Qualifying Examination | Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center


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.

To be completed during the summer of the second year.

  • Prepare a grant proposal in an area that may be directly related to their research.
  • The student prepares a two-page description (abstract) 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.
  • The student’s Ph.D. committee reviews the project description and votes on its suitability. This committee will be chaired by a member of the committee that is not the student’s mentor.
  • 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®. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The student has a month to respond to the reviews (i.e., modify the proposal and provide answers for the critique).
  • The student’s response to the reviews will be reviewed by the student’s committee.
  • A final oral exam will then be scheduled to defend the proposal (this will include all faculty).
  • 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 committee’s chair in consultation with 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.

To be completed by the end of August in the second year.

  • After receiving the completed research proposal, the student's committee chair will schedule the oral portion of the examination.  The oral examination will be given by the Doctoral Advisory Committee.  The student will present a 30-40 minute summary of the research proposal after which time he/she will defend it and answer questions about it.
  • The Doctoral Advisory Committee 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.

Doctoral Students Only

At least three weeks before the date of the examination, the candidate should submit the Approval to Defend form to the GSBS office. The Graduate School should be notified as soon as possible when it becomes necessary for a doctoral examination to be postponed.

GSBS students will select their own Dean's Representative. The Dean's Representative must hold a primary GSBS graduate faculty appointment outside the student's concentration.

  • Please complete the Dean's representative section at the bottom of the Approval to Schedule Defense form.
  • The representative shall have access to the thesis/dissertation and may participate in questioning the candidate.
  • The student must provide a copy of the dissertation to the Dean’s representative at least a week before the defense.
  • The Dean's representative also must sign the Oral Defense Signature Form after the defense is complete.

The chairperson of the advisory committee should convene the examination by introducing the candidate, giving his or her background, and indicating the general format of the proceedings to follow, although there may be variations from department to department.

  • Initially, the candidate should give an overview of his or her study for the benefit of those in attendance who have not read the dissertation (15 to 30 minutes).
  • After this, under the guidance of the chairperson, the candidate may be questioned by members of his or her committee, the representative, and other audience members.
  • As indicated earlier, the examination is a public affair and the candidate should be prepared to defend his or her work before anyone who may question it.
  • A copy of the dissertation (not necessarily in final form) should be available for reference during the examination.

When ample opportunity has been given for this discussion, those not on the doctoral committee should be excused while the committee and the representative ask further, possibly more detailed, questions regarding both the dissertation and its research procedures. The candidate should be dismissed from the room while the committee comes to a decision concerning the results of the examination.

When the decision is made, the Thesis or Dissertation Oral Defense Signature Form should be signed by the committee members to record votes. The chairperson should then inform the candidate of the outcome. The signature page is sent to the Assistant Dean, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, TTUHSC.  

NOTE: A Dissertation Approval/Disapproval Signature form signed by the committee members upon completion of the dissertation must be sent to the Assistant Dean, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences also.

All members of the dissertation committee must approve and sign the Dissertation Signature Form, either approving or disapproving, before it is submitted to the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Office.

More than one vote for disapproval shall constitute failure of the examination.

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