Qualifying exam requirements are the same for all tracks including PhD and MD/PhD programs.
1. Qualifying Examination
Background and Format of the Qualifying Exam.
qualifying exam remains an important landmark for graduate student
education by examining their basic understanding of scientific concepts
as well as their ability to integrate information and formulate
hypotheses pertinent to their research area. As such, the written and
oral components of a qualifying exam enable graduate students to develop
a diverse set of skills that are considered essential for scientific
The proposal is to be written by the students
in their own words. The student may discuss the proposal with others,
show it to their mentor, and quote experts from the literature.
Quotations from others must be clearly indicated, complete with
reference, and should be kept to a minimum. The proposals will be run
through a plagiarism detection software.
Qualifying Examination will be divided into two parts: Written and Oral
Qualifying Exam. The Examination committee will be responsible for
evaluation of both Written and Oral Qualifier exam.
are required to take the Fellowship Writing Course and are recommended
to examine the instructions in the link above regarding fellowship
a. Part I Written Exam: the examination will usually be scheduled
during early Term II (Spring term) of the student's second year.
Students with advanced placement or direct admission into the Program
may schedule their examination earlier, with approval from the
Evaluation Committee and Program Director.
will submit to the Examination Committee a written research proposal
written as an abbreviated NIH F32 fellowship grant (6 pages in length
but does not include any mentoring statements, only science; this limit
does not include references).
B) The Written Examination Committee will provide the students with a copy of a grant to use as a guide.
The Examination Committee is charged to maintain a consistent standard
in evaluating the quality of writing in all of the proposals.
The committee should address questions such as:
- What do you intend to do, what is the research hypothesis or is this
Discovery research? If so, explain why it is appropriate.
- Why is the work important and what is its significance and relevance to human health or to basic science knowledge?
- What has already been done and is the literature review current?
- How are you going to do the work and is the background germane to the experimental design & methods?
Written Examination Committee
Written Examination Committee is charged with maintaining a consistent
standard in evaluating the quality of writing in all of the proposals.
Emphasis should be placed on evaluating the logic, clarity and
organization of the writing.
All proposals are to be sent
to the BCMB Graduate Program office administrator; the office will then
distribute the exams to the Written Qualifying Examination Committee.
proposal will be reviewed by at least two committee members who will be
selected by the Chair of the Commitee. All reviewers are given equal
importance and will critique the grant independently of the others. A
written critique will be prepared by each reviewer and these reviews
will be discussed at a full committee meeting in the form of a study
After this meeting, the reviewers will meet with
the student, discuss the critiques and provide recommendations for
revisions if necessary.
If a revised version is
submitted, the reviewers will review the revised proposal, write a
second critique, and make recommendations with regard to advancing to
the Oral Qualifying Examination.
Students who do not
successfully pass the written exam will be referred to the Program
Evaluation Committee to evaluate the student’s complete academic
performance. They will make a recommendation regarding the student’s
advancement to the oral examination. This should occur within a two to
three week period.
b. Part II Oral Exam: in order to
advance to the Oral Exam, the student must successfully pass the
written qualifying exam by majority vote of the Written Committee
members. The oral component of the qualifying exam will continue to
directly examine the student’s comprehension of their proposed
dissertation research. The goal is to have the student orally defend the
work they propose for a dissertation project. This includes their
understanding of their research field, the significance of the questions
being asked, as well as the experimental design and expected results
and conclusions. As such, the oral format builds on the skills developed
during the written component, testing a student’s ability to think
about how to apply research to a specific scientific question and their
ability to communicate their findings to fellow scientists.
Oral Examination Committee
The Written Examination Committee will also serve as the Oral
Examination Committee unless the written committee explicitly requests
additional expertise appropriate to the proposed research. Faculty with
the necessary expertise can either replace a committee member or serve
as an additional committee meeting..
b) In accordance with the
exam timeline set by the BCMB Program, the student and the committee
members will determine the date of the oral examination.
written proposal must be submitted to each committee member, and to any
Graduate Program faculty member who requests it, at least two weeks
before the examination.
d) At the oral examination, the student
will give a formal presentation of the proposal and then will accept
questions on any topic related centrally or peripherally to the
e) The Oral Examination Committee will conduct a
rigorous and in-depth examination of the scientific merits of the
proposal, the student’s scientific knowledge, and his/her ability to
integrate and present
f) scientific information.
g) The Oral Examination Committee will communicate the results of the examination to the Evaluation Committee in writing.
