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Doctoral Qualifying Procedure

A student can advance to the qualifying procedure if their committee is satisfied that the student has met all requirements based on the student’s plan of study and annual reviews. The committee does not have to have an external committee member. The number of internal committee members can range from three to four. The doctoral comprehensive qualifying procedure at the iSchool consists of a qualifying paper, a written examination, and an oral examination.

Qualifying Paper

The qualifying paper consists of a review of the literature related to a research area of importance to the field of information studies and closely related to the student’s planned dissertation research. The topic of the paper should be selected in consultation with the committee chair and committee. The qualifying paper is ordinarily 5,000-10,000 words in length.

The qualifying research paper is intended to demonstrate the student’s wide familiarity with the literature in one or more areas of information studies (and possibly also related fields), an understanding of the broad themes and issues presented in the literature, and a command of the strengths and weaknesses of the major works and how these works fit together. Much more than an annotated bibliography, the qualifying paper is a work of analysis and synthesis, not merely a listing and description of published works. It should be authoritative and accessible, so that a reader unfamiliar with the field of study could gain a good overview of recent trends and significant developments from reading this review alone. The qualifying paper will demonstrate a breadth of knowledge, unlike a research paper, which is typically focused narrowly on a specific research question.

The student should work closely with their committee chair in identifying a research topic and conducting the necessary review. Developing the qualifying paper will be a process of negotiation between the student, the committee chair, and potentially other committee members. The paper will be evaluated by the student’s committee, and will be discussed during the qualifying oral exam.

The qualifying paper can also provide a publication opportunity as an original, substantive analysis of the research and theory in a critical research arena. Students can discuss this possibility with their faculty advisors and doctoral committees.

Qualifying Written Examination

Once the student's committee has formally accepted the qualifying paper, the student and the committee chair will coordinate with committee members to schedule the written portion of the qualifying exams, which consists of four questions, regardless of the number of committee members at the time of testing. The chair will work with the rest of the committee to decide on the questions. The questions may, but do not necessarily need to, address issues raised in the qualifying paper. The questions should be chosen to ensure that the student has sufficient expertise in their field and closely related fields to successfully undertake dissertation research.

Unless there are special circumstances, the committee chair will send the student the four questions on a Monday morning by 9:00 AM and answers must be submitted to the committee by 5:00 PM that Friday. The student may work anywhere. Each response is ordinarily 1,000 – 3,000 words long. The bibliography is not included in the word count. As a take-home examination, students are required to follow all aspects of The University of Texas at Austin’s Student Honor Code, including its standard of Academic Integrity.

All members of the committee read and evaluate all four responses. The committee must agree that all four responses are of sufficient quality for the student to proceed to the qualifying oral examination. Unless there are special circumstances, these determinations are to be provided to the student by their committee chair within two weeks of written exam submission.

Qualifying Oral Examination

The oral examination of the qualifying procedure is held within two weeks of written notification from the student’s committee to the student’s committee chair. The goal is to assess the students’ ability to engage in structured intellectual dialogue, expand upon their written responses as requested by the committee members, and receive the guidance of their committee members. Students should discuss the organization of their oral examination with their committee chair. For example, a student’s committee chair may request a formal presentation of the student’s written exam responses.

Students may invite one iSchool doctoral student to serve as a recorder for the qualifying oral exam, but that person will serve only as an observer and note taker and cannot participate in the proceedings. Otherwise, the oral examination is private, including only the student and committee members.

The full committee must be satisfied that the student has passed the qualifying examination and is ready to proceed to the dissertation proposal. If a student does not pass any element of the qualifying procedure, the student may attempt the procedure one more time. A second failure will result in termination of the student’s doctoral program.