Qualification Exam

Qualification Exam

The Ph.D. Qualification Exam (QE) for SMU's School of Computing and Information System (SCIS) has four parts. Prior to the QE, you should

  • Read research papers in reading lists
  • Write a research paper.

On the day of QE, you will

  • Give an open-door presentation and
  • Handle closed-door Q&A.

Reading Lists

You have to read papers from two lists—core reading list and student-specified reading list. Each sub-list constitutes about 25 papers. The core reading list for students who are working under the Human-Machine Interaction group has papers from areas such as accessibility and information visualization. Working with their advisors, examinees should choose 25 papers that are in the domain of their research interest.

See the following page for the core reading list:

Core Reading List

Research Paper

You have to submit either a research paper that has been accepted by a respectable conference or a journal, or a research report from an empirical research program (ERP).


In the presentation during the open-door session, you are expected to (i) show what you have learned from the reading-list papers, (ii) share your research with the audience, and (iii) show your ability to communicate effectively through a presentation and Q&A. More specifically:

  • Summary and Synthesis. Briefly introduce the research that are described in the papers in the reading lists. Explain, at high-level, what kinds of contributions these papers make. Also, try to synthesize contributions of multiple works if they are related to each other. Tell the audience in which research domain your research belongs to.
  • Contrast. Explain the relationship between your research and the related work in the reading lists. Answer, "does your work builds on, extends, use, complement, or compete with the previous work?" If your work is not related to some of the papers in the core reading list, you do not have to go deep into those papers.
  • Your work. Present your Ph.D. research.
  • Communication. In addition to the items above, the committee members will also evaluate your ability to give a good presentation and how you handle Q&A.

In your presentation, aim to spend:

  • About 5 minutes for the part of the presentation where you share the research in the core reading list. Your goal is to present your understanding of HCI research and explain how your work is positioned in the research field.
  • About 5 minutes for the papers from the list that you specified. You should be able to explain things like background of your research and the scope and limitations of the past work.
  • 15-20 minutes for presenting your own work. You should explain the content of your ERP.

Be prepared to answer questions for open-door Q&A after the presentation.

Closed-door Q&A

For the closed-door Q&A session, the committee members will specify in-depth reading-list. This list consists of three to five papers from the core and student-specified reading lists. The students are expected to understand the ins and outs of these papers. The committee members will ask questions to assess your understanding of these papers. Topics could include, but not limited to:

  • Algorithms and implementation details of the technologies described in the papers
  • Advantages and disadvantages, trade-off relationship, and limitations of the technologies discussed in the paper
  • Experimental design, study methods, qualitative and quantitative analysis methods described in the paper
  • Papers' contributions and how they relate to your research


You will be evaluated in three domains.

  • Oral presentation quality. For this, we assess the examinee's ability to (i) summarize and synthesize the research contributions of the papers in the lists, (ii) contrast your work and the prior work, (iii) communicate your research, and (iv) overall presentation quality.
  • Closed-door Q&A performance. We will evaluate your ability to handle questions.
  • Written exam. We will evaluate your ability to communicate the research contributions of your work.


In the student's third semester at SCIS as a Ph.D. student, they are supposed to schedule, carry out, and pass the QE🤞 See the following timeline of what the student and their advisor should do:

  • Before the semester: Find two faculty members who can serve as members of your QE committee. Choose them wisely as they will likely be your Ph.D. defense committee members too 😉 I recommend you start thinking about this as soon as you start your Ph.D.
  • Beginning of the semester: Once you have managed to form a committee, set the schedule for the qualification exam. Admin people will help you with this. Usually qualification exams happen on the Week 14 of the semester (which is also a study week, so the faculty members should be free).
  • Beginning of the semester: Compile the initial list of about 25 papers. These papers should be related to your own research. Discuss with your committee members and your advisor to decide what papers you should include in this list of student-chosen papers.
  • About a month before the qualification exam: Around Week 8 to 10, you should finalize your reading list. Admin people will ping you when the deadline approaches. (KH: This seems to have the earlier deadline (15 Sept))
  • Two weeks before the qualification exam: Submit a research paper to the committee members.
  • Two weeks before the qualification exam: Remind your advisor to shortlist and select 3-5 papers that will be used in the closed-door session on the day of qualification exam.
  • (Optional) Two weeks before the qualification exam: We highly recommend you to do at least one practice presentation with your advisor.
  • On the day of the qualification exam: Good luck 😇