PhD Qualifying Course

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PhD Qualifying Course

Details of the First Year PhD Qualifying Course

Course Objectives

  • To learn about research at the beginning of the PhD program, in order to
    (a) critically read published research,
    (b) start thinking about a thesis topic,
    (c) make an informed decision on a PhD thesis supervisor,
    (d) potentially shorten the time to get a PhD degree and publish research

  • To work with faculty members of your choice (one per report) whose research interests you.  Keep in mind, that faculty members who have many current PhD students might be less likely to take on an additional PhD student this academic year.

  • To read research papers and write mathematics. The latter includes getting familiar with LaTeX (or one of its variants such as Scientific Word, lyx), which is the standard software for mathematical writing.
  • To become comfortable with scientific computing. Most thesis research involves scientific computing since original research means developing new methodology and implementing them. Depending on the research, scientific computing might be implemented in Splus/R, matlab, SAS/IML, C/C++, Fortran, and/or perl/python etc.
  • to sharpen time management skill in a research environment

Choosing a Paper

  • Students must choose 5 papers (approximately one per month) and submit timely reports.
  • The selection of papers begins in the second week of classes in September.
  • Students are expected to complete at least 2 papers in the first term and 3 in the second term.
  • Students must complete this course in their first two terms in the program. For instance, if a student begins the program in January, he/she must complete the course the next Fall.
  • Grades will be submitted in each term.
  • Papers are chosen sequentially. For example, paper 2 cannot be chosen before the report on paper 1 has been submitted.
  • Papers are chosen on a "first come first serve" basis.
  • Students should refrain from choosing two papers on the same topic.
  • To choose a paper, a student makes an appointment with the corresponding faculty member (e.g. use email). During this appointment the professor's expectations regarding the report are discussed and clarified.
  • Students should tell the professor what papers they worked on before, in the first meeting concerning the possible choice of a paper.
  • Students may request additional appointments with the professor (typically one or two additional meetings) to discuss progress and clarify outstanding issues.
  • Students are expected to work independently and refrain from seeking help from other students and/or professors.


  • Each report will receive a percentage grade. The grade will depend on the professor assessment of the degree to which the report met his/her expectations.
  • Missing deadline leads to a loss of marks at a rate of 2 marks per day
  • Students can ask the Graduate Secretary for a copy of the Faculty Assessment of their submitted reports.
  • Some important skills/abilities to be assessed in this course are
    • Mathematics / Statistics theory: fill in math/stat details if relevant
      - avoid incorrect math derivations
      - strive for completeness (convince faculty member of your understanding of the details)
    • Writing: consider proper use of notation, referencing, etc.
      - always define a symbol before using it, or just after using it
      - use different notation for different objects (e.g. do not use the same f for different densities)
      - use consistent notation
      - use proper logic/organization when writing proofs/derivations
      - avoid LaTeX/TeX errors (greater familiarity with LaTex/Tex will be expected throughout the year)
    • Computing: computer implementation, if relevant. Code should be well-documented, efficient, easy to modify, easy for someone else to use.
    • Innovation/initiative: taking ideas on new directions and discussing additional comparisons beyond paper
      - suggest possible novel developments
      - identify critical limitations of the method and suggest possible ways to overcome them
      - find errors and correct them
    • Sensible approach to data and modelling

Students are encouraged to take a close look at the different sections of the "Faculty Assessment Form".

Ph.D. Qualifying

If the student obtains an A average (83%) in this course and performs satisfactorily in their other course work, he/she will be considered to have qualified. The next major step in his/her Ph.D. program will be the comprehensive exam.

Papers Preamble

  • Beginning on September 16, 2016, students can start seeing professors to discuss possible interest on their papers. Students are asked not to "negotiate" with more than two professors at any given time

  • Students are strongly encouraged not to make a firm choice before meeting at least once with the professor to get a clear understanding of the nature and extend of the intended work. When a student has chosen a paper, he/she must immediately e-mail this decision to the course coordinator (Jiahua) and the Grad Secretary (Andrea), and cc the professor. The professor should then mark this paper as "unavailable".
  • The intended deadline for submitting the second report is December 2nd, 2016 (the last day of classes for Term 1). Individual professors may have a tighter deadline. In all cases, the last report submission date must be clearly determined and mutually agreed between the student and professor, and must not be later than December 2nd.
  • The intended deadline for submitting the fifth report is April 6th, 2017 (the last day of classes). Individual professors may have a tighter deadline. In all cases, the last report submission date must be clearly determined and mutually agreed between the student and professor.
  • Professors are asked to keep the status of their papers as "available" until the paper has been firmly chosen by a student. The rule "first come first serve" should be applied. In case of "tie" or "close call", the professor makes a choice and immediately informs all the involved students.

Important resources

Faculty Assessment

Professors must assign a percentage grade to the student's report. Please notice that students must have an overall average of at least 83% to pass the qualifying process. UBC's grade conversion table is copied below for further guidance.

     90-100 =  A+
     85-89  =  A
     80-84  =  A-
     76-79  =  B+
     72-75  =  B
     68-71  =  B-
     64-67  =  C+
     60-63  =  C
     55-59  =  C-
     50-54  =  D
     00-49  =  F (Fail)

Faculty Assessment Forms

  • As a PDF file -- here
  • As a Latex file -- here
  • As a Plain text file -- here