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McMaster University

Ph.D. Exam


The following are areas for examination of Ph.D. candidates in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The examination consists of seven questions, four from the undergraduate and three from the graduate areas of study. The four undergraduate areas must come from the undergraduate list below. At least one of the graduate questions must come from the graduate list. The remaining graduate questions for the graduate area are at the discretion of the supervisor, and the chair of the Ph.D. examination committee.

It is expected this list will be revised from time to time to keep up with new trends emerging in the electrical and computer engineering discipline.


  • biomedical engineering
  • circuits and systems
  • communications
  • computer networking
  • control systems
  • digital systems
  • fields, microwaves and radiating systems
  • microelectronics
  • numerical methods
  • power and rotating machines
  • probability and stochastic processes
  • photonics
  • signal and image processing
  • software


  • engineering optimization
  • stochastic processes
  • engineering electromagnetics
  • semiconductor theory
  • numerical methods and matrix computations









  • The Ph.D. comprehensive exam is oral and consists of two parts: one covering undergraduate material, the other covering graduate material.
  • The student, in consultation with the supervisor, chooses broad areas of expertise on which the exam will be based. The undergraduate area is broader in focus, but the graduate area concentrates more on the research area of the student.
  • The examining committee, consisting of four faculty members, proposes four questions for each part of the exam.
  • The questions are given to the student two weeks before the exam.
  • During the examination, the student is given 10 minutes to respond to each question. There will then be 10 minutes of questioning from the committee on each question. These time limits are adhered to rigorously.
  • The student should present his/her response from prepared slides. The student is allowed to consult any written material during the course of the examination.
  • The supervisor takes part in setting the questions, but does not take part in the exam, other than being an observer.
  • There are three outcomes, which are determined by the committee immediately following the examination: pass with distinction; pass; fail. The “pass with distinction” category is awarded to roughly the top third of the candidates.
  • The comprehensive exam is to be conducted after the first year, but before the completion of the second year, of Ph.D. study.
  • The exam is difficult, but with adequate preparation and background, the success rate is very high.

Hints for Success:

  • Visit each member of your examining committee to understand what they expect from each question.
  • A dry run is essential! This lets you get an idea of the timing, and gives you practice at presenting.
  • Before you answer a question from the committee, make sure you understand the question fully.
  • If you do not know the answer to a question from the committee, do not guess or “bluff” your way through. Say you don’t know. But, if you have a partial idea, say “I don’t know for sure, but it may be something like .....“
  • Usually, if the student does not know the direct answer to a question, the examiner will lead the student through a series of simpler questions, with the idea of arriving at the desired response