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Thesis Proposal Exam


The Thesis Proposal Examination consists of the preparation of a written research proposal (15 pages maximum) and an oral presentation and defense of the same before a faculty committee. The purpose of the examination is to judge the student’s apparent ability to plan and conduct high-quality, PhD-level research in chemical engineering. The topic, magnitude and significance of the proposed research should be suitable for the ensuing doctoral program.

There are no restrictions on candidate/advisor consultations, but the extent of these interactions must be disclosed to the examining committee and the graduate office.

The examination will be taken no later than May 31 in the year after passing the Doctoral Candidacy Exam (DCE). For most students, this thesis proposal exam will be taken during their second year in the graduate program. Failure to take the thesis proposal exam in a timely fashion, absent approval of a petition to the faculty for special consideration, constitutes a lack of satisfactory progress toward the PhD degree and constitutes grounds for removal from the PhD program.


The examination date must be chosen in consultation with the candidate’s advisor and the other committee members at least three (3) weeks in advance of the proposed examination date. After scheduling the exam, the candidate informs the graduate program office by completing and submitting the Request for Thesis Proposal Examination Form (PDF).

A one-page Project Summary (PDF)for the written research proposal must be submitted with the Written Proposal. The Written Proposal and Project Summary must be distributed to the Graduate Program Office and the committee members at least one week in advance of the scheduled examination date.

A reminder of the various due dates will be sent to the student and committee after the examination is scheduled.

Examining Committee

The Thesis Proposal Examination Committee consists of at least three faculty members from chemical engineering (including the proposed Dissertation Committee Chair(s)) and at least one cognate faculty member from outside the Chemical Engineering Department. Most students use the Thesis Proposal Exam Committee members as their Dissertation Committee members as well.


The examination consists of the preparation of a written research proposal and an oral presentation and defense of the same before the Thesis Proposal Examination Committee. At the oral examination, the candidate will present a 20-30 minute summary of the research proposal and subsequently be asked questions on the proposal and related matters. The total time for the examination is typically 60–90 minutes. The committee may be expected to pose any question relating to the substance and background of the proposed research and the applicant’s preparation for conducting the research.

Immediately before the oral examination, the advisor shall inform the other committee members of the extent of the collaboration with the candidate and also give an impression of the candidate’s performance in research already conducted.


In evaluating the thesis proposal examination, the primary criterion will be the applicant’s apparent ability to plan and conduct high-quality, PhD-level research in chemical engineering, as measured by the scholarly and technical breadth and depth displayed in the examination.

The examining committee will rate the written proposal and oral presentation as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair or Poor and provide a few comments to explain the basis for the rating. A rating of Good signifies a proposal and presentation that just meets minimum standards and is the lowest possible passing score. These ratings and comments will be shared with the student and given to the graduate office.

Success on the examination fulfills one of the requirements for the PhD degree. A student who does not pass the thesis proposal exam in their first attempt may take it a second time but no later than October 15. Failing twice to pass the thesis proposal examination is considered sufficient reason to terminate the applicant’s enrollment in the Department’s Doctoral Program.

Thesis Proposal Exam Results Report

Guidelines for Preparing for the Thesis Proposal Examination

  1. The applicant should read the Proposal Writer’s Guide (Office of Research and Sponsored Projects of The University of Michigan). The discussion of the Introduction, Background and Description of Proposed Research sections will likely be the most useful.
  2. The written proposal (WP) may be organized in any form that the applicant feels is most appropriate but should include the items listed below. Some suggestions for suitable preparation for the oral examination (OE) are also indicated.

Title Page

Introduction (including a statement of the problem, purpose and significance of the research).

Background (including a literature survey and a description of research already performed by the applicant).

WP: The literature review should be selective and critical.

OE: The applicant is expected to be intimately familiar with the relevant literature, the opinions of previous workers in the subject, and to be critical of shortcomings in earlier work.

Description of Proposed Research (including method or approach and expected difficulties). This must constitute about 50% of the text of the written proposal. The Project Description should provide a clear statement of the work to be undertaken and must include: objectives for the period of the proposed work and expected significance; relation to the present state of knowledge in the field and to work in progress at Michigan and elsewhere. The Project Description should outline the general plan of work, including the broad design of activities to be undertaken and, where appropriate, provide a clear description of experimental methods and procedures.

WP: A specific research program should be put forth (e.g., identify variables to be studied and their levels); the expected research program sequence; decision points expected during the course of the research; the methods of data reduction, evaluation, interpretation and presentation, etc.

OE: The applicant is expected to display a thorough grasp of the physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, etc., relevant to the conduct of the theoretical or experimental research program. The methods used by others or proposed to be used should be thoroughly understood.

timetable for conducting and reporting the research: The timetable should be clearly based upon the scope of the work described in the description of the proposed research.

List of references. Each reference must include the names of all authors (in the same sequence in which they appear in the publication), the article and journal title, book title, volume number, page numbers and year of publication.

Curriculum Vitae.

The written research proposal must not be longer than 15 pages of text (including figures, excluding title page, list of references, and CV), of which about 50% must be the description of the proposed research.

Use one of the following typefaces: Arial, Times, Times New Roman, Palatino (if using a Mac), Courier New, Palatino Linotype, Computer Modern family of fonts at a font size of 11 points or larger. A font size of less than 11 points may be used for mathematical formulas or equations, figure, table or diagram captions and when using a Symbol font to insert Greek letters or special characters.

No more than six lines of text within a vertical space of one inch.

Margins, in all directions, must be at least an inch.

While line spacing (single-spaced, double-spaced, etc.) is at the discretion of the proposer, established page limits must be followed.

The project summary (pdf) is not more than one page, and it should be a self-contained description of the activity proposed. The summary should include a statement of objectives and methods to be employed. It must clearly address the intellectual merit of the proposed activity. It should be informative to other persons working in the same or related fields and, insofar as possible, understandable to a scientifically or technically literate lay reader. Potential hazards and safety precautions should be identified. The members of the proposed dissertation committee should be included on the Project Summary.