Qualifying Examination

The PhD Qualifying Examination (Exam) must be taken after a student completes at least 24 units of graduate course work. The Exam is typically taken by Viterbi students in years 3 or 4 of their PhD program.   The Exam lasts between one to two hours. The Exam consists of a seminar-style presentation of the student's research to date together with a plan for what will be completed by the time the student is ready to graduate. It is common for committee members to ask questions during the presentation. An additional Q&A session follows the student's presentation. The committee will ask the student to leave the room to deliberate and come to a decision on whether the student has passed the exam. The student is then invited back in and informed of the result of the exam. The committee may also ask the student to step out for a couple of minutes prior to the Exam start so the advisor can discuss any relevant issues about the student and answer questions from the committee.   The student must prepare a written Thesis Proposal as a part of the Exam. This must be shared with the committee no less than one week prior to the Exam. The proposal typically contains an introduction, chapters/papers describing work completed to date, and a final chapter on plans for work to complete the PhD. This document often serves as an initial draft for the final thesis.  

At least 60 days before the PhD defense, complete the Appointment of Qualifying Exam Committee Form located at https://viterbigrad.usc.edu/academic-services/forms/. Discuss membership of the committee with your PhD Advisor before completing the form.


The committee requires five faculty members with the following conditions:

  • three with their primary appointment within ECE, with at least two with a tenured/tenure track appointment
  • one with a primary appointment outside of ECE with a tenured/tenure track appointment. Tenured/tenure track faculty with a courtesy appointment to ECE may serve as an outside member.

At least one week before the date of the Exam the PhD student must provide to all members of the committee, electronically, the following:

  • Thesis Proposal Document 
  • Pointers to, or copies of, relevant publications
  • Current Curriculum Vitae (CV), including a listing of relevant graduate coursework and grades
After the Committee Form has been signed by the Department Chair and the Viterbi Dean, a Report on PhD Qualifying Exam (RoQ) will be generated and sent to the chair of your committee (your advisor) for the day of your exam.   Mandatory registration is needed in EE 794A and B in consecutive semesters. Continued registration is required in 794C, D, and Z in subsequent semesters after having passed the exam, until the dissertation is defended.

Published on November 1st, 2016

Last updated on March 28th, 2023