Preliminary Exam

The policy for preliminary exams is as follows. Student first proposes a title for the research proposal and provides an outline of the proposal to the preliminary exam committee. The preliminary exam committee should review the proposed title and outline to verify that it does not overlap substantially with the student's current research. They should then vote whether or not to approve the proposed title and outline. If the committee does not approve the title and outline, the student must submit a revised title and outline. Once the committee approves the title and outline, the student has six weeks to prepare the proposal using the style of an NSF or USDA proposal. During the development of the proposal, the student should have minimal feedback from the Advisory Committee Chair. Evaluation of the written proposal and voting is to be done at a meeting of the prelim committee within 2 weeks of submitting the proposal to the committee. This meeting is to be conducted in person. However, a vote may be cast via email, phone, or Skype if a committee member cannot attend due to extenuating circumstances. If the committee determines that the student has passed, they are eligible to take the oral preliminary exam. If the student does not pass, they can cycle through the process for writing a research proposal one more time.

If the committee determines that the student has passed the research proposal, the student proceeds to take the Oral preliminary exam. The Oral exam is administered by the student's advisory committee. The student makes a 20 min presentation followed by 40 minutes of questions related to the research proposal. The remainder of the exam can address broader knowledge (course work, etc). At the conclusion of the oral exam the committee votes on the student's performance. If the student passes, the student can commence dissertation research. The committee may also fail the student, in which case the committee may or may not decide that the student can retake the Oral exam.

A third option occurs when the committee decides that the student passes the Oral exam with reservations. In this case the committee can identify what the student is required to do to satisfy the reservations. This could include one of the following activities: taking additional classes, conducting a literature review of a specified topic, taking an additional written exam, or another action specified by the committee.

If the committee recommends that the student take a written exam to satisfy reservations identified during the Oral exam, the procedure for the written exam is as follows. The student is given an exam consisting of three questions prepared by members of the student's preliminary exam committee, including one question from the student's advisor. The committee will determine how long the student has to complete the exam, and whether or not each question is an open or closed book format. After the exam is completed, each committee member grades the question that they wrote as either pass or fail. The student passes the written exam if two questions receive a grade of pass, and the student can commence dissertation research. The written exam can be retaken once if failed.
Students who have passed the oral and written PhD preliminary exams should complete a 5 page (single spaced) thesis proposal on their PhD research topic. This proposal should be submitted to the advisor for approval within one semester of completing the PhD preliminary exams. The format of the thesis proposal is flexible, but should include section headings such as Abstract, Introduction and Literature Review, Research Hypotheses, Research Objectives, Research Methodology, and Expected Results. It is no longer necessary to submit a Thesis Degree Proposal form to the Graduate School.

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