Advancement Exam

What is This Exam

Your advancement to candidacy exam is an oral exam that you must complete to advance. Advancement is required to be awarded a PhD from the university. This exam is a good way to make sure that you are on the right path with your research and that you have a plan and a timeline to graduate. Additionally, advancement to candidacy increases the amount you are paid. So it's a good idea to do this as soon as you and your advisor believe that you have finished a sufficient amount of research to be able to pass the exam.

The candidacy exam is meant to show that you are ready to begin serious research. Though you have to present your work up to the point of the exam, you are not expected to have completed a full research project. You are just demonstrating progress and promise. At the time of the exam, you should be ready to speak intelligently on your current research and be able to devise a timeline for completion of your project.


Prior to the exam the University requires you to have completed at least 3 quarters as a student, have a GPA of 3.0 or above, and be registered at the time of your advancement. The Department of Physics has more requirements. The Department of Physics requires that you have completed all graduation requirements besides your thesis. These requirements include 5 advanced graduate courses from 3 groups as well as passing the qualifying exam and a minimum of 1 quarter of TAing.

University requirements can be found here

Department requirements can be found here

Choosing a Committee

When advancing to candidacy, you must give an oral presentation of about 1 hour in length. You present this talk to a committee of 5 faculty members (or 4 faculty members and 1 emeritus). There are two types of committees you may choose:

  1. A 4-1 Committee: This committee is comprised of 4 faculty members from the physics department and one faculty or emeritus from an outside department
  2. A 3-2 Committee: This committee is comprised of 3 faculty members from the physics department and two faculty (or one faculty and one emeritus) from an outside department

In both types of committee, two committee members must have an academic specialty different from yours.

Once you and your advisor decide that it is time for you to advance, it is a good idea to discuss together who will be on your committee. It is up to you to contact your committee members to ask them to join and to set up a time. It is also your responsibility to reserve a room for your advancement exam. Also, speak with the physics graduate coordinator as soon as you decide to advance as they will make the whole process much easier for you.

Reserving a Room and Other Logistics

To actually schedule your advancement, you will need to go see the graduate coordinator on the second floor of Mayer Hall. They will double check that you have completed all your requirements and will give you all the paper work you will need to fill out. You will also be able to schedule a room for your advancement through them.

Once you have completed your advancement and gotten all of your signatures, you will need to bring the final paperwork up to grad division. To complete your advancement you will need to pay a fee (~$50). According to the GSA (Graduate Student Association) president, this fee covers any fees until you graduate, so this is potentially the final UCSD grad student fee you need to pay to obtain your PhD Degree.

Once all of the above is completed, you will have to wait a few weeks after your advancement exam which is when you will receive an email with a link to see your "advancement to candidacy letter". This letter will state the approval of your advancement and the effective date.

There should be a slight increase in your paycheck after you have advanced.

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