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Candidacy Examination, MSE

The Candidacy Examination is not only a test of the student's comprehension of the field, but also of allied areas of study, of the capacity to undertake independent research, and of the ability to think and express ideas clearly. Successful completion of this exam is required before the student may progress to the submission and defense of a doctoral dissertation.

Ref: Sec 7.3+ Graduate School Handbook

Below, please find the Candidacy Exam procedures adopted by the MSE Graduate Program under the AU19 Curriculum Revision. [Link to view the pre-AU19 Candidacy Exam procedures.]

A Deadlines & Prerequisites

The Candidacy Examination is to be taken within five academic terms of the student joining the MSE department (the "academic terms" are Autumn and Spring). The examination can be taken in either Autumn or Spring terms, within the five term limit.


To qualify to take the Candidacy Exam, MSE students must meet the following prerequisites (see flowchart below):

  1. A grade of B or greater must be earned in each of the MSE PhD Core courses, MATSCEN 6730, 6737, and 6747.
    - If the student receives transfer credit for any of the Core courses, s/he must pass a Qualifying Exam for that course.
    - If the student earns less than a B (B- or lower), s/he must pass a Qualifying Exam for that course.
    - A student is not permitted to re-take a Core course in order to achieve a B or greater grade.
  2. Completion of at least 2 semesters of MSE 7895 (Graduate Seminar and Colloquium) with a Satisfactory grade.
  3. Additionally, students with a non-MSE background (such as Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Math, etc.) are to take MATSCEN 5605 Quantitative Introduction to Materials Science.
Prerequisites to application for Candidacy Examination


B Requesting to take the Candidacy Exam

The student should contact the MSE Graduate Studies Coordinator at or before the start of the term in which they wish to take the exam to inform the Graduate Studies Committee (GSC) of their intent; e-mail reminders will also be sent to the students during this time. Those who respond will be given access to a Carmen site for that term's Candidacy Exam. Further instructions concerning document submission to that Carmen site will be provided by the MSE Graduate Studies Coordinator. The exam is offered in Autumn and Spring semesters only.



C Candidacy Exam Committee 

The Candidacy Examination Committee is comprised of four MSE graduate faculty members; the committee is chaired by the student's advisor and includes three additional authorized MSE graduate faculty members selected by the student's advisor. 

Committee Nomination  

The student's advisor is to do the following by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday of the third week of the term in which the Candidacy Exam is to take place:

  • A committee must have at least a total of four OSU Graduate Faculty members, per Graduate School rules (see Sec 7.3 of Graduate School Handbook). 
  • The student's advisor serves as chair of the Candidacy Exam Committee and is one of the Committee's four members.

    If the student is co-advised, only one of the co-advisors may serve as the advisor and committee chair on the committee, while the other should serve as a regular committee member.
  • Confirm with three active MSE graduate faculty members their willingness to serve on the committee (the student may assist in coordinating this list), and further confirm that at least two of them are willing and able to also serve on the student’s Dissertation Committee for the Dissertation Overview and, later, for the Final Defense. Committee members chosen for continued service should have sufficient familiarity with the student's field of research to be able to provide relevant feedback about it.
  • The committee members that later act as members of the student's Dissertation Committee should have category "P" status or be eligible for it (with status granted before the Final Defense).
  • If a non-MSE graduate faculty member at OSU is to be on the Candidacy Exam Committee, the student must file a petition form seeking approval by the MSE GSC (petition form).
  • External (non-OSU) Committee Members--Students may petition the GSC to include non-OSU participants to serve as voting members of the Candidacy Exam. Such external members are in addition to the four MSE graduate faculty described above. Once the GSC has approved, the student must also submit a Committee and Examination Petition form on to allow the external member to participate in the exam.
  • Email to the MSE Graduate Studies Coordinator the list of committee members and identify the members of the Dissertation Committee.    
  • Note: submission of this list indicates that each committee member has confirmed their willingness and availability to serve on the student's Candidacy Exam Committee and Dissertation Committee. It is important to make sure this is indeed the case.

Members of the student’s Candidacy Committee will later form their Dissertation Committee, unless circumstances dictate otherwise. In case the committee needs to change, a petition to the GSC needs to be submitted.

Committee Confirmation

The GSC will review the list of committee members. If changes are required, the advisor will be contacted. The GSC will confirm especially that at least two of the committee members hold “P” status in MSE (this is an unavoidable requirement), and that all advisors are on the committee in case of co-advising.

