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Qualifying Examination

The student becomes a candidate for the doctoral degree after passing a qualifying examination administered by a committee of the graduate school. 

Framework for the Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination will have a written and an oral component. A grant proposal will be the unifying element of the qualifying exam for all departments and programs as follows. The student must write a grant proposal in the style of a 2008-2009 Kirschstein Pre-doctoral Award application, or equivalent. Specifically, it must include a set of hypotheses and specific aims, a critical summary of the relevant literature and significance of the study, and the methods and experimental design used to achieve the aims. Inclusion of relevant preliminary data generated by the student is optional.

Information conveyed by the student in the written proposal must fully conform to NIH guidelines for ethical behavior in research.

At their discretion, an individual program may elect to include additional requirements in the written exam, such as an expanded Background and Significance section of the grant proposal or a written question that is defined by the Qualifying Examination Committee. The format for the examination is to be used for all students in their Program; i.e., neither the Qualifying Examination Committees nor the Program Director are at liberty to change the format of the examination on a student-by-student basis. Each Program format must be approved by the Graduate Council and the Dean.

The composition of the Qualifying Examination Committee, the format of the oral examination, and voting by members of the Committee at the conclusion of the exam will be as currently defined by the College of Graduate Studies and the Program.

Qualifying Examination for Students in Doctoral Programs

  1. Prerequisites
    1. Each doctoral program shall define required courses and other prerequisites which must be satisfactorily completed prior to the qualifying examination.
    2. In addition to these minimal requirements, the student's advisor may establish other prerequisites appropriate to the course of study undertaken by the individual student.
  2. Scheduling  - The graduate program in which the student is enrolled shall schedule the examination for the end of the student's second year; exceptions require approval by the Dean. All PhD students registering for the third year of their program must have the qualifying examination date scheduled.
  3. Committee Composition and Conduct of the Examination

    The examining committee shall consist of at least five members, including the student's advisor.  The committee will be approved and a chair appointed by the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies on recommendation of the student's advisor and Program Director.  No more than three members of the committee shall have their primary appointment in the same primary Department as the student.  The chairperson of the examining committee shall not be a member of the student's Primary Department or Program, but must be a member of the Graduate Faculty Organization.  The student's primary advisor will participate in all aspects of the exam but will not have voting priviledges.  In extenuating circumstances, the exam may proceed with a minimum of four committee members, but only if a suitable qualified chairperson is present.  The advisor and student, in consultation with all the other committee members, will determine dates and times at which they can all participate in the exam. These dates and times must be communicated by the dissertation advisor, in writing, to each committee member who, in turn, must confirm in writing their continued commitment to participate. If a committee member cannot devote the required hours on the dates and times specified, either that committee member must be replaced with another faculty member approved by the Dean or other dates and/or times must be selected which allows all the committee members to fully attend. If a committee member later finds they cannot fully participate in the entire exam and it is not feasible to find a replacement, the oral exam can go forth with a few as four committee members, one of which must be the dissertation advisor, provided the remaining committee members and the student agree to do so.

  4. Nature of Program-Specific Qualifying Examination
    The examination shall cover areas appropriate to the student's training and research interests. 
    1. Written Examination: Students should refer to their department/program for specific details regarding the format of the qualifying examination.
    2. Oral Examination: The committee shall meet at the call of the chairperson within two weeks after the completion of the written section at which time the student shall be examined orally. At the end of the oral examination, the student shall be evaluated on the basis of his/her performance on both the oral and written sections, and the committee shall take action as outlined below.
  5. Voting Procedures
    1. Each member of the examining committee, including the chairperson, is entitled to one vote. For a committee member's vote to be counted, they must have participated in the entire exam and their vote must be cast in person. Each Program may, as part of their approved format, elect to disqualify the advisor as a voting member of the committee.
    2. To reach a decision on any of the motions listed below, more than one-half of the committee members present must approve the motion. The vote shall be by ballot or roll call at the discretion of the chairperson.


    1. Approve
    2. Approve with Honors (unanimous decision)
    3. Approved pending completion of recommendation(s)
    4. Delay final action for no more than thirty days for further examination or in order to take other action deemed appropriate by the examining committee. Further examination, may be either written, oral, or both. Should the committee delay decision for reexamination or other appropriate action, final decision to approve or disapprove under this section rests with the examining committee.
    5. Failure

    Student must receive four passing votes to successfully complete the exam.

  6. Additional Policies
    1. Although the student's program or department may administer a departmental oral or written examination prior to the official graduate school qualifying examination, the results of the departmental examination shall not be considered a part of the graduate school examination.
    2. If the committee delays action following an examination for the purpose of reexamining or other appropriate action, these actions shall not be considered as representing a failure.
    3. If a student is failed by the committee, the student may be reexamined by a new committee after a minimum of 30 days but no more than 90 days.
    4. Failure on two qualifying examinations shall result in automatic dismissal from the doctoral program at the end of the current semester. However, the program may petition to the Dean for permission to allow the student to continue toward the Master of Science degree.