Qualifying and Preliminary Examinations

The Qualifying Examination and Preliminary Examination are intended to assure that the doctoral student who has successfully completed coursework requirements has the ability to identify specific questions that remain unanswered in a research area of microbiology and to develop a written research proposal that describes experimental approaches to answer these questions. Thus, the first part of this double requirement process is the Qualifying Exam that requires that the student write a Research Proposal in NIH application format. In this document, the student proposes a series of experiments that will address three Specific Aims related to a clearly stated hypothesis. The topic of research must be identified and developed solely by the student and approved by his/her Advisory Committee. The proposal for the Qualifying Examination must be on a topic that is substantially different from the student's dissertation research and the research interests of the student's Advisor.

Timing : The Qualifying Examination must be initiated by February 14th of Year #2 at the absolute latest. In the case of students who feel that they have gained research experience sufficient to allow them to prepare a research proposal, the Qualifying Exam may be initiated earlier, such as in the fall of Year #2.

Choice of Topic For The Qualifying Examination: During the period of October to February of Year #2, the student and the Advisor will discuss the feasibility of proposing two/three topics of interest for writing the Qualifying Examination. The proposal is to be written in NIH Research Application format. For each topic, a two-page description of the Significance and Background (one page) and three Specific Aims (one page) should be delivered to the members of the Advisory Committee several days prior to the Advisory Committee meeting. At this meeting, the student will give a short, informal presentation on each topic. The Advisory Committee will decide which topic should be addressed in the Qualifying Examination proposal.

Preparation of the Qualifying Examination Proposal: The student will have a maximum of six (6) weeks to research and prepare a written document in NIH Research Application format on the approved topic. During this interval, the student will not seek any additional help or advice from anyone. It is the student's responsibility to prepare and type the Qualifying Examination proposal. Strict adherence to the NIH R-01 Grant Application format (PHS 398), especially page limitations, should be observed. The Qualifying Examination proposal should be designed as a three-year grant application.

The Experimental Design and Methods section is the "heart" of the proposal and should lucidly explain the hypotheses to be addressed, rationale for the experimentation, experimental approaches, likely data to be obtained, data interpretation, alternate approaches, and potential pitfalls. This section of the proposal is not a "cookbook" of methods. It is important that the proposal be properly written with respect to content, grammar, style, and the specifications of the NIH Application guidelines.

Meeting of the Advisory Committee for Decision on the Qualifying Examination and the Preliminary Examination: The Preliminary Examination is expected to be held within two weeks after the student submits the Qualifying Examination proposal. It is the responsibility of the student to consult with members of his/her Advisory Committee and to schedule the Preliminary Examination at a time agreeable to all. At this meeting, the Advisory Committee should discuss and decide by vote whether the Qualifying Examination proposal was of sufficient quality for approval and that the student has passed the Qualifying Examination. If the majority of the Advisory Committee decides that the proposal was of such poor quality that the student has failed the Qualifying Examination, then several options may be recommended by the Advisory Committee. These recommendations include (but are not limited to): partial or total rewrite of the proposal; choice of another topic and probationary period; recommendation for dismissal from the Ph. D. program. A recommendation of dismissal will be presented to the Department Head and the entire full-time Graduate Faculty of the Department, who will be responsible for determining the final status of the student.

The Preliminary Examination: If the Advisory Committee decides that the student has passed the Qualifying Examination, the Preliminary Examination will begin. The Preliminary Examination consists of an oral defence of the written Qualifying Examination proposal and questions on any of a variety of topics posed by members of his/her Advisory Committee. Although this Preliminary Examination will focus on the proposal, the student is expected to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of background information and to be capable of applying basic information from his/her coursework and reading of the literature to answer questions on a variety of topics. The student and Advisor should note that an official form must be completed TWO WEEKS in advance of the Preliminary Examination and submitted to the Office of the Graduate School.

Recommendation of the Advisory Committee: After the Preliminary Examination, the Advisory Committee must decide whether the student has satisfactorily completed the Preliminary Examination. The recommendations available to the Committee include: Pass; Remediation; or Fail.

*If the Advisory Committee votes that the student has passed the Preliminary Examination, then the student should begin to address the requirement of the Personal Research Proposal.

*If the Advisory Committee deems the oral presentation inadequate, then the Advisory Committee may recommend measures for remediation. The nature of the remediation will be determined by the Advisory Committee.

*Immediately after the Preliminary Examination, the Faculty Advisor must complete and submit to the Department Head the form "Report of the Preliminary Examination". The Department Head will submit this Report to the Dean. After approval by the Dean, copies of the Report will be distributed to members of the Advisory Committee, to the student, and placed in the student's file.

Doctoral Candidacy: When the student has been judged to pass the Preliminary Examination, the Advisor and members of the Advisory Committee shall recommend that the student be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree.

An official form must be signed by all members of the Advisory Committee and the Department Head, and submitted to the Office of the Graduate School.