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Comprehensive Exam

See Guidelines for other information

The purpose of the Comprehensive Exam, called the Qualifying Exam in other programs, is to determine if a graduate student has the potential to complete the PhD program. Often, the research project is an aim of either a funded project or a proposal being prepared by the student’s mentor. For the guidance committee, the exam is not to judge the strengths and weaknesses of the project, or of the mentor’s research program, but to evaluate the student’s ability to defend the project and her/his experimental progress.

Possible outcomes of the comprehensive exam: i) pass, ii) pass with recommendation, iii) pass with condition, iv) defer, and v) fail.

Components of the Exam

  • Report (note the length limit)
    • Research Progress
    • Proposal
  • Oral presentation, divided into sections of:
    1. Introduction
    2. Results
    3. Conclusions
    4. Future plans
  • Closed session - questions on:
    • Thesis project and published work on the topic
    • Knowledge base of biochemistry/molecular biology
  • Criteria of evaluation:
    • Significance, scope, specific aims
    • Knowledge of specific area
    • Knowledge of underlying general principles and facts
    • Scientific logic; analytical thinking
    • Research progress
    • Written document
    • Oral presentation
  • Topics for discussion between the student and mentor in preparation for the exam.
    • Significance and aim(s) of the research project
    • Methods and approaches
    • Data analysis, analytical thinking
    • Background literature
    • Knowledge base: BMB 801, 802, 803, 804, 829
    • Scientific writing; organization of the oral presentation
  • What is ok.
    • The written report should reflect the student’s effort. The mentor should provide advice on science, and is encouraged to talk regularly with the student about scientific ideas that form the basis of the proposal, but is not to write or edit the document or any parts of it.
    • Similarly, the oral presentation should indicate the student’s abilities. The mentor can advise the student about the content and organization of the oral presentation.
    • Advice on science, grammar, presentation and organization should be solicited from others, including post docs and other graduate students in the lab or in other labs.
    • In addition, students can seek input on the written proposal from another faculty member (not on the committee), the so-called Faculty Reader.