PhD Preliminary Exam


The Graduate School places responsibility on the department faculty to determine when a Phd student is ready to be admitted into candidacy for the PhD degree.  This process culminates with a required preliminary examination, which is administered by the student's PhD Thesis Advisory Committee, with the purpose of evaluating whether the student is prepared to undertake independent research for their dissertation.  In BME, candidacy requires that a student demonstrate through both written and oral formats that they have: 1) the appropriate depth and breadth of knowledge, 2) the ability to complete meaningful research in their chosen area, 3) the variety of skills required for their PhD thesis work, 4) the intellectual ability to critically analyze and integrate knowledge from the literature to form a significant research question, and 5) the ability to propose an appropriate experimental design to address their research question adhering to all principles for responsible conduct and research (RCR).  Candidacy does not require that thesis work be completed, only that the student can demonstrate their readiness to perform independent research towards their thesis project.  Preliminary examinations are therefore to be completed within the third year of the PhD program.  Multiple benefits to the student for completing the prelim early include: 1) input from the entire thesis committee at a stage that can help to improve research-question formulation and experimental design, 2) preparation of the written prelim document in the form of a fellowship proposal can help the student to be ready to apply for a variety of national fellowships, and 3) many fellowships (on and off campus) require the student to be admitted to candidacy in order to apply.  Before passing the preliminary exam, a PhD student is referred to as a doctoral student.  After passing the prelim, the student is admitted to candidacy and referred to as a doctoral candidate. 


The prelim examination is to be completed sometime within the third year of a student's PhD program.  A written prelim document must be submitted to the thesis committee ~two weeks prior to the scheduled oral exam (committee specifies exact deadline).  The oral exam must be formally scheduled with the Graduate School at least 15 days prior to the proposed exam date (via GS Form 8).  The oral exam consists of a public presentation with questions from the audience and a closed-door exam session with more specific questions and discussion with the committee.

Relevant Resources:

PhD Preliminary Examination and Scheduling Information


It is highly encouraged that the prelim document be in the form of a grant proposal, where the student will demonstrate their ability to formulate an independent research question in the Significance and Innovation sections, their ability to perform relevant and rigorous research in a Preliminary Data section, and their ability to craft appropriate experimental design in the Approach Preliminary Data section.  The ability to craft a compelling and concise formulation of the proposal should be demonstrated in a one-page  Specific Aim section.  It is not required that all thesis specific aims be proposed in the prelim, but at least one must be proposed to demonstrate the student is ready for candidacy.  The proposal approach section must include subsections on how data will be collected, how data will be analyzed and interpreted with regards to the posed research question (including statistical analysis), and potential pitfalls and alternative approaches.  A Timeline (with expected journal papers to be produced) must also be included.  Budget and Facility/Equipment pages may be included if they will benefit the student in preparation for a grant submission, but are not required.  While students may benefit from a prelim proposal that includes all specific aims for their thesis project (e.g., in prep for a national fellowship application), only one specific aim is required to demonstrate readiness for candidacy.  If a full thesis proposal is not presented in the prelim, students are encouraged to do so within six months of the prelim and to gather committee input and advice at a separate full committee meeting.  Regular thesis-committee meetings are encouraged following passing of the prelim exam.

Potential Outcomes:

Pass, Fail, retake one term later with approval from Thesis Committee.