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Qualifying Examinations

Graduate Student Handbook
Part I - First Year

Qualifying Exam I consists of the aggregate exam grades in the Core courses. Biology G6001, G6002 and G6003 must be successfully completed by the end of the student’s first year.

Part II – Before end of Fall of Third Year

Students will prepare a written proposal based on their intended research project, as perceived at that time. The proposal will be in the form of a short postdoctoral fellowship application (see guidelines below). Students will submit this proposal to qualifying exam committee consisting of two faculty members, then present and defend the proposal before this committee.

The deadline for proposal defense is the end of the Fall semester of the student’s second year, however students many also take the exam earlier, in the previous Spring or Summer semester.The written proposal must be submitted to the committee at least two weeks before the oral defense of the proposal.

The committee will probe the student’s general knowledge in the area represented by the project, the area represented by the sponsor’s laboratory, and the areas covered in courses the student has taken. Students should be prepared to describe any procedure proposed in the research plan. Although the structure of the oral examination will be that of a defense of the proposal, the emphasis will be as much on general knowledge in these areas as on the merits of the specific research proposed. The examining committee will be made up of two faculty members from the program’s training faculty and will not include the student’s research sponsor. This committee, plus the sponsor, will constitute the student’s research progress committee, which will meet at least annually with the student after the oral examination.

Students whose performance is judged unsatisfactory on this exam will be given one additional opportunity to take the exam within the next few months, but before the end of the Spring semester of the third year. The committee for the second exam shall be comprised of the original members plus the sponsor. The student also has the prerogative to request a new committee for the second exam comprised of two new faculty members plus the sponsor.


Be sure to print the Qualifying Exam II form and take it with you to your Qualifying Exam for your committee to sign. Then return the form to 600 Office.


Guidelines for the written research proposal

The guidelines for an NIH predoctoral research fellowship should be used. These are printed below. The space limitations have been changed for double-spaced formatting. Another difference is that up to 7 figures may be included outside of the page limits. References are also not included in the page limits.

2.  Specific Aims

Specific Aims are limited to two pages. State concisely the goals of the proposed research and summarize the expected outcome(s), including the impact that the results of the proposed research will exert on the research field(s) involved. List succinctly the specific objectives of the research proposed, e.g., to test a stated hypothesis, create a novel design, solve a specific problem, challenge an existing paradigm or clinical practice, address a critical barrier to progress in the field, or develop new technology.

3.  Research Strategy

This item is limited to twelve pages. Organize the Research Strategy in the specified order using the instructions provided below. Start each section with the appropriate section heading —Significance, Innovation, Approach. Cite published experimental details in the Research Strategy section and provide the full reference in the Bibliography and References Cited section.

 (a) Significance

·        Explain the importance of the problem or critical barrier to progress in the field that the proposed project addresses.

·        Explain how the proposed project will improve scientific knowledge, technical capability, and/or clinical practice in one or more broad fields.

·        Describe how the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services, or preventative interventions that drive this field will be changed if the proposed aims are achieved.

(b) Innovation - Optional.

(c) Approach

·        Describe the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses to be used to accomplish the specific aims of the project. Include how the data will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted.

·        Discuss potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks for success anticipated to achieve the aims.

·        If the project is in the early stages of development, describe any strategy to establish feasibility, and address the management of any high risk aspects of the proposed work.


If an applicant has multiple Specific Aims, then the applicant may address Significance, Innovation and Approach for each Specific Aim individually, or may address Significance, Innovation and Approach for all of the Specific Aims collectively.

Preliminary Studies for New Applications.

For new applications, include information on preliminary studies, if any. Discuss the applicant’s preliminary studies, data and/or experience pertinent to this application. When applicable, provide a succinct account of published and unpublished results, indicating progress toward their achievement. [This should be done within the Research Strategies section, usually in Significance.]

Bibliography & References Cited

 Provide a bibliography of any references cited in the Project Narrative. Each reference must include the names of all authors (in the same sequence in which they appear in the publication), the article and journal title, book title, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication. Include only bibliographic citations. Applicants should be especially careful to follow scholarly practices in providing citations for source materials relied upon when preparing any section of the application.


 The proposal should be formatted according to the following guidelines:

-       Double-space all text, except captions for figures, which may be single-spaced.

-       Use a 11 or 12 pt. font such as Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia.

-       Use 1-inch margins on top, bottom, left and right.