Carnegie Mellon University

Thesis Proposal Examination

The Thesis Proposal Examination is designed to evaluate a candidate’s ability to plan, conduct and communicate independent research in both oral and written form.  The quality of the proposal document is an important part of the evaluation.

Each year the department holds a thesis proposal preparation guidance session.  Students who have completed the Comprehensive Examination are encouraged to attend.

Prior to the Examination

The Committee Signature Sheet must be completed prior to the Thesis Proposal Exam by the student and presented by the student to the Committee Chair at the exam.  This sheet will be signed by the Doctoral Committee at the completion of the exam and returned to the Director of Graduate Programs by the Committee Chair.

The thesis proposal document should include the following elements: 

  • Title page
  • Table of Contents
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Background (optional)
  • Research Plan
  • Schedule
  • References
  • Appendices (optional)

Time Frame

The Thesis Proposal Examination is typically taken between twelve and twenty-four months following the successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination and more than nine months prior to the final PhD Dissertation Defense. The candidate must submit a written thesis proposal to the Doctoral Committee a minimum of two weeks prior to the oral examination date.

In some circumstances, student advisors may recommend a different timeline for this examination, and students should discuss this possibility with their individual advisor. It is the responsibility of the advisor to communicate any modifications of the examination schedule to the Director of Graduate Programs.

Grading and Evaluation

The grading and evaluation of the Comprehensive Examination will not be announced until a review has been conducted by the entire faculty of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Comprehensive Exam outcomes, whether official or unofficial, will not be communicated to the examinee until after the faculty as a whole have discussed the outcome and agreed on the decision. 

There should be NO discussion of the exam amongst examinees until after the final oral exam is held and the outcome communicated.

After Completion

The Comprehensive Exam outcome will be communicated to the student after the CEE Faculty have reviewed the committee recommendation. 

Possible examination outcomes are as follows:
  • Unconditional pass: the student performs satisfactorily in both written and oral portions of the Comprehensive Exam.
  • Conditional pass: the student must satisfy a set of conditions before s/he can be considered as being deemed to have passed the exam. The committee should be specific on the timeframe for completion of the conditions. A conditional pass should not be awarded when a portion of the exam is to be retaken. A conditional pass does not require another review by the committee. 
  • No decision: the committee has agreed and decided that the student should re-take all or a portion of the exam at a time specified by the committee and agreed upon by the examinee. It is recommended that retakes are scheduled the following May, but no later than the traditional scheduled exam period the following January. New questions must be written for partial or full retakes. 
  • Fail: the student did not perform satisfactorily in the exam. When a student fails, there is no option for that student to retake the exam.