The GSC will inform the student of the finalized Candidacy Exam Committee members.

The GSC will provide further instructions regarding the Candidacy Exam procedures, including submission of the Application for Candidacy on-line form.

Candidacy Exam Time and Location

The student is to arrange the date, time, and location (or video conference, if appropriate) for the Candidacy Exam with the committee members. The Candidacy Exam must take place during normal university operating hours, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thus the exam may begin no later than 3:00 p.m.


D Application for Candidacy       

The student is to log in to (OSU username and password) and create an Application for Candidacy. The time, date, location, and committee membership is to be provided. Upon submission, the form then "moves" to the advisor and GSC Chair for approval. 

  • Submission of the Application for Candidacy is to occur three weeks prior to the exam date. 
  • Advisor and GSC Chair approval must occur at least two weeks prior to the oral exam date.
  • Note: The Graduate School is inflexible on these rules.

The last date on which the oral exam may take place is the last business day prior to the start of the next term. Therefore, the last date on which the Application for Candidacy may be approved is two weeks before the last business day before the start of the next term.

Report on Candidacy

At the time of the exam, as specified on the Application for Candidacy, the Report on Candidacy will become available in each committee member's task list on Each committee member must log in to GradForms and post their decision regarding the exam (approve/deny). The exam is considered incomplete until each committee member has posted a decision.


E Candidacy Document

Due date

By two weeks before the scheduled exam date, the GSC will pass along to each of the Candidacy Exam Committee members an electronic copy of the student's transcript, Dissertation Proposal, and an originality report for the Proposal (from TurnItIn).

Content and Expectations

The candidacy document should have the form of a “Dissertation Proposal,” which is composed of approximately equal parts of introductory information (especially a significant amount of critical literature review) and a research plan focused on the student’s research work.  The purpose of the literature review is to lay the foundation on which the research plan is built. The research plan can contain results from the student’s research findings to date. Specifically, this “Dissertation Proposal” should contain the following sections:


Short and concise; should answer the question: What is the research about?


The abstract should include the topic, aims of the study, who will be involved in the research, the methods and the timeframe. It should conclude with a statement that explains the relevance of the research (why it is needed). Abstracts for dissertation proposals are generally in the future tense (the student should outline what they intend to do).

Introduction and Background

Should outline why the student chose their topic and should include:

Justification – Why the topic is important

Critical Literature Review

The literature review needs to be a substantial part of the document and should demonstrate that the student has read broadly on the topic and its wider context. It should highlight trends in the literature relating to the research topic, including research areas, methodology, theoretical approaches and findings.

The literature review should outline limitations and/or gaps in the literature that the student has identified (a critique). The student will need to draw on their literature review to justify their research. They should indicate the gaps their research is addressing and note the original contribution it will make to the field in general.

The literature review should inform and set up the theoretical framework, methodology and design of the research to be performed.

Research objectives/questions or hypothesis  

What is the research question that the student is trying to find the answer to? This can also be termed as the aim or purpose of the research. Think about how to finish this statement: “The purpose of this research is …”

Research Plan

Drawing on the different theories/methods identified in the literature review, the plan should identify which approach (or approaches) are and will be employed in the research and why.

In discussing the methodology, the plan should draw on reviewed literature and consider the different methodological approaches used.

For research design and method, it is important to demonstrate that the student has read other studies in their area of research. They should be able to address the strengths and limitations of the methods in similar research and justify why they have chosen their methods. They should also discuss results that they have obtained to date and evaluate how well the chosen methods work.

For future/proposed work, the student should discuss:

  • Data collection: how will they go about collecting their information (experiments, computations…)? This should also include any equipment or facilities that will be needed.
  • Data analysis and discussion: once the information has been collected, what will be done with it? Include any tools that will be used to assist with analysis (e.g. programs, models). Indicate how analyzing the data in this way will answer key research questions.
  • Limitations: assess their methodology and consider any weaknesses or limitations that may occur as a result of the proposed research design. Address the limitations by indicating how they will be minimized.

Significance of Research

In the concluding part, it is important to convince the committee of the validity of the proposed research. The student needs to communicate enthusiasm and confidence for the research, arguing clearly as to the contribution it will make to the subject area and discipline in general.  


