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New Departmental Exam Guidelines

Effective for incoming Fall 2016 cohort and going forward.

Overview and Committee

Following the recommendations from the Review Committee from the 2016/17 Graduate Program Review, the Department has implemented a new Department Exam that will allow doctoral students to engage more deeply in their dissertation research at an earlier stage in their graduate career.

The new Department Exam format will be effective for students admitted FA16 and later. Students who were admitted to an earlier cohort will continue with the previous exam format.

The new Department Exam will consist of two components: a written research proposal, and an oral defense of the research proposal.

Department Exam Committee

Important Deadlines:

  • Late Spring, Year 1 - Students submit faculty committee preferences
  • Summer, before Year 2 - Students receive Department Exam Committee assignment

The Department Exam Committee will consist of three faculty: two inside the student’s research track and one outside the student’s research track. In late Spring of the first year, students will have the opportunity to submit preferences on which faculty that would like to serve on the Department Exam Committee. Students should consult with their advisor(s) on this step. The Graduate Affairs Committee (GAC) will then work to finalize each student's Department Exam Committee, which will factor in the student/PI's preferences. Several factors may need to be considered while formulating the committee assignments, but it is the goal of GAC to make every effort to accommodate at least one of the student's preferences. Students will receive their Department Exam Committee assignments by August before Year 2 of the PhD program. Department Exam Committee members will continue to serve on the student's Doctoral Committee.

Component 1: Written Research Proposal

Important Deadlines

  • November 1st, Year 2 - Final Research Proposal due to Department Exam Committee Members (signature of research advisor is required befor submitting to committee)
  • November 15th, Year 2 - Department Exam Committee provides formal assessment of the project

For the first component of the new Department Exam format, students will prepare a written Research Proposal on their proposed dissertation research. The Research Proposal is a grant-writing exercise that takes place during the Summer of the 1st year and the Fall of the 2nd year. Students are strongly encouraged to consult with their advisor, Department Exam Committee, and track advisor (GAC representative) in the preparation of their Research Proposal. The final Research Proposal that is submitted on November 1st should have already received input from the Department Exam Committee as part of the writing exercise.

The Written Resesarch Proposal is designed to:

  1. Encourage the student and research advisor to work together at an early stage to develop a research project.
  2. Train the student in formulating hypotheses and developing strategies to test their hypotheses.
  3. Have the student become familiar with the background literature relevant to their project and to see how their project fits into the bigger picture.
  4. To have each student and their advisor enlist members of his/her Dissertation Committee early in the graduate career and to begin to solicit help from their committee members.
  5. Develop writing skills of the student, particularly for proposals/fellowships.

Written Research Proposal Format:

The written proposal should be maximum 6 pages in length and must include specific aims, background, approach, expected outcomes, figures/tables, and no more than 50 references. The font size for the proposal should be 11 points and the margins should be 1 inch on all sides. The document should be single-spaced. Preliminary data are not required for the proposal, but can be included if appropriate. Students do not need to demonstrate the feasibility of the research proposal at this stage.

Written Research Proposal Content:

Students should work with their advisor and Committee members as soon as possible. When reviewing the research proposal, the Department Exam Committee members will be looking at whether the research proposal focuses on a significant problem, the methods are appropriate and rigorous, the research has been thoroughly and carefully designed, pitfalls have been considered and alternatives can be accomplished in a reasonable period of time, and that completion of the proposed research will lead to the Ph.D. degree. While students should seek guidance from their research advisor, the Research Proposal should be written independently by the student.

Written Research Proposal Feedback:

By November 1st of the 2nd year, students must submit a copy of their final research proposal to their Committee, with a signature from their Research Advisor acknowledging that they have reviewed the document. The Research Advisor is expected to include additional comments about the Written Research Proposal in their 2nd Year Research Evaluation of the student. Committee members will then provide a formal assessment of the project according to the exam rubric no later than November 15th with their final approval of the document. Students will receive an exam rubric from each committee member and may receive no more than 2 “below average” ratings per committee member in the rubric in order to pass the exam. Receipt of more than 2 “below average” ratings will place the student in poor academic standing, and may lead to dismissal from the program.

Component 2: Oral Research Proposal Defense

Important Deadlines:

  • Week 5, Winter Quarter, Year 2 - Confirm Oral Defense date/time with Committee
  • End of Winter Quarter, Year 2 - Successfully pass the Oral Research Proposal Defense

The second component of the new Department Exam format will consist of an Oral Defense of the Research Proposal. The student will orally defend the Research Proposal in front of the same 3-member Committee who approved the Research Proposal.

The purposes of the Oral Defense of the Research Proposal are:

  1. To develop the student's oral presentation skills.
  2. To test the student’s understanding of core material from the first year track curriculum, particularly that relevant to their research area.
  3. To test the student’s understanding of topics relating to the student’s research project including (but not limited to) the background literature, the “big picture” into which their research fits, the methods that the student plans to use and their appropriate choice for the questions being asked.

Research Evaluation from Research Advisor:

Prior to the Oral Exam, the student’s Research Advisor will complete a research evaluation that will be shared with the Department Exam Committee and the student. The evaluation should be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator at least one week prior to the exam date for inclusion in the student’s exam folder, for the Committee’s review.

Exam Format and Feedback:

The Oral Exam should take approximately 60 min, of which no more than 30 minutes should consist of the student’s presentation, and 30 minutes for questioning. Questions posed by the Committee will cover the area of the student’s presentation as well as fundamental principles of all relevant disciplines of Chemistry and Biochemistry, especially as they relate to the proposal.

At the end of the oral presentation and examination, the Committee will deliberate under direction of the Chair of the 2nd year exam committee and deliver a critique of oral presentation of the proposal according to the rubric. The results shall be conveyed to the student immediately and to the Chem/Biochem Student Affairs office in writing.

Satisfactory performance on the oral exam will permit the student to proceed with full time research as well as earn the MS coursework degree for qualified Ph.D. students. Unsatisfactory performance may necessitate re-writing or re-presenting the oral defense, or result in a recommendation that the student withdraw from the program.

Scheduling the Exam

Confirm your exam date and time, then reserve your exam room by week 5 of Winter Quarter!


First, students contact their committee chair to discuss the exam and possible dates and times. Next, students contact the other committee members about possible dates and times. Schedule two hours for the exam. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. Start scheduling early enough to assure the time limit of end of Winter Quarter is met. By week 5 of Winter Quarter, ALL students must confirm with their committee the date of the exam.

Dates to Avoid

Exams should never be scheduled on Weekends or Holidays.

Dates that might be problematic and should be avoided:

(a) Martin Luther King Holiday

(b) Presidents Day Holiday

(c) The large graduate recruitment days

Reserving a Room and Audiovisual Needs

At least three weeks before the exam and *AFTER* you have coordinated the date and time with all members of the committee, students notify he Ph.D. Coordinator will oversee reserving a room and emailing exam notices.

Room Reservation ‐ Conference room details can be found here. Send an email to with your room preference. Room reservations will be made for you.

Coursework MS Degree

PhD students have the option to earn the coursework MS degree along the way to the PhD, if eligible. This is not available for JDP students.

This process is three-fold; In addition to successfully passing both the Written Research Proposal and Oral Research Proposal Defense, students must complete a minimum of 36-units of eligible coursework to apply for the MS degree. Please contact to go over coursework and eligibility. (Students with a prior MS degree are ineligible.)