voting members must be members of the Graduate Faculty.
    • Upon departmental request, the dean of the Graduate College may also appoint non-voting members to doctoral committees. Non-voting members do not need to be present at the final examination.
    • The student's dissertation adviser (i.e., director of research) need not be the chair of the committee. Co-directors of research are acceptable.

    Role of the Committee Chair: The chair, and co-chair if appointed, of the final examination committee must each be a member of the Graduate Faculty. The final examination committee chair is responsible for convening the committee, conducting the examination, and submitting the Final Exam Result form to the department in which the student is enrolled and to the Graduate College.

    Results: Decisions of the committee for final examinations must be unanimous and are recorded on the Final Exam Result form. The committee may make one of three decisions: 
    • Pass the candidate with no revisions required. In this case, the committee may sign the Thesis/Dissertation Approval form after the completion of the examination and give it to the student.
    • Pass the candidate pending revision of the dissertation; the candidate will receive the signed Thesis/Dissertation Approval form when the prescribed revisions have been completed.
    • Fail the candidate. A program may, but is not required to, grant the student another opportunity to take the examination after completing additional research or writing, as recommended by the committee. However, a new committee must be appointed by the Graduate College. The new committee may, but does not have to, consist of the same members as the original committee.
       
    Number of Attempts: After a fail result a student will only be allowed to take the final examination one additional time while working toward the completion of any one program of study. 

    Final Exam Result Form: All results must be recorded with the Graduate College on the Final Exam Result form. Voting members of the committee must sign the Final Exam Result form. See Chapter VII.D.5 for additional details
     
  5. Preliminary and Final Exam Result Forms (PER/FER):
    The Preliminary Exam Result (PER) form and the Final Exam Result form (FER) verify that the student has completed the examination, regardless of the outcome.
    • All voting members of a doctoral student’s examination committee are required to sign the Exam Result form; signatories must sign for themselves.
    • The committee chair, who bears additional responsibilities for the examination, must provide an original (wet) signature.
    • Department heads are also required to sign the Exam Result form. Persons authorized by the department to sign this form (as recorded on the Authorized Signatures Form filed with the Graduate College) may sign in place of the department head. The signature of the department head, or the authorized signatory, is an assertion of the authenticity of the committee signatures and of the acceptability of the result of the examination to the department; therefore this signature must be original (wet).
    • Because the Exam Result form asserts a unanimous decision regarding the result of the examination, all required signatures must be submitted to the Graduate College on the same form.
       
    The result of the examination is communicated to the student and to the Graduate College as soon as possible after the conclusion of the exam. Examination result decisions are maintained by the Graduate College. 

    If the Graduate College is not informed of the result of the final examination within 180 calendar days after the date on which the Graduate College appointed the committee, the committee is considered dissolved. If the examination took place, but the committee failed to submit the results within 180 calendar days, a petition must be submitted to the Graduate College requesting that the result be accepted from the committee after the 180 day deadline (see, www.grad.illinois.edu/PetitionInstructions). If the examination did not take place within 180 calendar days after the date on which the Graduate College appointed the committee, then a new committee must be appointed before the examination occurs. The newly appointed committee may, but does not have to, consist of the same members as the dissolved committee. 
     
  6. Thesis/Dissertation Approval form (TDA):
    The TDA form is the documentation of the acceptability of the final dissertation to the committee and the department. In addition:
    • All voting members of a doctoral student’s final examination committee are required to sign the Thesis/Dissertation Approval (TDA); signatories must sign for themselves.
    • Non-voting committee members are not required to sign, but may do so.
    • Department heads are also required to sign the Thesis/Dissertation Approval. Persons authorized by the department to sign TDAs (as recorded on the Authorized Signatures Form filed with the Graduate College) may sign in place of the department head. The signature of the department head, or the authorized signatory, is an assertion of the authenticity of the committee signatures and of the acceptability of the dissertation to the department; therefore this signature must be original (wet).
    • Because the TDA asserts a unanimous decision in favor of acceptability of the dissertation, all required signatures must be submitted to the Graduate College on the same form in support of the dissertation deposit.