It is important to include all references that have used when writing the proposal. This demonstrates that the student is indeed serious about their research and has invested both time and thought into the process. The reference listing has no set length and may extend beyond the 20-page limit.

Format and Submission of the Candidacy Document

The document is to be 15-20 pages in length, exclusive of references. The entire document is to be typed in 12 point Times New Roman font, line spacing set at 1.5, with one inch margins throughout. Any figures or tables are to be included in the 20-page length and are not to be included in an appendix. The reference listing has no set length and may extend beyond the 20-page limit. The student should be judicious in selection of figures to include as the figures will reduce the amount of space for text needed to communicate the matters described in 3.3.E.1.

At least two weeks before the Candidacy Exam date an electronic version of the Dissertation Proposal in Word or PDF format is to be submitted on-line via the "MATSCEN Candidacy" Carmen site. The Graduate Studies Coordinator will then forward both the Proposal and its originality report to the committee. The student must inform the Graduate Studies Coordinator by email once the Dissertation Proposal has been uploaded to Carmen.

Originality Review

While the contents of the research plan can/should be coordinated with the advisor, the written Candidacy Document must be solely the work of the student. Students must ensure that their documents are free of plagiarism and all other forms of academic misconduct. The student's advisor should not see the document before any of the other committee members. The document should not be reviewed by other faculty, staff, post-docs, or students prior to submission.

The Candidacy document is to be an original work developed by the student. Any of the committee members may perform a plagiarism review on the documents provided for the Candidacy Exam. When submitted to Carmen, the Candidacy Document will be reviewed by for an originality review. The MSE department takes plagiarism very seriously and will forward cases to the OSU Committee on Academic Misconduct as necessary.

"Plagiarism is the representation of another's work or ideas as one's own; it includes the unacknowledged word-for-word use and/or paraphrasing of another person's work, and/or the inappropriate unacknowledged use of another person's ideas." OSU Code of Student Conduct (3335-23-04)

For further information:

Written English quality

The Candidacy document must be written in sufficiently high quality English such that any grammatical errors do not interfere with the technical message. Any students requiring assistance with the language aspects of the document can consult the Writing Center. They will help with the grammar and can provide a list of people who will proof read and edit for a fee.

Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing, CSTW
4132 Smith Lab
​174 W. 18th Ave.
Columbus, Ohio 43210
Phone: (614) 688-5865


F Candidacy Examination

Examination contents

The examination is composed of both a written and oral part, which are constructed as follows:

Written portion

The written portion of the Candidacy Exam is comprised of the Candidacy Document (see above). The written portion will be evaluated based on the expectations described in Sec. E above.

Committee's prior review

The Candidacy Exam Committee should meet at least 24 hours prior to the oral portion of the exam to evaluate the written document. Should the committee decide that the document is so deficient that the student has no chance of passing the overall Candidacy Exam, the student must be informed and then be given the option to take or waive the oral portion of the Candidacy Exam.

Oral portion

Attendance at the oral exam is limited to the student and members of the Candidacy Examination Committee. All members of the Candidacy Examination Committee must be present during the entire oral examination. Committee members may connect through video conferencing, provided the Graduate School rules for video conferencing are observed.

Oral format

The oral portion of the candidacy examination may last no more than two hours. Questioning of the student should occupy the full two hours of the examination. All committee members are expected to participate fully in the questioning during the course of the examination and in the discussion and decision on the result of the candidacy examination.

The questioning in the oral examination should focus on the written document, including the pertinent literature and the proposed research plan. However, the student must be able to demonstrate understanding of the research topic supported by the relevant fundamental knowledge in the field. Any use of prepared materials must be limited and only in response to a specific question.

Evaluation of the Examination

Since the Candidacy Examination is a single examination consisting of two portions, the student's Candidacy Examination Committee will base its satisfactory/unsatisfactory evaluation of the student's performance on both the written and oral portions. The vote must be unanimous for the student to pass the exam.

Posting results of the exam – Report on Candidacy

At the time specified on the Application for Candidacy, the Report on Candidacy will become available in each committee member's task list on Each committee member must log in to GradForms and post his/her decision regarding the exam (approve/deny). The exam is considered incomplete until each committee member has posted a decision.

Satisfactory result

A result of "satisfactory" at the conclusion of the Candidacy Exam is to be reported to the Graduate School by way of Each committee member posts his/her decision via the Report on Candidacy.

