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Academics:

PhD Candidacy Exam

All GSBS students must petition for PhD candidacy by the end of their second year of enrollment. The purpose of the candidacy examination is to test the student's breadth and depth of knowledge in the biomedical sciences. The examination is meant to be an evaluation of the student's ability to construct a hypothesis, to design the means by which to test it, and to critically analyze obtained results.

These are the general GSBS guidelines for the timing of candidacy exams. Individual programs may specify a different schedule. Students should check with their Program Director or Coordinator to make sure they meet their program's requirements.

  • The candidacy exam must be taken by the end of the first term of the student's third year.
  • For example, students that started in a fall semester must take the exam by the end of the fall semester of their third year.

Before submitting the petition, the student must be in good academic standing and have completed the following requirements:

1) Responsible Authorship and Publication
2) Data Acquisition and Management

Instructions for completing the modules will be emailed during the spring semester to all students who completed the Ethics course from the previous fall term.

The "Petition for the PhD Candidacy Examination" form may be found on our Forms Page.

  • Students that first enrolled in the fall semester must petition for candidacy no later than August 31 of their second year of enrollment.
  • The petition must be approved by the Academic Standards Committee (ASC), which meets on the second Wednesday of the month.
  • The deadline to submit items for consideration by the ASC is 12:00 PM (noon) on the first Wednesday of the month (i.e., one week before the ASC meeting).
  • Students will receive an email when the candidacy exam petition has been approved by the ASC. Please allow at least two weeks after the meeting for processing.

Once the petition is approved by the ASC, the process is as follows:

  • The student contacts the Exam Committee to schedule the exam at least 6 weeks into the future, but no later than the end of the first term of the 3rd year of study. The student should also reserve a room to hold the exam.
  • The student should have a total of 6 weeks to prepare for the exam.

This 6-week period is the amount of protected time that the student may reasonably expect to have in order to focus on preparation for the exam. It is also reasonable for the advisor to expect the student to at least keep things moving along in the laboratory during this period. It is important that the student and advisor work out a schedule for the student's exam prep period beforehand.

  • During the first 4 weeks of this period, the student prepares the written proposal, then forwards the final proposal to the Exam Committee (the proposal is also submitted to Academic Affairs for a Turnitin analysis).
  • The Exam Committee then has 2 weeks to review the proposal prior to the examination.

  • Timing/Requirements for Petition

    These are the general GSBS guidelines for the timing of candidacy exams. Individual programs may specify a different schedule. Students should check with their Program Director or Coordinator to make sure they meet their program's requirements.

    • The candidacy exam must be taken by the end of the first term of the student's third year.
    • For example, students that started in a fall semester must take the exam by the end of the fall semester of their third year.

    Before submitting the petition, the student must be in good academic standing and have completed the following requirements:

    1) Responsible Authorship and Publication
    2) Data Acquisition and Management

    Instructions for completing the modules will be emailed during the spring semester to all students who completed the Ethics course from the previous fall term.

    The "Petition for the PhD Candidacy Examination" form may be found on our Forms Page.

    • Students that first enrolled in the fall semester must petition for candidacy no later than August 31 of their second year of enrollment.
    • The petition must be approved by the Academic Standards Committee (ASC), which meets on the second Wednesday of the month.
    • The deadline to submit items for consideration by the ASC is 12:00 PM (noon) on the first Wednesday of the month (i.e., one week before the ASC meeting).
    • Students will receive an email when the candidacy exam petition has been approved by the ASC. Please allow at least two weeks after the meeting for processing.

    Once the petition is approved by the ASC, the process is as follows:

    • The student contacts the Exam Committee to schedule the exam at least 6 weeks into the future, but no later than the end of the first term of the 3rd year of study. The student should also reserve a room to hold the exam.
    • The student should have a total of 6 weeks to prepare for the exam.

    This 6-week period is the amount of protected time that the student may reasonably expect to have in order to focus on preparation for the exam. It is also reasonable for the advisor to expect the student to at least keep things moving along in the laboratory during this period. It is important that the student and advisor work out a schedule for the student's exam prep period beforehand.

