Constitution of qualifying examination committee

The qualifying examination committee consists of a chair and three other Academic Senate faculty members.

  • A student may petition to include one non-Academic Senate faculty member as a member of the committee but they must be a member of a graduate training faculty and have an understanding of the requirements for the examination.
  • At least two members of the committee, including the chair, must be members of the PSPG faculty.
  • The choice of committee members is the responsibility of the student, in consultation with his or her research advisor.
  • Neither the research advisor nor other faculty members who have significantly contributed to the supervision or direction of the proposed research may be members of the oral qualifying examination committee.

Preparation of written proposal

Preparation for the examination should allow sufficient time for the candidate’s research proposal to be reviewed by the research advisor, the committee chair, and each committee member. The format of the written proposal follows that required for an National Institutes of Health (NIH) R21 application and is limited to six pages, not including references. The format is:

  • Specific aims
  • Background and significance
  • Innovation
  • Research design and methods

Knowledge preparation

Students should allow enough time for reading and reviewing materials that supports their research project while writing their proposal. It is not necessary for students to learn everything. Rather, preparation should be aimed at gathering the material and concepts needed for a serious technical discussion of the merits of the proposal, the anticipated problems to be solved, and the overall importance of the project. A firm understanding of basic concepts is often as important as the details of the research proposal.

Preliminary data

Students often ask how much preliminary data they must generate before taking the oral examination. An assessment of the readiness of each student is a matter for discussion among the student, the research advisor, and the chair of the committee, with input from other committee members when appropriate. However, the student and committee members should remember that this is a qualifying examination, not a report on a substantially completed thesis project.

Practice orals

Most candidates find it helpful to have practice oral examinations, with the participation of fellow students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members who are not members of the examination committee. Proposals and presentations are frequently modified based on the practice orals.

Oral examination protocol

Once all program requirements are fulfilled and the student is ready to take the oral examination, the student finalizes selection of the qualifying examination committee and sets a date for the examination. By the end of Winter quarter of year 2, the program manager should be notified of the committee composition and fields for examination. At that time, the Application for Qualifying Exam form should be submitted to the graduate program manager.


3-6 months before the oral examination, students must:

  • Consult with the research advisor and potential committee members.
  • Select fields for examination. These need to be approved by program director prior to submitting the oral exam application to the graduate division. Oral exam application is due to the program by March 1 of year 2.
  • Set the date and time for examination and request a room for the examination.
  • Begin preparation of the written proposal. Share copy of proposal with committee at least 4 weeks prior to exam. Schedule a mtg with each committee member to discuss and review feedback.
  • Begin practice examinations.