The Preliminary Qualifying Examination is an important requirement towards the Ph.D. degree and must be completed before research on the dissertation begins. The examination paper (approximately 15 to 20 pages in length) is a proposal of a hypothetical research project. The research topic proposed should not be the topic upon which a student plans to do his or her dissertation research.
Students begin the Preliminary Qualifying Examination process by submitting a 1-2 page outline of a proposed topic to the Chairman of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Biophysics. The outline should contain a clearly stated hypothesis. At times, more than one topic is proposed.
Once approval of a proposed topic is obtained from the Chairman, preparation of the full examination proposal should begin. The topic should be discussed at length and should include an introduction, clear hypothesis, statement of specific aims (a small number of very specific goals which serve as landmarks for evaluation of the progress), clear description of the experiments and controls, statement of the implications of the experiments and possible pitfalls, and a conclusion.
The above criteria should be preceded by an abstract and a table of contents, and should end with a list of references consulted. Tables and figures may also be included for purposes of clarification. Students should assume that they would have an unlimited budget (within reason; access to the equipment necessary) but limited human resources- a student should be able to complete the hypothetical project within 4-5 years.
When the examination proposal has been completed and approved by one’s advisor, one copy should be submitted to the program administrator (electronically). Thereafter, the Committee asks that the names of three possible examiners be suggested by the student and approved by the Chair. The exam date for the oral presentation is then scheduled.
The oral examination should concentrate on the student's thorough understanding of the field and his or her ability to evaluate past and future experiments critically and usually includes a slide talk/ presentation. The oral component of the Preliminary Qualifying Examination generally requires a 3-hour time block to be set aside for full questioning of the student.
Students are required to complete their qualifying examination before beginning their third year of graduate study.