Once the student has completed both the written and oral parts of the
Qualifying Examination, the Evaluation Committee will evaluate the
student’s complete academic performance and will present its
recommendation regarding the student’s advancement to Candidacy.
The Program Director will then inform the Dean of the Graduate School
in writing if the student is recommended for advancement to Candidacy
for the Ph.D. degree.
j) After admission to Candidacy, the student must register for Dissertation (BCMB 6099)
Guidelines for Written Qualifying Examination Committee Members
Examination Committee is charged with maintaining a consistent standard
in evaluating the quality of writing in all of the proposals. Emphasis
should be placed on evaluating the logic, clarity and organization of
Each proposal will be reviewed by at least
two experts in the field who will be recruited by the Examination
Committee Chair with assistance from Program Director. All reviewers
are given equal importance and will critique the grant independently of
the others. A written critique will be prepared by each reviewer and
these reviews will be discussed at a full committee meeting. There are
three possible outcomes of the committee meeting:
1. Accept without revisions
2. Accept with minor revisions (which will be re-reviewed only
by the Chair of the examination committee and the Program Director)
3. Major revisions required (requires re-review by the committee and submission of an introduction as described below)
this meeting, the program director will communicate the decision to the
student, along with the written evaluations of the examiners, and work
with the student to determine an appropriate course of action. In the
event major or specific revisions are suggested by the reviewers, the
student will be asked to meet with the reviewers and obtain further
guidance for improving and revising the proposal. When submitting a
revised proposal the student, especially those required to provide major
revisions, will also include a one page introduction summarizing the
revisions to the application. It is suggested that the format adhere to
NIH guidelines regarding introductions.
If a revised
version is submitted by a student who received a decision of ‘major
revisions required’, the reviewers will review the revised proposal,
write a second critique, and make recommendations to the full
examination committee with regards to advancing the student to the Oral
All students must successfully
pass the written qualifying exam by a majority vote of the Examination
Committee members in order to advance to the Oral Exam Committee.
Guidelines for Oral Qualifying Examination Committee Members
Oral Qualifying exam will be scheduled after the written proposal has
been reviewed and approved by the reviewers and the Examination
Committee. The Oral Qualifying examination is expected to be completed
by the end of the spring term, or latest by the end of the summer term
in year 2.
A majority affirmative vote is needed to
recommend that the student be advanced to candidacy. If the vote is
affirmative, the recommendation that the student be advanced to
candidacy will be forwarded to the Program Director, who will then
forward the recommendation to the Graduate Dean.
student must complete the form Application for Ph.D. Candidacy for
signature by the Program Director. The original Application for PhD Candidacy and a copy of the completed/revised Dissertation proposal will
be given to the coordinator within 1 month of the date of the oral exam
for submission to the GSBS. At this time, the Program Director will
also list the names of the individuals on the Ad Hoc Committee who have
agreed to serve on the student's Supervisory Committee. After the
Graduate Dean has ascertained that all of these members agree to serve
(and approve of the student's proposal), a letter will then be issued
from the Dean's office announcing advancement to candidacy. At this
time, the members of the Supervisory Committee will be publicized.
the performance at the oral qualifying exam is not satisfactory, the
student is asked to revise the proposal according to the suggestions of
the Examination committee. Another proposal defense is then scheduled;
this decision is left to the discretion of Examination committee members
Finally, if a minority of Committee members do not
approve the proposal, or portions thereof, their vote will be
officially recorded with the Dean's office unless the student makes the
needed changes before advancement to candidacy is announced. Usually,
these problems are settled more informally at the student's proposal
defense, or in private meetings with individual members of the
Faculty will grade the written proposal using
Form B: Written Qualifying Exam/Dissertation Proposal. Faculty will
grade the oral examination using the Form C: Oral Qualifying Exam (for
completion by committee members) and Form D: Oral Qualifying Exam (for
completion by committee chair). These forms will be turned into the
coordinator immediately after the examination process.