Written Document Requirement (Starting Fall 2022)

Preparation of the Written Document

The first part of the qualifying exam process is the evaluation of a written document that is intended to demonstrate student competency in the areas listed above as well as their research and academic progress and career goals.  Preparation of this document will be aided by lectures, discussions, and assignments in the first-year Research Fundamentals courses. The intention is that this document will also serve as a stepping stone towards an initial paper (e.g., review or data paper) as well as toward the student’s Thesis Proposal and Training Plan (submitted as part of the Preliminary Exam). The written Qualifying Exam document is expected to be written independently by the student and contain solely their original critical analysis and synthesis of the literature surrounding their research area.

Plagiarism scanning

All written documents will be passed through plagiarism-detection software by the student's faculty advisor prior to distribution to the committee. Students are encouraged to pass their document through such software on their own during the writing process to be aware of writing/paraphrasing styles that trigger flags for plagiarism, and to adjust their paraphrasing styles appropriately prior to submission. See additional plagiarism resources in the Relevant Resources section. Plagiarism in the qualifying-exam document will be grounds for failure of the exam, and will be reported to the Office of the Dean of Students (ODOS) and Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (OSRR).

Format Requirements


  • Executive Summary or Specific Goals/Aims (.5 pages). Concisely identify a significant research question and a testable hypothesis that will address an identified need/problem. Specify the broad goal and research strategy of the proposed project that will be used to test the hypothesis.
  • Scientific Premise of Proposed Work (~2 pages). Critical analysis and synthesis of 10-15 primary papers from the literature to identify significant scientific gaps, culminating in a concise and explicit statement of a research question and testable hypothesis.  Note: the ~2-page length of this section (similar to a grant proposal) does NOT imply a lack of depth is expected in your critical analysis; rather, the 2-page length requires concise and organized writing about a thorough critical analysis leading to clear gap identification and hypothesis development (you will work on these skills in the Research Fundamentals courses).
  • Proposed Research Strategy (~1 page).  Describe an experimental strategy that will be used to test the stated hypothesis and fill the identified gap. This section does NOT need to be a full set of specific thesis aims, but rather an appropriate research strategy (an experiment described at a broad level, but with enough detail to demonstrate the feasibility and appropriateness of scope, e.g., rough number of subjects, design specs). Describe the procedures to be used, the data to be collected, the planned analyses of data, and how the data will be interpreted to test your hypothesis/research question. Again, this does NOT need to be a full thesis proposal, only a simple description that is just detailed enough to demonstrate that the proposed work is rigorously designed to test your hypothesis/research question (i.e., to demonstrate required competency to advance to the Post-Qual PhD student stage).
  • Caveats, Potential Problems, and Alternative Approaches (0.25-0.5 pages).  Discuss any potential issues you see in the proposed work and how you will address them if they arise.
  • Ethical Considerations (0.5 pages).  Describe the ethical considerations you will need to address in the proposed work. This does NOT need to be a full Vertebrate Animals or Human Subjects section, but rather a description of any relevant ethical considerations for your work and broadly how you will address them. The purpose at this qualifying stage is simply to demonstrate your awareness of the relevant ethical considerations for your work; the prelim exam will evaluate your ability to address them.
  • TimeLine of Proposed Work (0.25 pages).  Describe the planned timeline of your proposed work to demonstrate appropriateness of scope.
  • Progress Report (1-2 pages).  Describe the research progress you have made to date in the PhD program and how it addresses the feasibility of your proposed work and/or supports your hypothesis. If you have data, this should be presented and critically analyzed. If you do not have data yet (this is completely fine), describe your progress to date and critically analyze what is working and not working to demonstrate that adequate research progress has been made.
  • References (does not count for page limit). 

Other Documents to Include in your Written Qualifying Exam package (not included in page limit):

  • Unofficial transcript
  • Plan-of-Study (POS) document: courses taken and planned, with alternates.
  • Individual Development Plan (IDP).  This must be discussed and signed by your primary advisor prior (due Oct 31st) to distribution to the Qualifying-Mentoring Committee.

Evaluation of the Written Document

The written document is submitted to the committee at least two (2) weeks before the Mentoring-Qualifying Committee meeting. Based on the well-defined expectations in this Qualifying Process document and the Mentoring-Qualifying Committee Meeting Rubric, all faculty on the committee will provide constructive written feedback to the committee Chair (mentor) at least two days prior to the Mentoring-Qualifying Committee meeting so that the committee is aware of significant concerns that need to be addressed during the mentoring meeting/oral exam. The Chair will compile all feedback and provide it to all committee members prior to the committee meeting. The rubric provided by the Graduate Committee is based on the stated expectations and includes checkbox response on progress (e.g., below, at, above expectations), as well as space for bullet comments on strengths and weaknesses (e.g., appropriate literature analysis, scope of hypothesis/needs statement, technical writing). This feedback is ultimately combined with feedback on the mentoring meeting/oral exam and provided to the student to help them understand their performance and areas for growth.

Relevant Forms: 

Relevant Resources:

Qualifying Exam Timelines