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Bulletin Archive

This archived information is dated to the 2011-12 academic year only and may no longer be current.

For currently applicable policies and information, see the current Stanford Bulletin.

University Oral Examination

Passing a University oral examination is a requirement of the Ph.D. and J.S.D. degrees. The purpose of the examination is to test the candidate's command of the field of study and to confirm fitness for scholarly pursuits. Departments determine when, after admission to candidacy, the oral examination is taken and whether the exam will be a test of knowledge of the field, a review of a dissertation proposal, or a defense of the dissertation. The chairperson of a Stanford oral examination is appointed for this examination only, to represent the interests of the University for a fair and rigorous process.

Students must be registered in the term in which the University oral examination is taken. The period between the last day of final exams of one term and the day prior to the first day of the following term is considered an extension of the earlier term. Candidacy must also be valid.

The University Oral Examination Committee consists of at least five Stanford faculty members: four examiners and the committee chair from another department. All committee members are normally members of the Stanford University Academic Council, and the chair must be a member. Emeritus faculty are also eligible to serve as examiners or chair of the committee. (A petition for appointment of an examining committee member who is neither a current or emeritus member of the Academic Council may be approved by the chair of the department if that person contributes an area of expertise that is not readily available from the faculty and holds a Ph.D. or equivalent foreign degree. The majority of the examiners must be current or emeritus Academic Council members; more specifically, one of four or five examiners or two of six or seven examiners may be appointed to the Oral Examination Committee by means of this petition.) The chair of the examining committee may not have a full or joint appointment in the advisor's or student's department, but may have a courtesy appointment in the department. The chair can be from the same department as any other member(s) of the examination committee and can be from the student's minor department provided that the student's advisor does not have a full or joint appointment in the minor department.

For Interdisciplinary Degree Programs (IDPs), the chair of the examining committee may not have a full or joint appointment in the primary advisor's major department and must have independence from the student and advisor.

The University Oral Examination form must be submitted to the department graduate studies administrator at least two weeks prior to the proposed examination date. The examination is conducted according to the major department's adopted practice, but it should not exceed three hours in length, and it must include a period of private questioning by the examining committee.

Responsibility for monitoring appointment of the oral examination chair rests with the candidate's major department. Although the department cannot require the candidate to approach faculty members to serve as chair, many departments invite students and their advisors to participate in the process of selecting and contacting potential chairs.

The candidate passes the examination if the examining committee casts four favorable votes out of five or six, five favorable votes out of seven, or six favorable votes out of eight. Five members present and voting constitute a quorum. If the committee votes to fail a student, the committee chair sends within five days a written evaluation of the candidate's performance to the major department and the student. Within 30 days and after review of the examining committee's evaluation and recommendation, the chair of the student's major department must send the student a written statement indicating the final action of the department.

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