The student may apply for a Master's non-thesis degree based upon completion of the Candidacy Exam.

Unsatisfactory result

A student receiving an "unsatisfactory" result at the conclusion of the Candidacy Exam may be granted, at the discretion of the committee, an opportunity to re-take the exam. A student may make no more than two attempts in total at passing the Candidacy Exam while at The Ohio State University.

The results of the initial Candidacy Exam are noted on the Report on Candidacy submitted via

If the student is not granted a second opportunity, as indicated on the Report on Candidacy, the advisor should discuss with the student any options available to the student, such as completion of a Master's degree (with or without thesis).

Second Candidacy Exam procedures

If the student is permitted a second opportunity to take the Candidacy Exam, the second exam must take place no later than the term before graduation. For example, if planning to graduate in SP26, the student must re-take and pass the second Candidacy Exam no later than AU25.

The student must resubmit an Application for Candidacy on for the second Candidacy Exam. The Application is to be submitted no later than three weeks prior to the second oral examination date.

Ref: Sec 7.6 of the Graduate School Handbook

Committee Members

The second exam committee is to have the same members as the first committee. Any changes to the membership must first be approved by the Graduate School by means of a Committee and Examination Petition submitted via

The second Application for Candidacy is to be submitted and approved by the advisor and MSE Grad Studies Chair at least three weeks before the second exam date. This will permit the Graduate School to assign a Graduate School Faculty Representative to the second exam. Once the Graduate School Faculty Representative is assigned, the student will be informed via OSU e-mail account (name.##). The student may provide the representative with a link to this web page for a description of the department's Candidacy Exam procedures.

Content of the second Candidacy Exam

The nature of the second candidacy examination is determined by the student's Candidacy Examination Committee. Normally the second exam will include both a written and an oral portion.

If a student fails the written portion of the first Candidacy Exam but passes the oral, this is considered an unsatisfactory attempt at the first Candidacy Exam and should be noted as such in GradForms. If the committee grants the student a second attempt at Candidacy, the student's Candidacy Exam Committee is to provide the student with a written summary of issues to be addressed in the second written document for the second Candidacy Exam. Following the first Exam, this written summary is to be provided to the student in a timely manner by the advisor.

In cases where the student’s written examination document provided for the first Candidacy Exam is of such a high caliber that the exam committee does not require any rewrites, then only the oral portion needs to be repeated in the second Exam. If this is the case, the advisor should indicate on the Report on Candidacy Examination from the first attempt that a new written exam will not be required for the second attempt.

A second oral exam will always be required if a second Candidacy Examination is held.

Results of the second Candidacy Exam

Results of the second exam are to be posted on the Report on Candidacy by each committee member using his/her account on

If the student receives a "satisfactory" on the second exam the student may continue in the Ph.D. program in pursuit of a degree. The student may apply to receive a Master's based upon completion of the Candidacy Exam (see section VI below).

If the student receives an "unsatisfactory" result on the second exam the student cannot continue to pursue a Ph.D. at The Ohio State University. A student is permitted a total of only two opportunities to take the Candidacy Exam while a student at Ohio State. The advisor should discuss with the student any options available, such as completion of a Master's degree (with or without thesis).


G Master's Non-Thesis

Satisfactory completion of the Candidacy Examination is accepted in place of passing the MS non-thesis Master's Examination. To qualify for an MS non-Thesis degree, students must also fulfill all course-related requirements of the degree. A student who has successfully completed the Candidacy Exam may apply to receive a Master's degree in the term following completion of the Candidacy Exam.


H Enrollment Restrictions Following Candidacy

All students who have successfully completed the Candidacy Exam must enroll for at least 3 graduate-level credit hours per term. Three credit hours is considered full-time for post-candidacy students. Any graduate enrollment beyond three credit hours incurs additional tuition costs and requires the agreement of the student's advisor and/or funding source.

Ref: Sec 7.7 of the Graduate School

Orig post 11/14/19



Additional information

Questions? Please contact the Graduate Studies Coordinator, Mark Cooper, with any questions at 614-292-7280.

Form to request to take the MSE Candidacy Exam

Candidacy Exam timeline (PDF)

Room reservation
To reserve a conference room in Fontana or EJTC.

Students may also wish to contact Graduation Services within the Graduate School at 614-292-6031 and/or view Section VII.3+ of the Graduate School Handbook for general information concerning the Candidacy Exam.