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23and1

Which is harder? PE Exam or Preliminary Exam for PhD?

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I don't know if it is comparing apples and oranges, but I've recently completed my Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering and am LIGHTLY considering a PhD. I'm doing some research and it sounds like there is a preliminary/qualifying exam that a PhD student generally has to take prior to starting their defense/thesis research. Anybody have any experience with this exam? Anybody have thoughts on the difficulty of this exam as compared to the PE exam?

Any thoughts on a PhD in Engineering are also welcome.

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27 minutes ago, 23and1 said:

I don't know if it is comparing apples and oranges, but I've recently completed my Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering and am LIGHTLY considering a PhD. I'm doing some research and it sounds like there is a preliminary/qualifying exam that a PhD student generally has to take prior to starting their defense/thesis research. Anybody have any experience with this exam? Anybody have thoughts on the difficulty of this exam as compared to the PE exam?

Any thoughts on a PhD in Engineering are also welcome.

Depends on what the definition of preliminary exam at your univ.

At my univ. PhD needed to mainly pass 3 exams. 

1. Preliminary (within the 1st year of PhD): Wherein you choose 4 different areas (related to graduate courses). Then you are given a written exam to complete in 3 days and an oral exam (~2 hrs) with faculty who teach those chosen courses. 

2. Comprehensive (Whenever you are ready to propose your research topic): this is when you have done a lot of literature review, undertaken some research and have zeroed in on the problem you aim to solve/address in your PhD. This is very flexible. Some faculty require you to just have done preliminary research while some require you to have at least a few journal publications prior to letting you take it. 

3. Defense: this is the final stage of the PhD. Usually the easiest since you have spend a lot of time doing your research and have made your adviser reasonable satisfied that he is willing to let you defend. 

 

Based on the above definition of Preliminary exam. I would say the PE is more demanding as in hours spent and practice. But the Preliminary ensures your concepts are clear and you cannot just memorize steps to arrive at answer (which would work in a PE exam). However, if you took the courses the year prior to your preliminary and did actually apply yourself in class they are not difficult. But then again you are being questioned by people who have spent a considerable span of their life on that topic. So the questions do get tougher but again as long as your basic concepts are clear and you can use them to apply to new situations or at least formulate some hypothesis with reasonable assumption you should be fine. Remember the main aim is to see if you can undertake independent research without having to be spoon fed.  

Now why I said it depends on your Univ is because i know for some folks it was just the written test and now 4 on 1 grilling. 

 

As for my thoughts. Have a clear understanding of why you want a PhD. For master as long as you pass your classes you are done. Even if grades are not great. PhD is binary, as in you either meet your advisers/committees standard or you don't. So it may take forever if you are not self motivated or just wanting to get another degree. Statistically PhD's only earn ~5% more than Masters with similar experience.

 

Goo Luck

Edited by NikR
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From personal experience, quals are significantly harder questions. But if you're taking the test, then you have also recently taken the classes needed for the quals. You probably won't have to study as much as you would for the PE. There's likely more room for error with the qualifying exams, as there's usually a way to explain your answers or otherwise show that you know that material enough to satisfy the department.

Of course, actual experience will vary program to program.

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I would say each of the exams has its own difficulties... One may focus a lot on theoretical concepts while the other on practical knowledge. I dont think we can compare them apples to apples. 

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First off, the requirements and difficulty of a Ph.D. qualifying exam varies greatly between universities, within departments in a given university, and even by examining committee within a department!

I consider myself having gotten off easily, as my candidacy examination consisted of writing a research report of about 60 pages in length on my research topic and an oral exam of about 90 minutes by my examining committee (my two co-advisors, the examiner internal to the department, and the examiner outside the department).  The contents of the report was a literature survey, methodology, some numerical/experimental results, and a discussion on the originality of the research/proposed future work.  This report was approximately the first three chapters of my Ph.D. thesis.  In this case there was no examination of material outside of my research project, as the intent of the candidacy examination in my case was to determine the likelihood of succeeding in the research component of a Ph.D. program.  I had a relatively friendly examining committee.

Notwithstanding the relatively light requirements of my Ph.D. candidacy examination, the writing of the report alone (i.e., not including the research) took me more time than the preparation time for my PE and FE exams combined.  I think (that at least in my case) preparing for the PE exam required less effort and was less uncertain than preparing for my Ph.D. candidacy examination because the topics on the PE exam were well defined and required no original research.  By way of comparison, the PE exam was straightforward relative to the Ph.D. candidacy examination.  As has been stated above, the intents of the two examinations are very different.

I've found that in the market I'm practising in, holding a Ph.D. in Engineering while working in a consulting environment adds weight and credibility to the opinions that I express.  I've also found that it has added an estimated 40% premium on the renunciation received compared to holding a M.Sc./M.Eng. and even more compared to a B.Sc.  A word of caution is that consulting is different from a research environment in that you need to deliver something usable to the client in a cost-effective and reasonable time frame, i.e., you can't turn jobs into "research projects."

Be aware also that the reasons for pursuing a PE license are different for the reasons for pursuing a Ph.D.  The former is a legislative requirement to practice engineering, while the latter is an advancement of a body of knowledge.

Hope that helps.

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