When you and your dissertation adviser have identified a promising dissertation topic, and perhaps obtained some preliminary results, you will have your oral Ph.D. Candidacy Examination. This is an oral examination in the student's primary area of study. It must take place after the qualifying examination is passed, and should be scheduled as soon as the adviser is reasonable convinced that the research investigation is likely to be fruitful. It is not appropriate to delay the oral candidacy examination until the dissertation is virtually complete.
The format for this exam will normally be as follows: The candidate, working closely with the dissertation adviser, draws up a written research proposal and submits it to the committee at least one week before the exam. The proposal should include:
(i) a clear statement of the problem(s) which the student proposes to address;
(ii) an indication of the methods and/or techniques with which the student proposes to attack the problem(s) mentioned in (i).
During the initial part of of the exam (approximately 30-45 minutes), the candidate presents the proposal orally. The emphasis should be on the general framework of the proposal, relating it to major themes in the relevant research area, as opposed to presentation of a lot of technical detail. This part of the presentation will be open to anyone who wishes to attend.
At this point, all but the candidate and the committee will be excused. The committee will proceed to question the candidate about the primary area of study. This part of the exam should normally last about one hour.
The "primary area of study" mentioned above includes material in previous courses that leads into the proposed research. For example, a candidate in ring theory can be questioned about other areas of algebra that are necessary to develop the subject matter of the proposal. The faculty will interpret to the candidate what "primary area of study" means in their context, well before the oral exam itself.
After this period of questioning, the candidate will be excused, and the committee will determine if the candidate should be passed, failed, or requested to return at a later time for additional questions.
If a student has passed the oral exam, and later changes to a different adviser, with a substantial change in research area, then the committee can, at its discretion, require a new oral exam.