    • During the first 4 weeks of this period, the student prepares the written proposal, then forwards the final proposal to the Exam Committee (the proposal is also submitted to Academic Affairs for a Turnitin analysis).
    • The Exam Committee then has 2 weeks to review the proposal prior to the examination.

  • On-Topic Exam and Proposal Guidelines

    The general GSBS guidelines for the on-topic candidacy exam and research proposal are provided below. Individual programs may specify a different format. Students should also check for information on Program-specific requirements.

    Although the written proposal is based on the student's dissertation research that was originally developed with input from the research advisor, independent contributions by the student are required.

    The proposal must not be a simple recapitulation of a section from the advisor's research grant. Rather, it should demonstrate the student's ability to think independently and develop all aspects of a research project. The student will be expected to expand upon the current project to include the student's own original ideas that go beyond those of the mentor.

    The final research proposal must be the original work of the student. The text must be composed entirely of the student's writing and not that of any other person.

    Students may seek feedback on the exam proposal from others, such as peers and faculty (including the research advisor). However, the final research proposal must be the original work of the student. The text must be composed entirely of the student's writing and not that of any other person.

    Please note that some programs may have limitations on help from faculty. To be safe, it is best to check with your Program Director.

    It is the student's responsibility to submit a research proposal to the Examining Committee at least two weeks prior to the scheduled exam date. It is important to meet the two week deadline. Late submission of the proposal may be negatively considered by the committee members when determining a result of the exam.

    In addition to submitting the proposal to the Committee, students must submit the proposal to Academic Affairs for a Turnitin analysis. Please send all proposals to Bunny Perez.

    General written proposal format

    The format of the proposal follows the research section in NRSA F31 Fellowship Applications:

    • 1 page for Specific Aims
    • 6 additional pages for research strategy
    • These page limits do not include the Bibliography/References section
    • Other components of the F31 are not needed

    Margins should be 0.5" or greater, and final font size should be Arial 11 point font (or larger).

    Smaller font sizes may be used for figures; however they must be clear and legible.

  • Examining Committee

    Although individual programs may have pools of faculty that are required to serve on the Examining Committees of their students, the composition of exam committees must also comply with the following general GSBS guidelines:

    • The PhD Examining Committee consists of 5 members, with at least 2 who have not served on the student's Advisory Committee.
    • The advisor (chair of the student's Advisory Committee) may not serve in any capacity on the Examining Committee, and is not permitted in the exam room.
    • The Examining Committee Chair must be a member of the student's Program.
    • At least 1 member's research must lie outside the student's major discipline.
    • Students with an approved Second Area of Research Concentration should have at least one member from that program serve as a member of the Examining Committee.
    • The spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child of the advisor may not serve in any capacity on the Examining Committee.
    • Individuals outside the GSBS Faculty may serve on a student's committee when their particular areas of expertise are not represented on the GSBS Faculty, but there may be no more than two such members on the committee. Students must submit an NIH format biosketch for all proposed members who are not GSBS faculty.
    • Faculty with a terminal MS or SMS degree may serve on an Examining Committee only if the faculty member has specific relevant expertise not found among available GSBS members who hold a doctorate and a written justification is provided to the Academic Standards Committee along with the committee composition form.

    Upon approval by the Academic Standards Committee, the Examining Committee and the student are notified by the Dean and sent instructions for the exam.

    If it is necessary to change the composition of the Examining Committee after it has been approved by the Academic Standards Committee, go to the Academics Forms Page to find the "Change of Advisory/Examining Committee Member(s)" form.

    If a member of the Examining Committee is unable to attend the examination, a substitute who meets the same criteria (e.g., outside the student's major interest or from another department/Program) must be added. The individual must be a GSBS faculty member. The student should send an email to Dr. Mattox and copy the committee chair as well as the substitute member to request approval of the substitution.

  • Exam Results/ MS Bypass

    After the exam, the chair of the Examining Committee must submit two forms:

    • Results of the PhD Candidacy Exam
    • Evaluation of the Candidacy Exam Performance

    Possible exam outcomes:

    • Unconditional Pass: the student passes with no conditions/deficiencies
    • Conditional Pass: the student passes, but with conditions

    In a memo to Academic Affairs, the exact nature of the conditions/deficiencies should be described, along with the mechanism by which the student should resolve them and the estimated date for resolution (within one year after the original exam date).

