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Qualifying Examination

Qualifying Examination. The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to ensure students have mastered the fundamentals in a major area of interest and are prepared to begin working full-time on their doctoral project. After satisfactory completion of the didactic hours but before completion of the third year, each doctoral student must pass a Qualifying Examination that consists of two parts:

  1. A written portion prepared in such a manner as to show the student's comprehension of some field of study related to Microbiology and Immunology, ability to develop hypotheses, and competence in the design and conduct of promising and significant experiments.The written portion will be in the form of an NIH grant application that can be related to the student's research interest, but should not deal with the student's dissertation problem itself.The format will be in a R01 style in the current 12 page format.
  2. An oral portion conducted by the Doctoral Committee and Department of Microbiology and Immunology faculty. The examination will be primarily concerned with the grant proposal and the student's understanding of fundamental concepts and principles of Microbiology and Immunology that relate to the written proposal.
The process for the examination is the same for both options:
Written Portion of the Qualifying Examination: (to be completed during the summer of the second year.)
  1. Prepare a grant proposal in an area that is not directly related to their research. Up to three abstracts will be prepared and the topic selected in conjunction with the student’s dissertation committee.
  2. The student prepares a two-page description of the project. This includes Summary, Hypothesis, Specific Aims, a brief description of the experimental design, anticipated results, and potential problems or pitfalls according to the NIH R01 format guidelines. (This should be completed by June 1st of the second year.)
  3. The student’s Ph.D. committee reviews the project description and votes on it.
  4. Once approved, the student has 2 months to write a 3-year proposal on their subject in the NIH R01 12 page format using Microsoft Word®. (See the attached NIH R01 12 page format)
  5. In certain cases, a list of outside reviewers (expert in the area covered by the proposal) is selected in consultation with the mentors and the student’s committee and can be used in the evaluation process.
  6. To potentially reduce the effort of the student and the reviewers, a preliminary review of the proposal will be conducted by a faculty member who may also be a member of the dissertation committee. This review may be in stages during the writing of the grant, or all at once when the grant is finished.
  7. The reviewers are sent a copy of the exam grant, and asked to take into consideration that it is the first attempt by the student. They are allowed up to 3 weeks to finish the review. THE REVIEW IS COMPLETED FOLLOWING NIH GUIDELINES.
  8. Upon receiving the reviews, the mentor makes copies of them and gives them to the student; the mentor also gives a copy of the grant proposal and the reviews to each faculty member.
  9. The student has a month to respond to the reviews (i.e., modify the proposal and provide answers for the critique).
  10. The student’s response to the reviews will be reviewed by the student’s committee.
  11. A final oral exam will then be scheduled to defend the proposal (this will include all faculty).
  12. The student is graded on two separate areas: the written proposal and the oral exam. Based on the critique and the general opinion of the faculty, the student may be required to re-write all or part of the exam. At the discretion of the student’s mentor and advisory committee, the student may be required to defend the rewritten proposal.
    The students may be guided (but not told what to do or write) throughout the process. The student may meet with the mentor and any member of the committee throughout the process. The group may advise the student that such an approach is wrong or a dead-end, but would not advise a specific course of action. The group may also advise the student to re-write certain section(s) for clarity.
Oral Portion of the Qualifying Examination: (To be completed by the end of August in the second year.)
  1. After receiving the completed research proposal, the student's major advisor will schedule the oral portion of the examination. The oral examination will be given by the Doctoral Advisory Committee. The student will present a 30-minute summary of the research proposal after which time he/she will defend it and answer questions about it.
  2. The Doctoral Advisory Committee and will determine whether or not the student has passed the Qualifying Examination on the basis of his/her performance on the written and oral portions of the examination. The outcome will be determined by a vote of the individual members of the Doctoral Advisory Committee. A majority must find the student's overall performance to be acceptable in order for the student to pass the examination. After satisfactory completion of the student’s qualifying examination, the department graduate coordinator will prepare the Admission to Candidacy form to be turned in to the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The student will be notified by GSBS when the Admission to Candidacy has been approved.

Procedure When the Examination is Satisfactory

If the Qualifying Examination is considered satisfactory, the chairperson of the advisory committee will submit an Admission to Candidacy form to the department graduate coordinator for submission to the graduate school.

Procedure When the Examination is Not Satisfactory

An applicant who does not pass the Qualifying Examination may be permitted to repeat it once. The repeated examination shall be conducted by the Doctoral Advisory Committee and Immunology and Infectious Diseases graduate faculty and may cover all or parts of the oral of written portions of the examination or, in extreme circumstances, may even require a completely new research proposal, followed by an oral examination. Re-examination of the student must be completed within 8 weeks of the initial oral examination. Failure to pass the Qualifying Examination a second time will result in dismissal from the Ph.D. program irrespective of the student's performance in other aspects of the doctoral program of study. The student who fails a second time may be permitted to apply for admission to the Master of Science Program (adopted 09/22/92).

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