Ph.D. Research Aptitude Exam

Questions?

Questions about the graduate program in chemical and biomolecular engineering may be sent to chbegrad@umd.edu

Exam procedure overview

All students entering the Ph.D. program must take the Research Aptitude Examination at the first available opportunity. Normally, for students entering in the Fall semester, this would be the January prior to the second semester, and for students entering in Spring, the March of the first semester.

Entering graduate students seeking a Ph.D. are required to take the examination. Students whose first degrees were not in Chemical Engineering may petition the Graduate Studies Committee for a delay of one year. Students admitted to the M.S. Program, who wish to enter the Ph.D. program, must apply for admission to the Ph.D. program. If admitted, they may choose to take the Research Aptitude Examination either the first time it is offered after the admission decision is announced to them or the first time it is offered after the formal date they enter the Ph.D. program.

At the time the examination is offered, 3 exam questions will be posted on the Department's website and/or sent by e-mail to the students who have signed up for the exam. The examination may include additional information for problem clarification. The 3 questions will be chosen to provide a sufficiently wide range of topics. Some past RAEs are available as an example of previous questions:

The student will have 7 working days to complete the question; the solution to the exam problem is to be in the form of a document not exceeding 10 single-space pages using a 12pt font. The 10 pages must include the title page, proposal body, and all figures; the number of pages used for references is unlimited. The report is to be in the format similar to National Science Foundation-style proposals. The report must follow the following format:

  • It should include a single title page with a project summary.
  • It should include at most 5 pages dedicated to background information relevant to the particular RAE problem (including the figures of this section).
  • The remainder of the 10 page report must focus on proposed approach to solving the stated problem, any preliminary calculations or research results, the expected outcomes of the project, and a summary of the laboratory equipment and computational resources necessary to carry out the project.

The 10 page limit will be strictly enforced. An electronic copy of the paper must be submitted to the Academic Coordinator on the due date at the time specified when the exam questions are announced to the students. A copy of the exam question and paper will be kept in each student's file.

The student will have an oral examination on his/her solution within two days after the paper submission. The student should plan on a brief (under 30 minutes) oral presentation. The total examination normally takes between one and two hours.

Development of the Exam Questions

The intention of the Research Aptitude Exam is to assess student research potential and not specific technical knowledge, therefore, the exams will pose open-ended questions to unsolved problems, where only the equivalent of an undergraduate Chemical Engineering education is required to understand the essential issue to be addressed in each question. A pool of questions created by the Department faculty will be maintained by the Graduate Director; a set of three questions for each exam will be chosen by the Graduate Studies Committee. The set of questions will be chosen so that a wide range of topics is represented.

The exam committee will consist of three randomly chosen faculty members with one acting as the exam chair. Thesis advisors, faculty members listed as the first choice for research advisor, or faculty otherwise likely to serve as a particular student's advisor will not serve on that student's committee.

Exam Results

Grading on the Research Aptitude exam consists of pass/fail grades (no provisional passes will be granted, although the committee is free to recommend courses or make other suggestions to the student). If the student fails after the first attempt at the exam, the student can retake the exam once, at the next time that it is offered.

If the student fails for the second time, the student is no longer considered to be in the Ph.D. program; the student can either pursue an M.S. degree or leave the department's graduate program.

Students who fail the Research Aptitude Exam twice and choose to pursue an MS degree and who successfully complete that degree can, in principle, reapply for admission to the Ph.D. program of the Department. It should be noted that these students will be subject to the same admissions standards as all other incoming students at that time, and that the record used to evaluate prospective students may include past performance in their graduate studies. If admitted, the students would be subject to all requirements of incoming PhD students, which includes passing the Research Aptitude Exam.

The pass/fail outcome of the Research Aptitude Exam will be determined by the Graduate Studies Committee; this decision will be based on the Accept/Reject grades given by the exam committee and any comments or recommendations made by the exam committee members. Pass/fail recommendations by the graduate studies committee that differ from the majority vote of the exam committee must be approved by the full faculty. Additionally, faculty members can act on behalf of students who wish to appeal decisions by the graduate studies committee. In these cases, faculty representing students in these cases can request a review of the decision; the review would be conducted during a regular meeting of the full faculty.

Students normally choose a thesis adviser and proceed to the Ph.D. Proposal exam upon passing the Research Aptitude Examination.