This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Investigating Faculty Perspectives on Written Qualifying Exams in Physics




Basir, Shiva

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis



Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



Doctoral qualifying exams are considered essential in assessing a student's readiness for research and advanced studies. Despite their significant role in many physics’ programs, questions have been raised about their format, execution, and relevance. Our research investigates perceptions held by faculty members regarding the Graduate Doctoral Examination (GDE), a written qualifying exam in Auburn University's physics department doctoral program. We used a combination of semi-structured interviews and a survey to probe their viewpoints about the purpose and necessity of written qualifying exams, their role in student preparation for these exams, and the efficacy of these exams in measuring students’ comprehensive knowledge and potential for success in physics. Despite the general consensus on the necessity of the GDE, faculty members expressed doubts about its ability to accurately predict students’ future research success and its alignment with other graduate program elements such as coursework. Proposed modifications ranged from an emphasis on oral assessments and research presentations to a complete overhaul of the examination structure. Despite these suggestions for change, the lack of agreement on a specific alternative underscores the complexity of executing substantial modifications to the GDE. Our study contributes to the ongoing dialogue on optimizing doctoral qualifying exams to better serve students and academic institutions.