The qualifying exam,which can be taken by all students who have completed 32 credits of course work with an average grade of B or better, consists of a written thesis proposal and its oral defense before a committee that will consist of 3 faculty members none of whom is the student's thesis advisor. (The studentís mentor may be present as an observer at the oral exam but is not permitted to participate). The goal of the exam is to evaluate the basic knowledge of the student in his research area and in general background areas that impinge directly on that subject as well as his/her capacity to cogently formulate specific questions to be investigated, and to design and interpret experiments directed towards answering these questions. The members of the examination committee, together with the student's thesis advisor, will later constitute the student's thesis committee that will guide the student during the remainder of his/her graduate training.
The Written Proposal
The proposal should be modeled after an NIH grant application. It should be at most 15 double spaced pages (except for preliminary results which can vary depending on the prior accomplishments of the student). The proposal should have a limited scope and is expected to include what a single, exceptionally competent, hardworking and lucky student can accomplish in a three year period. The proposal should start with a single page of Specific Aims, which summarizes the overall goal of the proposal. It should be followed by an introduction of approximately 4-6 pages which provides background information that cogently discusses the current state of knowledge in the field as well as a context in which the goals and purposes of the proposed experiments are formulated. This will be followed by Research Design and Methods, which describes the specific experiments that would help achieve the long term goals.
The Oral Exam
The exam should take 75 to 90 minutes with the student first giving a prepared twenty minute presentation that serves to focus the attention of the committee on those aspects that the student feels are most important. After the introductory presentation, the examiners will question the student attempting to assess the depth of knowledge of the student in the area of the proposal, his/her understanding of the experimental approaches and the ability to rationally analyze a problem or issue.