Preliminary Exams

The Prelim Exams consist of both a written and oral portion. Students should complete both prelim exams by the middle of their third year. If the student expects to need more time, he or she must notify the Biophysics Office and request an extension in writing.
             Written Exam
The written portion is completed first and is structured like a "take-home" exam consisting of five questions, one from each Thesis Committee member. Students have one week to complete the exam and submit it to the Biophysics Office.
                   Prior to Exam

  • At least four weeks in advance, students must schedule the written portion of the prelim exam with their Thesis Committee and notify the Biophysics office of this date. This notification initiates a request for questions from the committee members. The Biophysics office assembles the full exam and coordinates the start and end times with the student.
  • On the scheduled day, the student will receive the exam.

                   After the Exam

  • One week after receiving the exam, the student must submit an electronic copy and a hard copy of their exam responses to the Biophysics Office.
  • Each committee member will grade her/his respective question. An average grade of B constitutes a pass; the results are communicated to the student after all grades are received.
  • Students have one opportunity to retake the written part of the preliminary examination in the event of a non-passing grade.

 Oral Exam (format instructions)
The oral portion is taken after successfully completing the written exam. This portion consists of an oral defense of a written research proposal. The proposal should describe the background and aims of the student's thesis project, important results obtained to date, future research plans, and a timetable for completion of the experiments. The format of the research proposal is based on the format for an NIH F31 predoctoral grant application. The proposal should include a Title or cover Page and a Summary/abstract. The body of the proposal should have two sections, first listing the Specific Aims (limit 1 page, single-spaced) and followed by the Research Strategy (limit 6 pages, single-spaced, including figures) consisting of 3 subsections. These subsections are background and significance, preliminary data, and research design and methods. A Bibliography of pertinent references may be included at the end.
                   Prior to Exam:

  • At least four weeks in advance, students must schedule the oral portion with their Thesis Committee and notify the Biophysics Office of this date. This will allow enough time to obtain a warrant from the Graduate School.
  • At least three working days before the exam date, students must distribute a copy of their proposal to each member of the Thesis Committee and a copy to the Biophysics Office.
  • The Biophysics Office will request one member of the Committee to chair the exam and will give the warrant and rating forms to the designated chair prior to the exam. 

                   At the Exam:

  • Students present an uninterrupted 20-minute survey of the research project with the understanding that the committee members have read the written proposal. Afterwards, the floor is open for questions from the Thesis Committee.
  • The committee meets in a closed session for grading. An NIH-style rating system is used: a scale from 1 (best) to 5 (worst) where an average score of 2.5 is a pass and a score over 2.5 is a fail.
  • The student is called back and told the results of the examination. Then the student must obtain signatures of all committee members on the warrant.

                   After Exam:

  • The student returns the signed warrant to the Biophysics Office.
  • The committee will submit the rating forms to the Biophysics Office.
  • The warrant is forwarded to the Graduate School. Upon approval, the student will be promoted to Dissertator status.
  • Students are given one opportunity to retake the oral part of the prelim exam in the event of a failed grade.