Qualifying Exam

In preparation for Qualifying Exams, the Thesis Committee should be selected well in advance of the Abstract Submission date of March 15 for Qualifying Exam Abstracts. Then the student must submit the LGS Dissertation Committee form no later than March 15 to formalize their committee selection.

The Qualifying Examination Committee consists of the Thesis Committee plus the Director of Graduate Studies. For students in the lab of the DGS, the alternate DGS will serve on the committee.

Written Proposal: By the end of May in the second year (G1 Year for MD-PhDs), students are expected to have passed an examination based on a research proposal which might serve for their thesis work. The research proposal should follow the NIH proposal guidelines. The primary purpose of this examination is to give the students the opportunity to develop an original and significant scientific proposal and to defend it before a group of scientists who have relevant expertise. The examination is used as a teaching device and is one of the methods used to follow a student's academic progress. Recommendations for improving a student's progress are expected to result from each examination. In preparation for this milestone:

  1. As noted above, students must formalize their dissertation committee by submitting the LGS Dissertation Committee Form by March 15. This committee will also be their examining committee.

  2. Also, by March 15 of the second year (G1 Year for MD-PhDs), students must submit to their committee a 200-300 word written abstract that concisely states the problem, an original testable hypothesis, and an outline of experiments to test the hypothesis. A specific goal of this exercise is to train students to think concisely and to write meaningful short abstracts. The student should also send a copy of the abstract to the DGS.

  3. The Examining Committee will consist of the student’s Dissertation Committee, minus the advisor. The DGS, or a qualified alternate, will proctor the exam. (Students in the lab of the DGS or for whom the DGS is a member of their committee, will have an alternate DGS, typically a past DGS or the Director.) The advisor will be present for the exam, but cannot participate in the examination. Students are responsible for organizing the examination date with the Examining Committee, advisor and DGS (generally late April or early May). The full research proposal (see section below regarding the Research Proposal) should be submitted to the Examining Committee at least 2 weeks prior to the oral examination date, along with a copy of the Qualifying Exam Form. Students should contact the Program Administrator for assistance in obtaining a room for the exam, if needed.

  4. The day of the exam, the Examining Committee will question the student on the proposal during the oral examination with three rounds of discussion. The first round of questions is aimed at the technical details of the student’s proposed research. The second round pursues more fundamental and quantitative areas concerned with the proposition and is oriented toward challenging the student’s intellect. The third-round concerns more peripheral areas that test the student’s knowledge of big-picture concepts within their field of research. Third round questions may also draw on the content of required MMG courses such as IBS 513 and IBS 504. The student is expected to use the blackboard effectively to present a hypothetical working model and address questions; PowerPoint presentations are not permitted.

  5. Immediately after the oral exam, the committee evaluates the student’s performance, determines whether a need exists to retake an additional exam and makes written recommendations pertaining to future training on their copy of the Qualifying Exam Form. Students are also encouraged to speak with the faculty examiners after receiving their written comments.

  6. The final step in the qualifying exam process is for the student to write a summary of specific action items and committee feedback in conjunction with their advisor. This summary statement of the feedback is then approved by signatures from each committee member on the second page of the Qualifying Exam Form. Students must submit all pages of the Qualifying Exam Form to the Program Administrator within one week of the exam to document this Program milestone.