Oral Qualifying Exam

To be taken by Oct 31st of G3
(Temporary extension to Jan 31st 2021 for 2020-2021 academic year)  
 
The PhD Qualifying Exam (QE) is designed to test the student’s preparedness for doing research in a chosen area.  Examiners will assess the student’s knowledge, aptitude, and readiness for research. It is distinct from a dissertation research proposal.
 
Concentration Advisor:
At the beginning of G2 year, each student chooses an Area of Concentration and a Concentration Advisor to help him/her/them craft a coordinated set of elective coursework, research, and independent study in the specific research area. While elective course work is not mandatory, it is strongly advised. Prior to taking the QE, the student must consult with the Concentration Advisor, their Dissertation Advisor, their academic advisor and other mentors to clarify expectations for the exam. The concentration advisor plays an important role in the design and preparation for the QE and will, in most cases, chair the exam. In cases when the concentration advisor is also the dissertation advisor, the QE chair needs to be assigned to a different SHBT faculty. The concentration/dissertation advisor, in this case, cannot participate in the exam (see below).
 
Examiners:
The qualifying exam is administered by an ad hoc committee comprising three faculty members, typically including two SHBT faculty. Upon consultation with the dissertation advisor and other mentors, the student will propose a list of people who would be suitable examiners by completing a Request for Oral Examination Form submitted to the Program Administrator and the Concentration Advisor. The concentration advisor will review the proposed list with the student and decide on the final composition of the examination committee. The student’s Dissertation Advisor cannot serve on this committee. The chair must be a member of the SHBT Program and familiar with Program policies. As noted above, the concentration advisor will often chair the committee to ensure a fair and consistent process. The student is responsible for reaching out directly to the faculty and setting up a date and place for the meeting. The chair is responsible for reporting the outcome of the exam to the Program Administrator and the Chair of the Tracking Committee, with CC to the student and the dissertation advisor. In case a member of the examination committee cannot be scheduled in a timely manner, the student will consult with the Concentration Advisor to find an alternate examiner. 
 
Preparation:
The Oral Qualifying Exam assesses the student’s comprehension of the fundamental ideas and approaches related to the student's research area, and his/her ability to think incisively and critically about the theoretical and practical aspects of this field. 
The student prepares a presentation of a research project he/she/they actively participated in, and that is pertinent to their dissertation work. This may be preliminary results for the anticipated dissertation project, or an independent research project in an area relevant to the anticipated dissertation project. During the examination, the student should be prepared to discuss the rationale for the experiments, background literature that has led to the research, expected outcomes and alternative experiments or conclusions. Detailed knowledge of experimental protocol and analysis is also expected.
Additionally, the student is expected to be familiar with material taught in the core classes during the first year, particularly classes that are directly relevant to the students area of research. This may also include material taught in elective classes taken by the student.  In theory, the questions from the committee should be confined to topics directly related to the student’s research, but they can also be asked questions about fundamental concepts. As such, it is encouraged that the student revisits all course work as well as literature that is relevant to their research project. 
 
The Dissertation Advisor may help the student prepare for the exam by giving general advice and participating in practice exams but cannot directly assist the student in writing the research summary.
 
Write your paper:
A written summary of the research project must be submitted to the committee at least one week before the exam. This research summary should be 6-8 pages long (not counting figures and references). The research summary should be written by the student using his/her own words, with no direct contribution from the Dissertation Advisor. 
 
Exam:
A ~20 min synopsis of the research project is presented during the exam. This synopsis must indicate why the research question is important, describe the techniques used to address the question, present, and interpret results, and discuss how the approach advances knowledge in the research area. The combination of coursework and research must lead to the student mastering a significant accomplishment in an academic area. As the student progresses in research and masters fundamental concepts, the Oral Qualifying Exam is designed to test knowledge in the concentration area. 
 
Taking the exam:
This consists of four people (you and three examiners) meeting in a room for approximately two hours. You should prepare an introduction and overview of your project lasting about 20 min (see details above). The examiners will interrupt with questions during the presentation, so the actual process will take longer. The oral presentation generally takes the form of a PowerPoint presentation, but any format that effectively communicates the main ideas is acceptable, including writing on a whiteboard. While your written research summary is the initial focus of the exam, you are also expected to demonstrate substantial knowledge in your field of research and related scientific areas.
 
Exam Evaluation:
The chair of the examination committee is responsible for reporting the outcome of the exam to the Program Administrator and the Director of Student Affairs. Possible outcomes are Clear Pass, Conditional Pass, or Fail.
Pass/Fail: If the first attempt is not a pass, the student may be given a second chance. Continued enrollment for any student who has not attained a clear pass after a second examination (if a second chance had been approved) will be considered and determined by the SHBT Student Tracking committee and the HMS Dean of Graduate Education. The exam’s outcome may also be a conditional pass, where the student has to complete additional work such as coursework or a writing assignment without having to retake the exam. The pass becomes final when the student demonstrates completion of the required additional work to the Examining Committee. The chair of the Examining Committee must report successful completion to the Program Administrator and the Director of Student Affairs by submitting the Oral Qualifying Exam report form.