A student can proceed to the qualifying procedure if their committee is satisfied that the student has met all requirements identified by the committee based on the student’s Plan of Study and annual evaluations. The doctoral comprehensive qualifying procedure at the iSchool consists of a qualifying paper, a written examination, and an oral examination

Qualifying Paper

The qualifying paper consists of a review of the literature related to a research area of importance to the field of information studies and closely related to the student’s planned dissertation research. An appropriate paper topic should be identified through discussion with one’s committee during the annual review process or, if necessary, in a special meeting. The qualifying paper is ordinarily 7,500-10,000 words in length.

Much more than an annotated bibliography, the qualifying research paper is intended to demonstrate the student’s wide familiarity with the literature in an area of information studies, an understanding of the broad themes and issues presented in the literature, and a command of the strengths and weaknesses of the major works and how these works fit together. The qualifying paper is a work of analysis and synthesis, not merely a listing and description of published works. It should be authoritative and accessible, so that a reader unfamiliar with the field of study could gain a good overview of recent trends and significant developments from reading this review alone. The literature review is intended to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge, unlike a research paper, which is typically focused narrowly on a specific research question. Good models can be found in the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology or the Annual Review of Psychology. The student should work closely with the primary advisor in identifying a research topic and conducting the necessary review. Developing the qualifying paper will be a process of negotiation between the student, the committee chair, and potentially other committee members.

The qualifying paper does not entail any proposal of a particular course of research by the student. Instead, the content focuses on subject content areas and associated research theories from which the student may, at the dissertation proposal stage, design their dissertation research. The paper is evaluated by the student’s committee, and will be discussed during the qualifying oral exam. With minor adjustments, such a paper is likely to provide a publication opportunity in that it provides an original, substantive analysis of the research and theory in a critical research arena. Developing the qualifying paper will be a process of negotiation between the student, his or her committee chair, and potentially other committee members.

Qualifying Written Examination

Once the student's committee has formally accepted the qualifying paper, the student and his or her advisor will coordinate with committee members to schedule the written portion of the qualifying exams. The written part of the qualifying exams consists of four questions, one submitted by each of the student’s three iSchool committee members and one by the student’s external committee member. The questions should be chosen to ensure that the student has sufficient expertise in their field and closely related fields to successfully undertake dissertation research.

Unless there are special circumstances, the committee chair will send the student the four questions on a Monday morning by 9:00 AM and answers must be submitted to the committee by 5:00 PM that Friday. The student may work anywhere. Each response is ordinarily 2,500 – 3,000 words long. The bibliography is not included in the word count.

All members of the committee read and evaluate all four responses. The committee must agree that all four responses are of sufficient quality for the student to proceed to the qualifying oral examination. Unless there are special circumstances, these determinations are to be provided to the student within 10 days of the exam’s submission. The student will be informed by the committee chair of the outcome of the committee’s evaluation of the exam.

Qualifying Oral Examination

The oral examination of the qualifying procedure is held within two weeks of completion of the qualifying written examination. The goal is to assess students’ ability to engage in structured intellectual dialog, expand upon their written responses as requested by the committee members, and to receive the guidance of their committee members. Students should discuss the organization of their oral examination with their committee chair. For example, the student’s chair may request a formal presentation on the student’s written exam responses.

Students may invite one iSchool doctoral student to serve as a recorder for the qualifying oral exam, but that person will only serve as an observer and note taker and cannot participate in the proceedings. Otherwise, the oral examination is private, including only the student and committee members.

The full committee must be satisfied that the student has passed the qualifying examination and is ready to proceed to the dissertation proposal. If a student does not pass any element of the qualifying procedure, the student may attempt the procedure one more time. A second failure will result in termination from the doctoral program.


Doctoral students must have submitted at least two publications/presentations/posters to peer-reviewed journals or proceedings approved by their committee before candidacy.

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