Qualifying Exam and Defense of Dissertation Prospectus

Home Curriculum Qualifying Exam and Defense of Dissertation Prospectus
  • To be completed prior to the start of the 4th year
  • Advancement to candidacy will be dependent on successfully passing a formal qualifying examination that includes both a written proposal of the dissertation research and an oral examination in the broader areas that pertain to the at research study
  • The student initiates the qualifying examination process by providing the student’s graduate committee with a written research proposal and requesting a set of dates for the written and oral portions of the exam (about 1-2 weeks apart)
    • The format of the research proposal will follow the guidelines for research proposals to the NIH (R01 or R03) with one exception: The Background & Significance section must be at least 5-8 pages long and include a more in-depth discussion of background research than what is typically covered in an NIH proposal
      • The goal of this requirement is to ensure that the student has taken a broad perspective to the research problem and is knowledgeable of all the approaches that may be used to address the problem
  • Written Exam
    • The student’s graduate committee will provide the student with a set of up to four questions for a take home (open-book) examination 
      • The committee Chair or the Co-Chair who is the student’s research mentor will solicit and select these questions from the committee
      • The questions will be based on the committee members’ reading of the Background & Significance section of the student’s proposal and are intended for the committee to probe further the student’s understanding of the subject and its relation to other areas of neuroscience
      • Committee members and students should be informed that test answers should be approximately 2-3 pages double-spaced per answer
    • The student will have 1-2 days to return to the committee chair the answers to these questions, which should be prepared independently by the student as an open book exam 
    • The committee has approximately one week to review the answers and decide evaluate whether the student should pass the written portion of the exam
      •  If the decision is not to pass the student, he/she will need to retake the written exam within six months 
      • Feedback to the student will be provided in writing 
    • The student will have two chances to pass this portion
  • Once the student passes the written exam he/she can then take the oral exam, approximately 1-2 weeks after the written exam
  • Oral Exam and Defense of Dissertation Prospectus
    • This meeting involves the student’s presentation of their course work training to date, a brief presentation of their research proposal (dissertation prospectus), and questions from the committee during and/or after the presentation 
    • The goal of the committee will be to ensure that the student is well versed in the specific scientific questions and techniques of the student’s research proposal, and that the student is able to state the advantages and disadvantages of alternative approaches to the research problem and relate their work to the broader field of neuroscience
    • Immediately after the oral defense, the committee meets privately and decides if the student passed the qualifying portion of the qualifying exam and thus is qualified for advancement to PhD candidacy 
  • Failure is considered final except under extraordinary circumstances

Approximate Timeline

Prior to beginning the exam process, the student must have formed a committee. In addition, the student must prepare and submit the proposal to the committee to begin the exam process. The student must be registered in the semester that the exam is taken.

1 Month Prior to Oral Exam

Student submits proposal to committee for review and to determine exam date.  The committee reviews the proposal and each committee member submits 2 questions to the mentor.  The mentor will select 4 questions to send to the student to answer as part of the Written Exam

1 Week and 2 Days Prior to Oral Exam

Written Exam - The mentor provides 4 questions for the student to answer.  The student has 2 days to submit answers to the committee

Length of time:  2 days

1 Week Prior to Oral Exam

Committee reviews answers and determines if student passed or failed the Written Exam

Length of time: 1 week

Student Passed Written Exam

Oral Exam  - student and committee meet to hold the Oral Exam and to approve the Dissertation Prospectus

Passing exam qualifies the student to begin work on the dissertation  (Advanced to Candidacy)

Student Failed Written Exam

Within the next 6 months, the student will retake the Written Exam (follow same timeline)

Students may only take the Written Exam 2 times.

Only students who pass the Written Exam can take the Oral Exam

Timeline Example:

July 1: Student submits proposal to committee for review.

July 1 – 14: Committee reviews proposal and each committee member submits 2 questions to student’s mentor.  The mentor selects 4 questions for student to answer.

July 15: Mentor gives the 4 questions to the student.  The student answers each question (Written Exam).

July 17: Student submits answers to questions to the committee

July 18 – 24: Committee reviews answers and determines if student passed or failed the Written Exam

July 25: Mentor informs student if passed or failed Written Exam

Passed Exam

August 1: Oral Exam is held

Failed Exam

Within 6 months student must retake Written Exam

Recording Exam Results

To record the exam results the student is responsible for contacting Beverly McBride, prior to the exam, to receive the form, ‘Report of Doctoral Qualifying Examinations and Approval of the PhD Dissertation Prospectus’. The student is responsible for obtaining the necessary signatures from their committee (signatures are required for both the Examination Results, and Approval of the Dissertation Prospectus). The report is to be returned to Beverly for the signature of the ‘Head of the Academic Unit’ and for processing the results. Beverly can be reached by email (beverly.mcbride@asu.edu), by phone (480-965-2719), or stop by her office (LSE 215).