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English Competency Requirement for Ph.D. Students

The Department of Chemical Engineering has introduced an English Proficiency requirement which integrates the goal of attainment of English proficiency with simultaneous enhancement of chemical engineering research capabilities. The student can thus look at the English Competency requirement not as a barrier to or as a distraction from doctoral research, but as a beneficial component of doctoral studies. The department's policy requires demonstration of high level of competence in the use of English language, including reading, writing and speaking. The main elements of the policy are detailed below.

Testing International Students on Entry into the Graduate Program

  1. All international students who have not completed an academic program in a U.S. university are required to take American English Oral Communicative Proficiency Test administered by the Center for English as a Second Language at Penn State. (This is the current departmental policy and will continue to remain in effect). The results from the American English Oral Communicative Proficiency Test will be used to recommend measures for improving English competency of the international students as they commence their graduate studies at Penn State.

    All international students will take the test soon after they arrive on campus. Typically, the American English Oral Communicative Proficiency test is offered during the Orientation week or the first week of the semester. If the performance level of the student is below the highest proficiency code (= 250-300), then the student will be advised to take one of the following courses during the first semester:
    ESL 115G, ESL 117G, or ESL 118G.

  2. All Ph.D. students, domestic and international, will undergo an assessment of English competency during their first year. The assessment will include the student's ability to read and comprehend to participate in scientific and technical discussions. The assessment will be conducted during the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination by a committee of 4 graduate faculty members. The English Competency Testing will consist of three parts.
    • Writing

      The student will prepare a detailed research proposal on the topic chosen for his/her doctoral dissertation. The written proposal should include, as appropriate, the following:

      1. Brief introduction.
      2. Rationale for the research. What problems motivate this research?
      3. Hypothesis to be tested.
      4. General approach to be used.
      5. Tentative time table for completion of research.

      The written thesis proposal should typically be about 5 typewritten pages. The written document will be judged for its organization, the logical arguments in support of the student's hypotheses, the inclusion of relevant details, style in the use of language, grammar, punctuation and spelling. The written document must be the individual work of the student and no editing of the written proposal by the student's thesis advisor is to be done.

    • Formal Presentation

      The student will make a formal presentation of the thesis proposal before a faculty committee, after a period of at least two weeks following the submission of the written thesis proposal. Typically, the formal presentation will be of about 20 minutes duration. The presentation will be judge for its clarity, adaptation to the audience, organization, appropriate use of visual aids and effectiveness of delivery. The quality of the formal presentation should be comparable to papers presented at the technical sessions of the professional society meeting.

    • Oral Discussion

      The main purpose of the Oral Examination part of the English Competency Test is to evaluate the oral skills of the student to participate in scientific and technical discussions with other technical professionals, who may not necessarily be specialists. The Oral Examination will follow the formal presentation of the research proposal by the student. The examination committee will conduct a discussion with the student on all aspects of the research proposal and also on the scientific and technical issues surrounding the research area.

      At the end of the Candidacy Exam, each member of the committee will present an assessment of student's English competency in the three categories: writing, formal presentation and oral discussion. These assessments will be used to certify the attainment of English competency for students judged to be competent and to recommend measures for improving their English competency for students judged to be deficient.

Updated on 07/25/14

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