Preliminary Exam

Upon meeting the course requirements (and no earlier than the Spring Semester of the 2nd year), the student shall undertake the general (preliminary) examination. Normally this examination is taken by the end of the second year of graduate study or at the beginning of the third year. A student who fails to take the test by the end of the Spring semester in year 3 may be subject to disciplinary action, including being advised by the BMS Program not to continue graduate studies.

The test is a comprehensive examination. It covers the student’s coursework and is a rigorous test of scholarly competence and knowledge. The examination also tests acquaintance with the scholarship in the student’s chosen research area and her on his/powers of bibliographical criticism. Finally, the examination affords the examiners the basis for constructive recommendations on any subsequent program of studies to be undertaken by the student.

The General (Preliminary) Examination consists of one proposition (selected by the student) that is presented as a written proposal and defended orally. The proposition will consist of an original research problem in biomedical sciences and should reflect ideas or theories derived by the student from advanced courses, seminars, and scientific literature. The topic must not directly relate to research ideas generated by the dissertation advisor. The preparation and defense of this proposition is intended to broaden the student’s background conceptually and methodologically. The scope of the proposal will be that of a 2-3 year research project outlining specific experimental plans designed to address the central scientific question identified by the student.

The mechanics of the submission of the proposal and its defense are as follows:

  • The student’s advisor indicates the general acceptability of the proposition topic and the student provides the Dissertation Committee with a written summary (1-2 pages) of the proposal.
  • The Committee meets with the student to determine whether the proposal presents a fundamentally sound hypothesis and whether the student’s background is appropriate to defend the proposition. The Committee also defines its expectations regarding the scope of both the written proposal and the oral examination.
  • The student then prepares the proposal based on the Committee’s recommendations.
    • The student and the Dissertation Committee should allow for 6-8 weeks to write the proposal and to prepare for the oral examination.
    • The proposition should be 7 to 12 single-spaced pages, excluding references, and should include the following sections: 1) Specific Aims, 2) Significance, and 3) Innovation and 4) Research Strategy.
    • The proposal must represent the student’s own work.
    • Committee members should receive copies of the proposition at least two weeks prior to the scheduled date of the exam. The proposal will be defended during an oral examination.
  • The written proposal and oral defense of it will be judged on the basis of the student’s knowledge of the area, originality of the approach proposed for the experiments and the hypothesis to be proven, likelihood of the conclusions to be drawn from the experiments, and the ability of the student to critically evaluate his/her proposed research methods and expected results.
  • During the oral examination, the student may also be questioned on any other area of biomedical sciences at the discretion of the dissertation committee.
  • Upon completing the preliminary exam, the student need to fill out and turn in the Preliminary Exam Approval Form to the BMS office.

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