Each Ph.D. student must pass a preliminary examination to be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. This examination consists of two distinct parts: (a) a written independent research proposal and a written research progress report; and (b) an oral defense of these documents including oral answers to questions raised by the student's Advisory Committee. These guidelines relate to part (a), which constitutes the written comprehensive examination. The written proposal and progress report should be distributed to the student's Advisory Committee at least two weeks before the scheduled preliminary examination.

Independent Research Proposal

Each Ph.D. student must write an original, independently conceived proposal for a research project not directly related to the student's dissertation research. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate that the student can identify a significant and timely scientific question, and synthesize a research strategy designed to answer this question. The proposal will be evaluated for creativity, feasibility, and significance of the research goals. The student is also expected to be familiar with the background of the selected research topic. The topic must be approved by the Advisory Committee, as set forth in the Checklist: Ph.D. Program/second year above. The research proposal should be no longer than 10 pages of double-spaced text. Figures, tables, references, and other graphical material are not included in this limit and should be used to efficiently convey information.

The format of the proposal should use the following sections in the indicated order adhering to the indicated page limits:

Summary (0.5 pages):
A brief summary of the proposal stating the goals of the proposed research and the experimental approach to achieving them.
 
Background and Significance (2 pages):
A description of the current state of the chosen research area, concentrating on any gaps in current understanding that this proposal is designed to fill. The significance of the research question being addressed should also be discussed.
 
Proposed Experiments (6.5 pages):
A detailed description of the experiments proposed, including instrumentation or procedures used, and how the results would be analyzed and interpreted.
 
Chances of Success (1 page):
An evaluation of the experimental protocol, possible outcomes, and the overall chance of successful completion of the proposed experiments. The most difficult or challenging parts of the proposed study should be identified and discussed.

Research Progress Report

Each Ph.D. student must write a report describing the progress made to date on their dissertation research project. This allows the committee to evaluate the student's understanding of the research pursued and the student's research progress. The progress report should be no longer than 10 pages of double-spaced text. Figures, tables, references, and other graphical material are not included in this limit and should be used to efficiently convey information.

The format of the progress report should use the following sections in the indicated order adhering to the indicated maximum page limits:

Abstract (0.5 pages):
A brief summary of the goals of the research project and the progress that will be discussed.
 
Background (1.5 pages):
A description of the current state of this research area, concentrating on any gaps in current understanding that your project is designed to fill.
 
Goals (1 page):
A summary of the specific goals of the research project and the significance of reaching these goals (i.e., how will science be advanced if these goals are achieved?)
 
Experimental Approach (5 pages for this and next section):
A discussion of the experimental approaches being used to accomplish the research project. This should represent an "outline" of the thesis project from start to finish.
 
Progress:
A summary of work accomplished to date on the research project, including articles published and presentations given. Included in this section should also be a discussion of the future directions of the project.

Faculty Involvement in Graduate Student Preparation of Written Comprehensive Examination

The written comprehensive examination (consisting of the research progress report and independent research proposal) is designed to evaluate the student's intellectual creativity and written communication skills. As such, direct involvement of the faculty Advisory Committee with preparation of these documents should be minimized. The following guidelines will be enforced: Advisory Committee members may not:

  • suggest the specific topic, technique, or molecular system to be considered in the independent research proposal. Suggestions about the general area of the proposal are acceptable.
  • direct the development of the project in the independent research proposal. When consulted by the student, they may provide factual information only.
  • see any version of the independent research proposal prior to its distribution to the entire committee (at least two weeks before the preliminary examination).
  • attend an oral presentation of the contents of the written comprehensive examination before the preliminary exam.