At the University of Illinois, doctoral students take preliminary and final exams as part of their degree requirements. You can read more about exam policies in the Graduate College Handbook. Individual departments may require that their students take qualifying exams, so it is important to consult your departmental handbook for more information. The Graduate College does not require that master’s students have a final thesis defense, but departments might, so consult your departmental handbook for more information.
Students are responsible for starting the process to appoint a preliminary or final exam committee through submitting a request through the Graduate College Student Portal. The request will be sent to the department for review and submission to the Graduate College. We ask that these requests be submitted at least three weeks before the intended date of the exam. Please scroll down this page for more information.
Submitting a Request to Appoint a Preliminary or Final Exam
Students should submit their committee appointment request at least three weeks before the date of the intended exam. This is essential so that the committee can be reviewed and approved by all relevant units before the exam. If the committee is not appointed before the day of the exam, it could mean that the exam will need to be rescheduled.
Doctoral examinations can take place in-person, virtually or in a hybrid format.
Definitions of Committee Roles
Committee Chair: The committee chair is responsible for convening the committee, conducting the examination, ensuring all members can participate fully, communicating any required revisions to the student, and submitting the appropriate forms to the department in which the student is enrolled. The committee chair must be a member of the UIUC Graduate Faculty.
Director of Research: The person most intimately familiar with the student’s research.
Note: The committee chair and director of research can be the same person or different people. It is also possible to have more than one chair and director of research. If this is the case, please make sure to indicate this on the committee appointment form. If you have any questions about the roles of your committee members, please contact your department.
Member: All committee members who are not a chair or director of research.
Non-Graduate Faculty Member: An individual who is not a member of the UIUC Graduate Faculty who can be recommended to serve on a doctoral committee. Please see additional information below.
Non-Voting Member: Non-voting members do not vote on the rest of the exam and are not required to be present at the exam.
Committee Membership Requirements
Number of Members. Committees must include at least 4 voting members.
- 3 of these individuals must be current members of the UIUC Graduate Faculty.
- 2 of these individuals must be tenured at UIUC.
- If the committee includes more than 4 voting members, at least half of the members must be members of the UIUC Graduate Faculty.
The Graduate Faculty. You may search the Graduate Faculty Database by faculty name or department to see a list of all current members. Records of members who may be counted toward the Graduate College's requirement for at least 2 tenured voting members will display "YES" in the "Tenured" column (or will display a tenure-expiration date in the "Tenure Status Through" column). If no record is found, the individual may not be counted as Graduate Faculty.
Departments may submit a request that an individual be added to the Graduate Faculty Database, or to request an extension of Graduate Faculty Membership, please refer to the instructions for Graduate Faculty membership.
Inclusion of Non-UIUC Graduate Faculty Members. Graduate Faculty membership is not required for all members on a doctoral examination committee. You may request that an individual who is not a member of the UIUC Graduate Faculty be included on a committee.
A justification from the committee chair and CV are required for each voting member who is not a member of the UIUC Graduate Faculty. The justification should include a 2-3 sentence explanation of how the nominee’s expertise fits with the dissertation topic and complements the expertise of other committee members.
Voting members must have earned a terminal degree in their field of study and must have demonstrated expertise that qualifies them to judge the quality of the student’s research and its contribution to the field.
A note about scholarly independence: Each voting committee member must be well-positioned to vote independently and must be free from conflicts of interest. For example, external members should generally not be recent students or current postdocs supervised by the dissertation director, nor should they be funders with an economic interest in the dissertation’s results.
The Graduate College requires that doctoral students be registered for the semester that their exam takes place.
For the purpose of taking the doctoral preliminary or final examination, the academic term in which a student is registered extends through the day before the first day of instruction for the following term (Graduate College Handbook, Chapter 6).
Upcoming deadlines related to thesis deposit, including the one for the doctoral final examination, are listed on the Graduate College Thesis and Dissertation Calendar.
Preliminary Exam Result Forms, Final Exam Result Forms, and Thesis/Dissertation Approval Forms
Departments must submit preliminary and final exam forms for students. The Graduate College accepts wet signatures, Adobe signatures with a time/date stamp, and scanned signatures on these forms. However, due to the difficulty departments may encounter when collecting signatures, we will temporarily accept exam results and thesis approval an alternative way. The chair of the committee may submit an email to the department, cc’d to the committee members, that includes the following information:
- For Preliminary Exams: 1) Date of the exam, 2) Result of the exam, 3) Names of committee members
- For Final Exams: 1) Date of the exam, 2) Result of the exam, 3) Names of committee members, 4) How each committee member voted
- For Thesis/Dissertation Approval Forms: 1) Approval of the document, 2) Names of committee members
The email should be sent to the department who will attach it to the original form, which should include the signature of the EO or DGS at the bottom. This departmental signature confirms the accuracy of the result, which aligns with our standard practice.