Advancement to Candidacy

For Advancement to Candidacy, a student must complete: 

  • Qualifying Examination: Part 1) written component and Part 2) oral component
  • Written Dissertation Proposal submission
  • Oral Dissertation Proposal defense 
  • Acceptance of the final Dissertaion Propsal

So many forms! WHAT do I need?...

  • This page contains alot of important information and scenarios of these important milestones.  See the bottom of the page FAQs to be certain you have all forms completed.

Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam consists of a written component (taken first) and an oral component (taken only after passing the written portion). Successful completion of both written and oral components is required. 

1. Written Component

The written component must be taken no later than the end of the 5th semester of doctoral study. The written component will be administered on three specific dates during each year:

  • January--Thursday preceeding the start of the Spring semester 
  • May--first Thursday after graduation 
  • August--Thursday preceeding the start of the Fall semester 

The written component of the Qualifying Exam will cover 5 areas. Complete the Qualifying Exam Topic Approval Sheet and submit to Graduate Program Coordinator. All 5 topic areas will be selected by the student in consultation with the Major Advisor and approved by the Dissertation Committee:

  • two areas associated with the required Ph.D. core curriculum (see list of 50 Core Area Choices)
  • one area associated with the student's elective coursework and area of academic/intellectual interest which may overlap with the thesis resaerch area 
  • two areas of the student’s specific research interests and thesis research 

Written questions will be selected or generated by the Dissertation Committee members. Typically, 2-4 questions (minimum of 2 choices) will be selected/generated for each of the 5 areas. The Major Advisor will collect all questions from Committee members and ensure that at least 2 or more choices within each topic are available to the student for response. The Dissertation Committee will determine if the exam is open- or closed-book. During the exam, the student will select one question from each area, such that the written exam will consist of a total of 5 answered questions. The student will write the exam using a computer (not Wi-Fi capable) provided by the department. The exam will be proctored by the Major Advisor or a designated member of the Dissertation Committee. The time allotted for the written exam will be 4 hours, time certain. More detailed study tips and what to anticipate, see Guidelines for PhD Qualifiers.

Questions will be graded by the Dissertation Committee members who generated/selected them with input from the entire Committee. Grading wil be completed within two weeks. The Major Advisor will  meet with the student to provide the results and feedback. A student must receive a grade of A or B on at least 4 of the 5 areas to pass the written exam. If a student receives a grade of C on 2 or more of the 5 areas, or a grade of U on one or more areas, the entire written exam is graded as failed. The Dissertation Committee will allow a retake for the portions of the written exam receiving grades of C or U. The retake must occur within 4 weeks. A grade of C or U on any portion of a retake exam will constitute failure of the entire written exam and the student will be dismissed from the doctoral program. After completion of the examination process, graded exams will be placed in the students’ files and retained as part of the permanent record.

2. Oral Component

If the student passes the written component, he/she must then take the oral component by the end of the semester in which the Committee announces that the student has passed the written component which will typically be no later than the end of the 6th semester.

The Oral component of the Exam will test general knowledge gained from the required courses, as well as specific knowledge related to elective courses and area of research. The oral componenet of the Qualifying Examination presentation may occur along with or occur separately from the presentation and defense of the disseration proposal (see below). Nevertheless, at the discretion of the Committee, a student can be tested on specific research area and the development of the dissertation topic to date. The Committee will evaluate performance in the following areas: 1) basic knowledge attained from graduate coursework, 2) specific knowledge pertaining to elective courses and research area, 3) critical thinking, and 4) presentation/communication skills. A block of no less than 2 hours should be reserved for the examination in order to allow for adequate time for questions and answers though the examination may last longer or shorter than this time. At the discretion of the Committee, the student can be asked to give a brief PowerPoint presentation (< 20 min) at the beginning of the exam that summarizes the development of the dissertation research project to date. The examination is not public.

When the Committee is finished with the oral questions, the student is excused. The Committee then evaluates the student's performance. After this discussion, the Committee will vote on the student’s performance. The student will be informed as to whether or not he/she passed immediately following the Committee vote. The student will not be informed of the vote tally.

If a Committee deems that a student has not passed the oral component, the student may apply for re-examination on a date to be set no less than 30 days or more than 45 days from the date of the previous examination. The Committee will determine the nature of the second oral examination. In the event that a student does not pass the second oral examination, the student will be dismissed from the program.

