Preliminary Exam

Exam Committee

As the research and thesis proposal develop, the Ph.D. candidate consults with her or his research advisor regarding proposed members of the preliminary exam committee. This committee consists of at least four members; three must be member of the bioengineering graduate program faculty, of which at least two must be tenured professors. At least one member must have a primary appointment in the department of bioengineering. At least two members must have primary or affiliate appointments in the department of bioengineering, and the committee chairperson must be a member or affiliated member of the department of bioengineering Faculty.

Once an appropriate committee list has been prepared, the candidate contacts each member to obtain approval indicating each is willing to serve on the committee. The candidate then submits their preliminary examination committee request directly to the Grad College through this form,, at least two weeks before the proposed prelim exam date. Formally, the Graduate College appoints the committee upon the recommendation of the department head. Ideally, committee members serve on both the preliminary and final exam committees to maintain continuity in advising; however, each is appointed separately by the Graduate College.

Preliminary Exam Details

The preliminary exam is an oral examination conducted by the Preliminary Exam Committee, and it is usually taken during the third or fourth year before the majority of the dissertation research has been completed. The Ph.D. candidate is responsible for arranging with committee members a suitable time and place for the exam. The candidate must submit information regarding the time and place for the exam to the bioengineering graduate office at least two weeks prior to the chosen date. The Graduate Programs Coordinator will coordinate with the Graduate College to obtain the necessary paperwork.

Students must complete the first stage of the Ph.D. program before the prelim exam can be taken. Each candidate must submit the written thesis proposal to the committee at least one week prior to the prelim exam. The proposal is written in the format of a typical National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant application, and it has four sections: (A) Specific Aims (1 page), (B) Background and Significance (2 pages), (C) Preliminary Results (3 pages), and (D) Methods (4 pages), with a limit of 10 pages including all text and figures but excluding references. The proposal must include a tentative title for the dissertation.

The prelim exam is intended to test the suitability of the research plan for a Ph.D. dissertation and the candidate's preparation and capability to carry out the proposed plan. It begins with a short presentation by the candidate, outlining the problem, providing background and significance, and describing the procedures and methods to be used. The presentation also will describe preliminary results and a clear plan for the additional work required to complete the dissertation. The committee then questions the candidate regarding the problem, preliminary results, and proposed work. The candidate may be asked to clarify matters in the thesis proposal and defend various aspects of the work already completed or being proposed. The committee may suggest alternative methods of attacking the problem or different aspects of the problem as suitable areas for exploration. The committee also may ask questions of a more general nature to test the adequacy of the candidate's preparation for the proposed research.

At the conclusion of the exam, the chairperson of the committee announces one of four decisions:

  • The candidate passed the preliminary exam and may proceed to independent study and research for the doctoral degree.
  • The exam is temporarily adjourned, and the candidate must revise the thesis proposal and be examined again within the next six months.
  • The candidate failed the exam but may submit a new thesis proposal and take another prelim exam after completing additional coursework, independent study, or research.
  • The candidate failed the examination and will not be admitted to another exam.