Genetics and Epigenetics (G&E) Program students are required to take an on-topic candidacy exam in which the research proposal is based on the student's current or planned dissertation research.
The G&E on-topic candidacy exam will evaluate 1) the student's ability to formulate a hypothesis, design experiments to test the hypothesis, and interpret potential outcomes; and 2) the student's breadth of knowledge in the biomedical sciences, focusing on fundamental knowledge required to understand modern biomedical research. As noted above, the exam will be on the student's current or planned thesis research. The G&E on-topic exam follows the GSBS on-topic exam format except for the following features:
The student can seek help from anybody, on any topic, to prepare for the exam.
- Written Proposal
The written component of the exam will follow the NIH pre-doctoral fellowship format (same as the GSBS format). It must be submitted at least two weeks before the oral examination. Preliminary studies generated by the student are not required but can be part of the written proposal. The written proposal should include:
- A brief statement regarding the importance of the work;
- A specific, testable, mechanistic, and well-reasoned hypothesis;
- One or two specific aims that directly test the hypothesis with feasible, interpretable experiments. Sub-aims are allowed. The topic can be based on the mentor's grant application but plagiarism is not acceptable.
The written proposal will be evaluated by the Examining Committee and a written critique by each member will be provided to the candidate by the chair of the committee after the exam. The critique will follow a modified NIH format.
- Oral Examination
At the beginning of the oral exam, the student will present an oral overview of the proposal (up to 10 minutes) without computer support. The student may have a hard copy of their proposal with them during the oral exam. Questioning will begin immediately after the overview presentation. During the oral examination, the student should:
- Be aware of the relevant literature;
- Demonstrate an understanding of the goals of the research;
- Propose mechanistic testable experiments;
- Understand the potential outcomes of the experiments and how they would be interpreted;
- Present alternative approaches if the primary approaches do not work;
- Explain the potential scientific and/or health impact of the proposed research
The emphasis of the exam is on logic, experimental design, abandoning hypotheses in the light of new data, and interpreting unexpected outcomes.
- Examining Committee Composition
The Examining Committee composition will mostly follow GSBS rules. The committee will include a minimum of two G&E faculty members, and up to three members of the student's Advisory Committee, except that the student's advisor will be replaced by the current Chair of the Education Committee of the G&E Program, who will chair the exam committee. If the advisor happens to be the Chair of the Education Committee of the G&E Program, then the Co-Director of the G&E Graduate Program will replace them. Alternatively, the chair of the exam committee will be drawn from a pre-approved list of G&E faculty members. For the 2020-2021 academic year, the approved faculty are Dr. Myriam Fornage (chair of the Education Committee), Dr. Michael Galko and Dr. David Johnson. In case none of these faculty are available, Dr. Pierre McCrea or Dr. Jichao Chen will serve as the exam committee chair.
- Breadth of Knowledge
The exam will also explore the student's breadth of knowledge. Each committee member will ask at least one question from broad topics in biomedical research. At least five different topics must be addressed. Each question will explore the limits of the student's knowledge in that particular area. The chair will ensure that each committee member asks at least one breadth question and that at least five different topics are covered. The topics include but are not limited to:
- Gene expression
- Cell biology
- Cell cycle
- Genome integrity
- Signaling pathways
- Developmental biology
- Human disease