There are three components to the security qualifier for doctoral candidacy. There is a comprehensive written exam. There is production of independent research. There is an oral defense of that independent research.
The written exam is a 4-hour closed book exam. During the exam the student may not reference any material except what is stored in the student’s head. Students must turn-off and place on the desk any cellphones, or other digital devices. The exam is broken in to four sections. First, there are breadth questions related to security in general that all students should know. Second, there are questions related to specific security courses the students have taken that are most applicable to the student’s area of research, and therefore is expected to have more than basic knowledge. Third, there are questions from a course that is related to the student’s minor. Fourth, and most in-depth, questions relating to the students research area. The advisor usually writes these last questions. The student must pass each of the four sections in order to pass the exam. The student will not discuss the questions on this exam with anyone but faculty at any point during or after the exam. The student will write the student’s answers exam in IU blue-books. On two occasions due to disability concerns the students have been provided stripped-down computers without internet access for the exam.
The second component is demonstrated research progress in a written form. Often this will take the form of work that has either been accepted in a peer-reviewed event or is judged as equivalent quality by the student’s qualifying committee. In some domains, most obviously theory and cryptography, there is not a requirement for a publishable unit but rather proof of clear research ability and knowledge as illustrated by significant progress.
The oral exam is a presentation of that publication. It requires the student be able to defend his or her own, and illustrate mastery. Every stage of the research is subject to question.