It is the student’s responsibility to consult with the Graduate Program Director to ensure that all required forms are taken to the meeting and subsequently submitted.

Forms for the Qualifying Exam:

Dissertation Proposal AND DEFENSE

By no later than the end of the 6th semester of study, the student must present and defend a Dissertation Proposal before his/her Dissertation Committee. The student will submit a full proposal (see details below) to the Committee one week prior to the oral defense of the proposal. The presentation and defense of the proposal may occur along with or occur separately from the oral componenet of the Qualifying Examination.

1. Proposal submission:

The written proposal must be entirely the student's own work. However, the problem and approaches may be developed, clarified and refined by discussions with the Major Advisor, other faculty members, and other students. The student’s Advisor and Committee can provide guidance through this process, but the proposal must reflect the student’s individual ideas and abilities in scientific reasoning, experimental design, and scientific writing. A written proposal must be submitted to the student's Committee at least one week before the presentation and defense. 

Written Proposal: The student must develop a full proposal modeled after an appropriate federal agency research grant submission. The proposal will typically not exceed 10-15 pages, excluding title page, figures and references. Preliminary data is not necessary but may be incoroporated if available. The written proposal should contain the following sections:

  • A. Hypothesis and Specific Aims: The specific aims state the objectives and goals of the research project towards testing the hypothesis.
  • B. Background and Significance: Briefly outline background material relevant to evaluate the proposal and to describe how this research will provide new scientific information. It is important to describe the broad impact of the proposal.
  • C. Experimental Design and Methods: Describe the research design and methods used to test the specific aims of the project. Include information on the data collection, analysis and expected results. Describe potential pitfalls and alternative approaches to achieve the aims.
  • D. Preliminary Data: If applicable
  • E. Vertebrate Animals: If applicable
  • F. References: Include complete references (authors, titles, journal, inclusive pages) for all references.

2. Proposal presentation, and defense:

Presentation and Defense: The student must submit the full proposal to each member of the Committee at least one week prior to the scheduled defense. The student will present a PowerPoint presentation of the thesis topic, hypotheses, methodologies, and anticipated results. The Committee will ask questions directed at focusing the proposed research and assessing rigor and scientific inquiry of the student. If the Committee determines that further work is needed on the proposal, changes must be made within 30 days. Approval of the revised proposal may be followed by a second Committee meeting to present the revised proposal if the Committee requests such a meeting. Alternatively, approval of the revised proposal may be in writing. Official approval of the dissertation topic can occur only after the successful completion of the Qualifying Exam, and must occur by the end of the 6th semester of graduate study. A student Advances to Candidacy following approval of the proposal by the Dissertation Committee and the Dean of the Graduate School.

Form for the Proposal Defense and Topic Approval:

FAQ on forms

I am preparing for my Qualifying Exam. What forms do I need? 

I passed my Written Qualifying Exam. What forms do I need?

None. The written component is the FIRST part of the Qualifying Exam. No form is required until the studnet has passed both the written AND oral components.

I am completing my Oral Qualifying Exam. I am not ready to defend my Dissertation Proposal at this time. What forms do I need?

  • SLO forms a separate form is to be completed by each and every member of the Dissertation Committee and returned to the Graduate Program Director
  • Exam Report. Indicate both major and PhD degree. Check Box marked Qualifying Exam.

Previously I completed my Oral Qualifying Exam. Now I am prepared to defend my Dissertation Proposal. What forms do I need?

I am combining my Oral Qualifying Exam with my Dissertation Proposal Defense. What forms do I need?

I am combining my Oral Qualifying Exam, my Dissertation Proposal Defense, AND I am earning my nonthesis MS degree during this process (dual entry required). What forms do I need?

You need the ultimate package....

  • SLO forms a separate form is to be completed by each and every member of the Dissertation Committee and returned to the Graduate Program Director
  • Exam Report. Indicate both major and PhD degree. Check Box marked Qualifying Exam.
  • Exam Report. Indicate both major and nonthesis MS degree. Check Box marked Comprehensive Exam.
  • Final Defense Report. Indicate both major and nonthesis MS degree. Check Box marked Project (not Scholarly Project).
  • Proposal Defense Report. Indicate both major and PhD degree.
  • Dissertation Proposal Title Page.