The format of the preliminary examination is divided
into three phases:
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
of a major professor by the end of the second semester of
of the supervisory committee and establishing a program of study – by the
end of the second semester of residence.
of the student's potential, a continual process at each
annual meeting of the supervisory committee.
supervisory committee, in a special meeting early in the 5th semester of
residence, will evaluate the student's readiness to proceed.
of the written and oral examinations – no later than the fifth
semester of residence.
of 3 abstracts, and a selection of one abstract by the committee.
student shall notify the Graduate School. A ballot will then be sent
directly to the major professor.
of the research proposal –
maximum 1 month.
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.
examination – approximately 1 to 2 weeks after receipt of the