Oral Qualifying Examination

The purpose of Part II of the Qualifying Examination is to determine if the student is intellectually prepared to begin dissertation research. Are they familiar with the background literature and do they understand how to do the experiments? More importantly, why are they doing the experiments? What specific results and conclusions will be gained? How does this relate to larger questions in biology?

In a rush to begin the experiments and start producing results, students may skip much of the background reading that is essential to understanding the purpose and focus of their project. Lacking this knowledge, it is possible to miss subtle, but important, details in the experiments or results. Without knowledge of the previous work by others, students often fail to make connections between their findings and others results.

The purpose of the research proposal format in the Oral Qualifying Exam is therefore to provide students with the time and means to do the proper background reading to develop a clear picture of the purpose and direction of their project. Having this background will make the student’s graduate research more exciting and productive.

The intent of the MMG Program is to have the students take the exam during their second year of graduate school, after they have worked in the lab for a while and have settled on a topic for their thesis. Note that a large amount of preliminary results are not a prerequisite for presentation of the proposal. The goal of the exam is be sure that the student is intellectually prepared to carry out the research and that they have firm understanding of the background material and the issues that they will be investigating. It is not to evaluate the quality or the quantity of the work the student has accomplished (that comes later in the thesis defense). If the student has a weaknesses in a particular area then it is better to address and remedy it early in their graduate career.

A second benefit of having the Oral Qualifying Exam early in the student’s graduate career is that they will begin to know other professors besides their research advisor. These professors will not only be valuable resources for advice on their experiments but will also be able to help when the student starts to look for postdoctoral positions. These professors will be able to monitor the student’s progress through graduate school and will therefore be able to offer a more in depth letter of recommendation than someone who has only read the thesis and spent several hours in the defense several months before graduation.

A final benefit of getting completing the exam in the second year is that it begins the process of writing the thesis. Sections of the Qualifying Exam proposal often serve as a basis to build upon for thesis chapters . The effort put into writing the Oral Qualifying Exam proposal will also help later with writing papers and research proposals for postdoc fellowship applications.

Requirements for Part II of the Qualifying Examination for the Joint Graduate Program in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

Exam Committee: The Examination Committee should consist of least four faculty members from the Joint Graduate Program in Molecular Biosciences. The student¹s thesis advisor can, but does not have to be a member of the Examination Committee. An attempt should be made to have no more than two faculty members of the student¹s resident Department, Center or Institute on the committee. Members of the oral preliminary exam committee may or may not serve on the student¹s thesis committee. However if choosing a committee that will also serve as the thesis committee, the regulations of the Rutgers Graduate School state that at least one of the faculty must not be a member of the Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Graduate program. The external committee member may be a member of another program in the Joint Graduate Program in Molecular Biosciences or from outside of RU or RWJMS.

Academic Requirements: It is the responsibility of the Oral Qualifying Exam committee to review the student’s academic record. The student should provide a current transcript for review by the committee. Although it is not expected that all the course requirements will be completed by the time of the exam the student should have completed the first year curriculum in Joint Graduate Program in Molecular Biosciences, Microbiology (681:501) and at least one additional seminar course. The student must have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 in these courses to take the exam.

Proposal: The students should write a proposal that will be defended orally before the examination committee. Although the format and topic can be flexible, it is recommended that the proposal should be similar to a NIH RO1 proposal that is on or closely related to the student’s planned research for their thesis. The proposal should contain a statement of the specific aims, background, significance, a description of the research design and methods, and a bibliography. Potential problems and outcomes of the experiments should be anticipated. The student should be familiar with what different types of results may be expected from the experiment, how they will analyze the data, and what type of conclusions can be drawn from this analysis. The written research proposal should be presented to the Examination Committee at least a week before the examination.

The purpose of this part of the examination is to determine if the student is intellectually prepared to begin dissertation research, not to judge their research results. The student should be taking the exam within their first full year in the lab. Preliminary results are therefore not a prerequisite for presentation of the proposal.


a) Shortly before the exam students should pick up a candidacy form from the Graduate Office of Molecular BioSciences (Nelson A102). They should complete Part 1 of the form and present it to the Chairperson of their committee at the time of the examination. After being signed by all the members of the committee and the Graduate Program Director, the form should be dropped off at the Office of the Graduate School (Bishop Place, New Brunswick).

b) Before the examination begins the student should provide the most current academic transcript and CV for the committee members to evaluate. Any deficiencies in the student’s grades or course work should be noted by the committee in a letter by the chairperson of the committee. The chairperson for the Oral Qualifying Exam Committee must be a member of the MMG program that is not the student’s advisor.

c) The student should give a short presentation outlining the background, questions, preliminary data, and experiments described in the proposal. Committee members are expected to question the student on the proposal to gauge the student’s knowledge of the background literature along their understanding of the proposed experiments and how they relate to the questions they are trying to address. If the committee feels there are gaps in the student’s knowledge they can recommend solutions, such as additional course work, journal clubs, writing a review, re-writing the proposal, etc.

d) Successful completion of both parts of the qualifying examination in a timely manner is required to remain in the graduate program. After the second part (the oral research proposal) of the examination has been completed, the chairperson shall submit a written report to the program director and committee with a copy sent to the student. The report should indicate the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate and whether the student has passed the examination and should be admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. The Program Director will notify the student of any reservations or conditions that the Committee has placed. Students who fail one or both sections of the Qualifying Examination may request a second examination. A second instance of failure in either section of the Examination will result in termination. The Qualifying Examination Committee may determine that the student is eligible for a terminal Master of Science degree. Subsequent appeals should be directed to the Student Affairs and Standards Committee.