Tips for nearly-new students

Research & Advisors

One of the most important tasks as a new student is selecting a research advisor to direct and focus your research work and chair the committees for your MS or PhD exams. You will work very closely with your advisor over the course of your degree (and possibly continuing after graduation), so it is important to choose a faculty member with a comfortable mentoring style, a personality compatible with yours and expertise in your field of interest.

There are several sources of information to help you select an advisor. Consult OGSR (Office of Graduate Studies and Research) pamphlets for information about qualities to look for in a good advisor. You can meet potential advisors by visiting them during office hours and attending the ECE290 seminar, a course held each Fall quarter where professors present their current research work. Finally, most senior grad students are willing to share their experiences with their advisors and other professors.

The earlier you get involved doing research, the better off you will be. One way to do this is to enroll in an ECE299 class (Independent Research) with a professor who you think would be a good advisor. If you are being supported by a TA or fellowship, then you can both get to know one another and find out if there is a match without the explicit or implicit obligations from being funded by that professor.

It is OK to switch advisors; many successful students have done so. However, you should aim to decide on a research advisor by the end of your first year.


The Preliminary Exam is the first examination for students on the PhD track. It is typically taken at the end of the second year of study and is weighted toward research work. The exam consists of a written report on your research work, an oral presentation of this work and an oral exam based on coursework. A committee of three professors is typically required for this exam. (Your advisor should help you select an appropriate committee). After passing the exam, you can apply for a masters degree (M.S.).

The Qualifying Exam is the second examination for students on the PhD track. It is typically taken at the end of the fourth year of study. The exam consists of an oral presentation of your research work. A committee of five professors is typically required for this exam, two of whom must be from outside the ECE department. (Your advisor should help you select an appropriate committee).After the exam, your committee will give you recommendations and suggestions. You should write these down! When you defend your thesis, it will help to have a record of what your committee asked you to do, so that you can address these points in your defense. After completing the qualifying exam, you can apply for a "Candidate of Philosophy degree (PhD.C.). The cost of the degree is $65.00, and it is strongly recommended that you pay this fee and get your degree.

The Defense: This is, of course, the defense of a PhD thesis. There is, frankly, no "average" time for completion of the defense. The time it takes to get a PhD is extremely variable, and depends upon your advisor, your thesis project, your effort, and a surprisingly enormous quantity of luck. Try not to feel bad if you take more time than another person. The fact is that you cannot compare thesis, because each one is individual. Anybody who tells you otherwise is just plain wrong. At the same time, do make an effort to finish quickly if you can. Establish a list of goals with your professor that both of you agree is sufficient (but not too much) to earn the degree.

The same committee of five professors who served on your qualifying exam committee should serve again as your committee for the defense. After you pass your defense, you should grab your gang of friends and go out and party. :)