Qualifying Exam

The Bioengineering Graduate Program will form committees of three faculty members based on each research track in the department (Bioimaging at Multi-Scale; Bio-Micro and Nanotechnology; Computational and Systems Biology; Molecular, Cellular, and Tissue Engineering; and Synthetic Bioengineering). It is the responsibility of the student and his or her advisor to select the appropriate research track to be tested on; the selection should be based on the student's project, not necessarily the primary area of the advisor. The Bioengineering Graduate Program or the exam committee can decide on a replacement examiner (from among the Bioengineering program faculty) for a student if their primary research advisor is a member of the track-specific qualifying exam committee. The student's primary research advisor cannot serve on the examination committee for that student.

Examination Metrics

Exam metrics are created by both the department and the track-specific exam committees as guidelines for the examination committee and the student. These should define general areas considered as fundamental to research. The General Examination Metrics from the department are consistent between track-specific exam committees, and Track-Specific Examination Metrics are updated by the track-specific committees and returned to the Bioengineering Graduate Program for approval. General metrics are as follows:

  • Student demonstrates understanding of fundamentals in quantitative interpretation of data and statistics
  • Student effectively communicates ideas and concepts, adapting to questions and providing interactive explanations
  • Student integrates concepts from coursework and literature to research
  • Student demonstrates knowledge of fundamentals required to produce novel research in your track area (fundamentals are defined by track-specific committees)
  • Student demonstrates the application of engineering principles to challenges in biotechnology and medicine

Examination Process

The track-specific examination committee assigns two research papers to students that are relevant to their research work, covering fundamental bioengineering topics. The papers are given to the student 2 weeks in advance of the examination. The track-specific exam committee will also provide the students with the list of fundamentals, including both general and track-specific exam metrics, when they provide them with the two research papers for the Qualifying Exam.

The exam is 75 minutes total -- 60 minutes for the exam itself and 15 minutes for the Committee deliberation and decision. In the exam, students will guide a discussion with the Examination Committee that includes any aspects of the assigned research papers and the student's initial research in their track area, focusing on engineering fundamentals. Discussions should focus on topics required to evaluate the general or track-specific examination metrics. Students will present all discussion and aspects of the assigned papers verbally and on a white board/chalk board, responding to questions by the Examination Committee. Additionally, students will bring a set of slides (no more than 10) that demonstrate their initial research progress and the application of engineering fundamentals in their research to date. The Examination Committee should probe the extent of understanding of the impact of bioengineering fundamentals on the research contained in the required readings and in the student's initial research.

Examination Decision

The track-specific Examination Committee that administers the test also makes the final decision for pass or fail on the exam, assessed relative to the pre-determined examination metrics. This is the final and binding decision for passing the qualifying exam. The decision can only be pass or fail; there is no conditional pass option. Students will be provided feedback regardless of the decision. If the decision is fail, thorough context and requirements for remediation to help the student in the retake will be provided by the committee.

Exam Retakes

All students that fail their initial qualifying exam are allowed to retake it within one calendar year from the first attempt. Only students who successfully pass either the first or second qualifying exam will be allowed to continue in the doctoral program, subject to guidelines defined by the Graduate College. Students who do not continue in the doctoral program will be eligible for a master’s degree.