    The conditions may include the completion of the MS degree.

    The chair of the Examining Committee serves as a member of the student's Advisory Committee during the resolution period and must provide a memo certifying to Academic Affairs when the student has resolved the conditional pass. If the MS bypass was deferred originally, the committee's choice should also be indicated upon resolution of the condition.

    • Re-examination: the committee elects to re-examine the student before rendering a decision.

    The chair of the Examining Committee must provide a memo to Academic Affairs, the advisor, the student, and all Examining Committee members that describes specific needs for improvement, areas of strength, conditions for a re-examination, and a deadline for the re-examination (the GSBS maximum is one year after the original exam, but usually an earlier time is specified.

    It is advised that the student meet with and receive advice from each Examining Committee member prior to the re-examination.

    Possible results of the Re-examination are Unconditional Pass or Fail, and students may only be re-examined once.

    The Char of the Examining Committee must separately communicate to Academic Affairs the result of the re-examination using a second copy of the "Results of the Candidacy Exam" form.

    Students are permitted to bypass the MS degree after satisfactory completion of the PhD candidacy exam:

    A recommendation from the Examining Committee that the student should be permitted to bypass the MS degree will be reviewed by the Academic Standards Committee.

    Completion of the MS degree is recommended for students:

    • with little experience in laboratory research; or,
    • who have not written research papers or literature reviews; or,
    • who would benefit from the opportunity to pursue a research project under close supervision; or,
    • who need significant improvement in written and oral communication; or,
    • who have not determined which biomedical problem(s) they intend to pursue independently
  • Helpful Information

    Slides presented at the 2020 candidacy exam prep meeting.

    Senior students give their best advice to students preparing to take the candidacy exam:

    2020
    2019
    2018
    2017
    2016

    Here are sample proposals and slides submitted in 2017-19 by students who received high marks in communication from their Examining Committee:

    Proposal 1 and Slides 1
    Proposal 2
    Proposal 3 and Slides 3
    Proposal 4 and Slides 4
    Proposal 5 and Slides 5
    Proposal 6 
    Proposal 7 and Slides 7
    Proposal 8 and Slides 8

    Note that most students included an "Acknowledgements" slide in their presentations to thank their committee, advisor, lab mates, etc. These slides were deleted from the samples to maintain confidentiality.

  • Guidelines for Faculty Service on Exam Committees

    Responsibilities of all Committee Members:

    1. Read the proposal in advance of the examination. If you have serious concerns, contact the committee chair.
    2. Arrive at the exam on time. All committee members must be present.
    3. If you cannot attend the exam, you must notify the student and exam committee chair immediately.
    4. If you are unfamiliar with the exam format, discuss this with the committee chair.
    5. After the exam, be available to the student to discuss their performance on the exam. In the case of a conditional pass or re-examination, it is appropriate to give the student advice on how to address specific issues.
    6. Keep exam results confidential. Discuss them only with the student's advisor, committee members, and GSBS Academic Affairs.

    Responsibilities of the Exam Committee Chair:

    1. Meet with the student as early as possible before the exam to answer any questions an discuss the exam process.
    2. For an exam to be valid, all exam committee members must be present. In case a committee member cannot attend, contact Dr. William Mattox at GSBS to determine how to proceed.
    3. At the exam, check that all committee members understand the exam format and possible outcomes.
    4. Ask committee members to share their evaluation of the written proposal before the oral presentation begins (this is generally done while the student is outside the room).
    5. During the exam, make sure that all members have an opportunity to ask questions. Politely intervene if a question is inappropriate or a member is taking too much time.
    6. Oversee the deliberations and make sure that all viewpoints are considered. See to it that a careful decision about bypassing the Masters Degree is reached.
    7. Communicate the exam result as simply and clearly as possible to the student. Briefly discuss reasons for the decision.
    8. Complete the evaluation form and exam results form and return them to GSBS.
    9. IMPORTANT: If the result of the exam is a Conditional Pass or Retake, the chair is responsible for providing an email to the student that describes the issues that were encountered in the exam and how they should be remedied. This email should also provide a deadline for meeting the condition or scheduling the re-examination. The email should be copied to all committee members and to Bunny Perez at GSBS.