Procedures for the Preliminary Examination of Doctoral Students

The format of the preliminary examination is divided into three phases:

  1. initial student evaluation
  2. the written examination
  3. the oral examination.

  1) Student Evaluation

  The purpose of this assessment is to lead only those who are qualified students into candidacy. The evaluation cannot be achieved in a single meeting of the supervisory committee, but should be based on the cumulative results of all meetings of the student and supervisory committee. In this respect, both the supervisory committee and the student play a role in establishing the potential for success.

  In its assessment of a student, the supervisory committee must consider two crucial attributes: (a) the breadth and depth of the knowledge which the student maintains in the major field, and (b) the potential and capacity which the student displays for research.

  The supervisory committee bears the responsibility of insuring the breadth and depth of the student's preparation which is expressed through the establishment of a program of study. In this regard it is imperative that members of the supervisory committee be selected on the basis of their ability to assist in the preparation and successful completion of the program, particularly the research aspects. The student demonstrates breadth and depth of knowledge by successful execution of the program of study.

  The student demonstrates motivation, dedication and research potential by attendance at journal club meetings, Division seminars, local scientific meetings, the annual Forum for Student Research, and participation in research efforts. Although all factors will be considered, the latter item is the most important criterion, because the Ph.D. degree is strongly viewed as a research degree. The supervisory committee shall, at a minimum, meet annually with the student to adequately monitor the student's growth in research potential and the progress of the dissertation research.

  In addition to the required annual meeting, a SPECIAL meeting of the supervisory committee is to be called to discuss the student's total performance and to decide on the readiness of the student to proceed in the preliminary examination. This meeting, considered the first step in the preliminary examination process, is to be held no later than the first month of the student's fifth semester of residence. If the committee is in agreement, the examination process shall continue. If the committee does not agree that the student is ready to proceed, a written statement to this effect, outlining the remedial steps to be followed from that time, is to be forwarded to the co-chairmen of the Graduate Selection and Review Committee.  

2) Written Examinations

The written and oral examinations shall be taken no later than the fifth semester of residence. Both written and oral examinations are required. The written examination shall consist of a research proposal and the oral examination shall be a more general discussion, based (in part) on the written examination and extending beyond it.

    The written preliminary examination shall consist of a proposal to investigate and answer one or a number of questions concerning an important biological area, generally within the student's major field. The student with the advice of the major professor and the full supervisory committee will prepare three one-page abstracts of possible examination topics. Topics should be chosen to permit an evaluation of the depth and breadth of a student's knowledge of the major field, as well as the capacity to approach a research topic.

  The abstracts will be submitted to the supervisory committee, which will select one for further elaboration. Once a topic has been selected, the student will proceed to write the examination. It is expected that the final proposal will be no longer than 15 single spaced typewritten pages. The length of time taken to prepare the written examination is left to the discretion of the supervisory committee but should not exceed one month.

  The major aspects of the research proposal are to be covered under two headings (a) Introduction and Specific Aims, and (b) Methods of Procedure. Details regarding expectations under each heading are provided to serve as a guide for the student. Each element is important but may be interpreted broadly by the examinee in preparing the examination.

  a) Introduction and Specific Aims

  Present concisely (1) a description of the current status of the work in the area of this proposal, (2) the rationale behind the approach to the problem, and (3) the specific aims of the project.

  It is assumed that section (a) will begin with a review of the literature. The review should be selective and thoughtful, not necessarily exhaustive, but a critical review of the literature directly relevant to the scientific investigation of the problem. It should reflect considerations of up‑to‑date literature and developments that are significant to the problem.

  With the literature as a background, the problem or the need for knowledge which the research will address is presented. The most important aspect of any study is the proposed solution to the problem, the hypothesis to be tested, or the approach to uncovering needed knowledge, as the case may be.

  The clarity with which the proposal is presented is critically important -- both from the standpoint of effectively communicating ideas to the committee and also as an indication of the student's understanding and grasp of the problem proposed. Obscurity in writing often reflects that the student has not thought through the problem sufficiently.

  The specific aims of the proposed project generally reflect the degree of sophistication in focusing and formulating the study. clear, limited goals that can be realistically approached are preferred, rather than broad, multiple questions or vague goals, the attainment of which is open to doubt.  

b) Methods of Procedure  

Give details of the research plan, including: the types of experiments or other work which may be appropriate; the methods, species, and techniques to be used; the kinds of data to be obtained; and the means by which data will be analyzed and interpreted to provide answers to the aims presented in (a) above.

  In evaluating the scientific merit of the research plan, the committee should attempt to visualize the project beginning with sample species, data collection or experimentation, and ending with data analysis. The types of questions should be asked in evaluating this stage of the proposal. 1) Overall, is the design logically sound and suited to the problem under investigation? 2) If there are known confounding variables (importantly correlated with the dependent variables), has the student made provision for either controlling or evaluating their effects? 3) Does the student tell how he or she proposes to select a sample, build a preparation, or perform a synthesis? 4) Does the student state how many subjects, their characteristics, and requirements imposed on them? 5) Are there plans to deal with subject attrition? 6) How appropriate and developed are data‑collecting devices?

  Since it is much easier to collect data than to analyze them, the committee should look carefully at the plans for data reduction, and for signs that the student can carry the project to completion and report the findings. Evaluation of the student's ability to analyze and interpret data is based on the proposed plan for data analysis.  

3) The Oral Examination

  The committee will meet to discuss the written examination and decide whether to administer the oral portion of the examination and the form in which the oral portion will be conducted. The basis for the oral examination, whether the research proposal or another basis chosen by the supervisory committee, will be communicated to the student.

  The oral examination will be scheduled at a time convenient to all participants. The meeting will be conducted by the major professor of the student. Each member of the supervisory committee will be called upon to question the student. Although the research proposal may serve as the foundation of questions, it is expected that any examiner may cover any topic during the course of questioning. Moreover, the supervisory committee may choose to conduct the oral examination on other bases previously communicated to the examinee. It is expected that the breadth of background of the student will be exposed during the oral part of the examination. This portion of the period is open ended and will proceed until no further questions arise. The student will then be excused to allow the committee to reach a decision. Once a decision has been reached, the student is invited back to the examining room and informed of the results of the deliberation.

  A decision to pass the student shall automatically convey recommendation of admission to candidacy for the degree. Therefore both areas of the graduate school ballot must be signed affirmatively.

  A decision to fail the student leads to several alternatives. The appropriate course of action shall be determined by the committee in consultation with the student. The student has the right to a retest. If a retest is given, any part of the examination or a new examination formulated by the supervisory committee may be administered. A brief account of the decision, with the recommended course of action, shall be sent to the co-chairmen of the Graduate Review and Selection Committee.

  Timetable for Ph.D. students in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University  

  1. Selection of a major professor by the end of the second semester of residence.
  2. Formulation of the supervisory committee and establishing a program of study – by the end of the second semester of residence.
  3. Evaluation of the student's potential, a continual process at each annual meeting of the supervisory committee.
  4. The supervisory committee, in a special meeting early in the 5th semester of residence, will evaluate the student's readiness to proceed.
  5. Administration of the written and oral examinations – no later than the fifth semester of residence.
    1. Preparation of 3 abstracts, and a selection of one abstract by the committee.
    2. The student shall notify the Graduate School. A ballot will then be sent directly to the major professor.
    3. Preparation of the research proposal – maximum 1 month.
    4. Supervisory committee meeting to evaluate the written portion and to establish the format and scope of the oral examination – approximately 1 week after receipt of the proposal.
    5. Oral examination – approximately 1 to 2 weeks after receipt of the proposal.
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