Direct-to-PhD Option

For students enrolling Fall 2020

Beginning in Fall 2020, students with an outstanding record at their undergraduate institution who are entering the program on a PhD-track without a qualifying MS may choose the Direct-to-PhD option. Students choosing this option will be required to attempt the PhD Qualifying Sequence (QUALS) within the first 18 months (4 semesters) of their program, as described in the paragraphs that follow. If successful, they will continue to the Preliminary Exam one to two years later and must meet all other requirements of PhD students to graduate with a PhD degree.


The purpose of the Qualifying Sequence is to ensure that the student is prepared to conduct independent research as demonstrated by the student’s ability to effectively summarize the literature in their research area; propose appropriate hypotheses or research questions that will advance knowledge; and, to develop appropriate research studies to test the hypotheses and answer the research questions. The Qualifying Sequence consists of three parts:

  1. Student performance in coursework to ensure that the student demonstrates understanding of and ability to apply key principles in their Area of Specialization at the graduate level. (see 1.3)
  2. Request by the student, with approval from the student’s research advisor, to proceed with QUALS. (see 1.4)
  3. Preparation and defense of a written report on their research and an oral presentation of the report. (see 1.5 and 1.6)


Each student’s Advisory Committee will be responsible for preparing a short (less than a few sentences) write-up summarizing the results of the examination. Based on an evaluation of the student’s coursework and performance in the qualifying procedure, there are four possible outcomes:

  1. Pass: The student is admitted to the PhD program and must complete all PhD program requirements to be awarded a PhD degree. The QUALS does not replace the PhD preliminary exam, which must be completed at least 1 year after the QUALS date. A student who receives a recommendation to proceed directly to PhD may choose to take additional coursework to meet the requirements of a non-thesis MS.
  2. Retake: The student is asked to retake the qualifier (oral, written, or both) by the end of March (October for Spring Admissions);
  3. A) MS required for PhD: The student must complete an MS (thesis) degree for evaluation for admission to the PhD program by the graduate committee.

B) Graduate with MS: The student may graduate with an MS (thesis or non-thesis) degree. Funding support during completion of the MS degree will be at the discretion of the Major Professor and the Department Head.


Students on a Direct-to-PhD track must complete at least 15 credits of courses from their Plan of Study before their fourth semester (including summer) at Purdue and maintain an overall GPA of 3.5 or higher. A student who does not maintain this GPA or receives a grade lower than a B in any course may not proceed on a Direct-to-PhD program but may continue on the regular PhD track.


Within the first 12-18 months after the student enters the program, a student on a Direct-to-PhD track must submit a request for QUALS comprising: 1) written approval from research advisors; 2) unofficial transcripts for coursework taken during their graduate program at Purdue; 3) CV; The Request for QUALS must be submitted to the Graduate Committee at least two months before the intended date of the oral exam.


The deadline for submission of the written report is October 15th for graduate students who entered the program in the fall/summer of the previous year and March 15th for students who entered in the spring semester.

The qualifying written report should review literature in the student’s research area, summarize the research plan, and present preliminary results and the plan for the future, in about 5, 000 words (10 to 20 pages, 1.5 line spacing). A typical written report for the examination will have the following structure:

  • Summary
  • Introduction
  • Research Objectives
  • Literature Review and Theory
  • Methods and Materials
  • Preliminary Results and Discussion
  • Plan for Next 12 Months

The written report should be reviewed by the student’s advisor(s), and suggestions made for changes if needed. The student should submit a copy to their advisor(s) by September 1st (for Fall/Summer admissions) or February 1st (for Spring admissions) at the latest such that feedback can be provided prior to submission to the Advisory Committee. The report will be reviewed by the Advisory Committee, and it will be used as the basis for evaluation along with the student’s performance in oral presentation.


All students must undergo an oral examination on the thesis research and the subjects of relevance to the respective area of specialization in front of the Advisory Committee. Oral examination dates should be scheduled with the Advisory Committee to occur before December 1 (Fall/Summer admission) or April 1 (Spring admission). The student should prepare and print Rubric Forms (Available in Appendix D of the ABE Grad Manual) for each member of the Advisory Committee.

The oral examination will last up to two hours. It begins with a formal presentation from the student to the committee, and is followed by questions and additional discussion. Students should plan their presentation to be around 20 minutes. This presentation should include a brief overview of important concepts in the research area relevant to the thesis topic, a statement of research objectives, a summary of research progress so far (training, methods, results, and analysis), and a research plan for the next 12 months. The presentation will be followed by a question/answer period of up to 90 minutes to allow the student to clarify information for the committee. The committee may ask questions on the presentation, literature review, dissertation topic, and other topics related to the area of specialization. The remaining ten minutes are reserved for a closed-door deliberation among the committee members (in the absence of the student) following which the committee will provide a recommendation (see 1.2); the total examination time for each student is restricted to 120 minutes. The committee will use a rubric to evaluate the student and to provide formal feedback both to the student and to the Graduate Committee.


Students interested in the Direct-to-PhD program and who are on assistantship will earn a stipend equivalent to that of an MS student until a determination is made following completion of the QUALS (see 1.2). If the student successfully advances to the PhD program (Outcome 1), the student will receive a stipend at the PhD level beginning the semester following the one in which the student takes the qualifier and subject to the availability of funds and continued satisfactory performance. If the determination is that the student retakes the qualifier or first completes an MS before advancing to the PhD (Outcomes 2 or 3A) the student will remain on an MS stipend subject to the availability of funds and continued satisfactory performance. Funding support for students set to graduate with MS degree (outcome 3B) will be at the discretion of the Major Professor and the Department Head.

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