The NuPaX Oral Exam (formerly called the Part III)

In 2015-16, I am coordinating the NuPaX Oral (Part III) exam. The purpose of this page is to answer some of the most-asked questions. If you have further questions, please contact me.

Do I have to take the exam this semester? Cathy Modica will provide us with a list of those for whom the exam is required in a given semester. If you are on the list you have to take the exam. This is true even if you are doing work off-campus.

Do I have to take the exam on-campus? Yes. If you are off-campus then you must come back to MIT for the exam.

May I sign up if I am eligible for the exam, but it is not required this semester? Yes, you may take the exam at any time after you are eligible. If you are not required to take the exam, but are eligible, please let me know by email within two weeks of the start of the semester.

How is my exam date assigned? We will send out a doodle poll for you to sign up. The doodle poll usually does not come out until after the first two weeks of the semester, because we are using this time to determine how many people will take the exam and to get dates that work with the committee members' schedules.

What is the structure of the exam? The exam has three parts: a talk by you on your assigned topic, a general Q&A, and a discussion of your ongoing research. The time divisions are roughly 30, 30 and 20 minutes. The exam will not go beyond 90 minutes.

When do I learn about my special topic, the people on my committee, and the place of the exam? One week before that exam, you will get an email reminding you of the date and time and assigning your special topic for your talk. The email you will receive will look like this:

Dear Student,

Your oral exam will be held on Date. The exam will be held in Room-number at Time. The committee is Prof1, Prof2 and me. Your adviser is welcome to attend the exam.

Your assigned topic is: Exciting-topic.

You need to develop a "chalk talk" (no notes) on this topic which would last 30 minutes if you were not interrupted. We will certainly interrupt you and ask a lot of questions. We may not even let you finish. Please be prepared for this, as some students find this disconcerting. However, it is not a bad sign, so do not take it badly.

It is good to practice your talk with friends who have already taken an oral exam. They will know what the exam is like and give you good advice.

This is a broad topic and you may want to narrow this down for your talk. You should be sure to include an overview of why this is an interesting topic, and also include a detailed discussion of at least one recent, ongoing or near-future experiment.

The exam will include questions about other areas of particle and nuclear physics beyond the assigned topic. We will also ask you, briefly, about your intended thesis research. This is very general, so do not be concerned if you have not narrowed down your thesis plans yet.

Please let me know you received this reminder. Also, if you have any questions, please ask. I am happy to discuss it with you.


-Janet Conrad

Also, you and the committee will receive a reminder the day of the exam.

What is the best way to study for the exam? This exam is about fluency in the field. The best way to become fluent is to hear and speak the language a lot. So the best way to study, early on, is to go to a lot of talks, give talks yourself, and discuss recent papers with your friends and colleagues. Be sure to attend talks and read papers that are outside of your subfield, because this exam demands broad knowledge. Close to the time of the exam you should read through your notes from 8.701, 8.711 and 8.811 and also some textbooks. Three books that my group have found useful are: Particle Physics Experiments at High Energy Colliders by Hauptman; Techniques for Nuclear and Particle Physics Experiments: A How-to Approach by Leo; and Particle Astrophysics by Perkins. As you read, engage your friends in discussions on the topics in order to get used to Q&A on the material.

Do you have a syllabus? We will draw from the syllabi of 8.701, 8.711 and 8.811. The above listed books also frame out the topics. Lastly, here is a collection of topics organized by Peter Fisher, et al., in 2008. In general, we tend to ask questions on either very general topics or else material that is of interest today. We try not to ask obscure questions.

Do you have example exercises? Yes, here is a list of sample exercises that I compiled for my group in early 2015. I hope this is useful to you.

May I practice with friends? Yes, we strongly suggest that you practice the exam, including your talk, with your friends and colleagues.

This page was updated May 2015