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General Exam

Timeline | Committee | Proposal | Oral Defense | Evaluation


By the end of Autumn Quarter of your 3rd year:
You have selected faculty for your Supervisory Committee and this information has been registered with the Graduate school.

Set up the date, time and location of your General Exam (try to do this at least 3 months in advance). At least four members of your Supervisory Committee, including the Chair and GSR must be in attendance.

4 Weeks before your Exam Date:
Contact your department’s Graduate Program Coordinator to inquire about necessary forms and signatures, if any. You will also need to submit the online exam request.

2 Weeks before your Exam Date:
Distribute copies of your thesis proposal to your Committee and to the BPSD GPC. It is important to give your committee members sufficient time to read your proposal.

1 Week before your Exam Date:
Remind your committee members of your exam time and place.

The day of your Exam:
Pick up your General Exam Warrant from your department’s Graduate Program Coordinator and return it to him or her as soon as possible after the exam. The Warrant is a document used by your committee to officially record the exam outcome.

I Passed My General Exam! Now what?
Congratulations! From now on you’ll need to register for BIOC/BIOEN/B STR/CHEM/MEDCH/PHCOL/PBIO 800 of which you will need 27 credits before you are eligible to graduate.

The Committee

All BPSD students will follow the committee formation guidelines of their degree granting department. The committee, as required by the Graduate School, is made up of at least 4 members. One of which is the student’s advisor, and another is the Graduate School Representative (GSR). The remaining members are often subject to requirements of the degree granting department. Requirements from the Graduate School can be found here. When a committee is selected, the student should email his/her choices to the GPC and complete the necessary departmental forms.

  • Chair: The Chair of the committee is the student’s research advisor.
  • GSR: The GSR must not have a primary, joint, or affiliate faculty appointment in the Chair’s primary department nor the department granting the student’s degree. The GSR may have an adjunct appointment in either of these departments. As long as the previous condition is met, the GSR may be a member of BPSD. The GSR MUST be present at the General Exam and Dissertation. The Faculty Locator Tool from the Graduate School is a useful resource for finding a GSR based on research interests and for looking up faculty affiliations.
  • At least 2 other members: Some departments require that there are a certain number of people from the department on the student’s committee. Check with your advisor or department program office for details.

The Proposal

All BPSD students will follow the proposal guidelines of their degree granting department. However, the written proposal for the student’s dissertation research will generally be in the form of a grant proposal, with an introduction/background, specific aims, significance, preliminary data, and experimental plan. For this type of proposal, the student should describe the proposed thesis project in a detailed but concise manner (approximately 10 double-spaced pages, not counting figures and references). The student should discuss the dissertation topic, especially the specific aims and significance, in depth with his/her advisor, but the advisor will not normally give detailed advice on the writing of the proposal. It is understood that early scheduling of the General Exam may indicate that the research plan will evolve during the course of the research. The purpose of the examination is not only to approve a course of research, but also to evaluate the student’s ability to identify an area for research, plan the necessary experiments, and anticipate and plan for potential problems. The student is encouraged to discuss the plan with other members of the Supervisory Committee before the exam. The proposal should include the following information:

  • Statement of objectives.
  • Assessment of the significance of the project.
  • Extensive but pertinent literature review, and an indication of how the anticipated project would extend existing knowledge.
  • Description of techniques required, and how using these will achieve the objectives of the project.
  • Description of what can be considered a definitive result from the experiments proposed, as well as the intermediate goals of the project and guidelines that can be used for success or failure in determining the course and possible modifications of the research project.
  • Anticipated problems with the project and alternative paths that the student might take.
  • General discussion of future directions for the project.

The Oral Defense

All BPSD students will follow the oral defense guidelines of their degree granting department. The oral exam will consist of a defense of the candidate’s thesis proposal. In general, the duration of the exam is expected to be 2 to 2.5 hours. The questioning of the proposal often lasts up to two hours. The format will include a short (no more than 50 minutes, if uninterrupted) oral presentation by the student, followed by an open question period. (The student should expect interruptions from committee members to clarify the significance of the experiments, question specific aims, ask about technical issues or related background, and so on.) In the oral presentation the student should assume that the committee has read the written proposal and avoid repetition; a brief introduction to the system and a presentation of relevant data is a good format. The student should be familiar with the concepts and logic underlying the proposal, and show a thorough understanding of the field of research. The student is also expected to display a thorough knowledge of topics covered in the core curriculum and to be familiar with current literature in areas related to the thesis research. The student may be examined in these areas during the discussion of the research plans, or as a separate part of the examination.

The Evaluation

The student will be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree upon successful completion of both parts of the General Examination. If the student’s performance is inadequate in either the written or oral parts of the General Exam, the Committee may request re-examination in that part; alternatively, the committee may decide that continued enrollment in the BPSD Program should be withdrawn.

The written proposal prepared by the student will serve as a focus for annual meetings of the Supervisory Committee with the student during his/her subsequent pursuit of the PhD thesis requirements.