Neuroscience Preliminary Examination

The purpose of the preliminary exam: To assess whether a student is ready to move forward and independently undertake a research project. 

This decision will be a joint decision between the mentor and the Individual Preliminary Examination Committee. The general format and rules for the Preliminary Exam are described below, exceptions require the approval of the director of the Neuroscience Program.

    I. Doctoral students take the Preliminary Exam at the end of the fourth semester, having completed all required courses in the program. It is expected that they will complete all components of the Preliminary Exam before the start of the fifth semester. Upon successful completion of the Preliminary Exam students must apply to the Graduate School for Advancement to Candidacy. Students have the option of taking the preliminary exam earlier or later with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.

    II. The Preliminary Exam is the presentation of an original research proposal in the format of an NIH R01 application or a modified NIH T32 application. The exam consists of a written proposal that is evaluated by a faculty committee. Upon approval, the student is asked to present an oral defense of the same proposal to the faculty committee.

    III. The topic of the Preliminary Exam proposal must receive prior approval from the Director of Graduate Studies. The topic may be the thesis project of the student or another topic in Neuroscience.

    IV. Student’s Preliminary Examination Committee: A student’s Examination Committee will consist of at least three faculty in the Neuroscience program. The student’s mentor cannot serve on this committee. Each student will have his own Examination Committee.

    V. Scheduling of Exam: It is the students’ responsibility to schedule the examination (written and oral) in consultation with his/her Examination Committee at a convenient time for both the student and the members of the committee.

    VI. Written Examination: The written examination will consist of a grant proposal that is based on a problem in neuroscience.  The student should use NIH grant proposal guidelines to develop the proposal.
        1. The student will be permitted, at the discretion of the committee, to attempt the written exam three times. Failure on the second re-write will constitute dismissal from the PhD program.
        2. The written exam:
                a. The problem may be on the thesis topic or another area in neuroscience. One goal is to expedite submission of an NRSA (or other) grant by the student. In addition, the purpose of this form of written exam is to facilitate the student’s entry into the laboratory, and provide critical feedback in an area related to their thesis project.
                b. The student is expected to develop independently the design and interpretation of the grant proposal. The student may consult with other students, faculty or persons with special expertise regarding format, presentation and style, but the experimental content and interpretation should reflect the best independent efforts of the student.

VII. Oral Examination: The oral examination will consist of a short presentation of the problem by the student followed by questions posed by the student’s Examination Committee.

VIII. 1. The oral examination should be completed within 2 weeks after approval of the written examination. The student’s Examination Committee will convene to discuss the written proposal to decide whether the oral portion of the examination should proceed as scheduled.
        2. The Thesis Adviser can be present during the Oral Preliminary exam.  However, the Thesis Adviser will not be allowed to speak when the student is present.
        3. The student will be permitted, at the discretion of the committee, to attempt the oral exam two times.  Failure on the second attempt will constitute dismissal from the PhD program.

IX. Passing/Failure of the Examination: The Examination Committee will determine if the student’s performance on the examination, i.e., the grant proposal, is acceptable.  Final determination will be made by a vote of the entire Examination Committee.  A majority of the members of the Examination Committee must approve the proposal. The mentor will be excused from any vote.

X. Remedial Examinations: In the event the first or second written proposal or initial oral presentation is unacceptable to the Examination Committee, the student is required to revise and resubmit the proposal to the Examination Committee. The Examination Committee will provide the student with written or oral evaluations and suggestions for improving the proposal.  After being notified that the proposal must be revised, the student may contact the Examination Committee to discuss ways of improving the proposal.  Final revisions must be completed within four weeks of being notified of any deficiency.

XI. If an exception occurs to the design of the Preliminary Examination, the Executive Committee will convene and decide on the feasibility of change.