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Qualifying Exam

Research Proposal

One month before the qualifying exam, the student will provide to the degree committee a written document (typically five to 10 pages of a research proposal written in NIH or NSF format) that describes his or her research topic, summarizes progress to date, and outlines what he or she proposes to do, why it is relevant, and what will be learned. The committee will review this document with the student and determine if the student has outlined a project that is appropriate for a Ph.D. If not, the student is required to rewrite the research plan. Once the research plan is approved the student may take the oral portion of the qualifying examination.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

All students in the Bioengineering Ph.D. program are required to pass a qualifying examination before advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Students are expected to take and pass the qualifying examination within the first two years of graduate study unless they successfully petition the graduate group chair to take it at a specific later date.

All students in the Bioengineering graduate program must have a graduate research advisor. The student’s graduate research advisor (see section 2.4.3), normally in consultation with the student, the graduate program, and other faculty, recommends appointment of faculty members to advise on and supervise the student’s thesis or dissertation research, serve on examination committees, and review and pass upon the merits of the thesis or dissertation. Final approval of the membership on these committees rests with the Graduate Dean. M.S. thesis committees and Ph.D. dissertation committees in the Bioengineering program typically consist of three members, although additional committee members are permitted if warranted by the student’s research project. One is the student’s graduate research advisor and the two or more others are UC Merced faculty members in the program (one of whom is appointed as Committee Chair). Under some circumstances one of the committee members can be a UC Merced faculty member from outside the program or a regular or adjunct faculty member from any UC campus or an individual from outside the University of California who has special expertise and qualifications. In this case, the graduate research advisor should submit a brief statement indicating the appointee’s affiliation and title and how the prospective appointee has special expertise or qualifications that are not represented on the campus. In addition to the justification letter from the graduate advisor, a curriculum vita and a letter from the proposed appointee indicating a willingness to serve must be submitted to the Chair of the Bioengineering graduate program for review. External committee members must also be approved by the Graduate Dean. No member participation from outside the program is required for either the M.S. thesis or Ph.D. dissertation committees. However, participation of an external (fourth) member in the Ph.D. dissertation committee is strongly encouraged.

All members of the committee must be in attendance (either in person or remotely) for the M.S. thesis or the Ph.D. dissertation defense. If a committee member’s absence from campus for an extended period of time makes scheduling of examinations unreasonably difficult, the student may request that the committee be reconstituted. Reconstitution of the committee may also be justified by a substantial change in the student’s thesis topic or may be required by the departure of a committee member from the university. When membership changes must be made, the graduate advisor in consultation with the student should recommend a new committee member, giving the reason for the change. The change must be reviewed and approved by the Chair of the Bioengineering graduate program and by the Graduate Dean.

The qualifying exam may be taken only after the student’s written research proposal has been approved by the student’s committee. The exam will focus on the student’s research proposal, but may cover any related field of science or engineering (including biology, chemistry, physics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, spectroscopy, microscopy, and kinetics), and will typically last three hours. The committee conducts the examination, and immediately thereafter submits the results of the examination to Graduate Studies. Possible outcomes are:

  • Pass
  • Conditional pass (additional assignment or course may be required by the committee)
  • Fail, with an option to retake the examination once within a specified time period

The committee members should include in their evaluations of the student such factors as relevant portions of the previous academic record, performance on the examination, and an overall evaluation of the student’s performance and potential for scholarly research as indicated during the examination. The committee should strive to reach a unanimous decision. If a unanimous decision is reached, the committee shall inform the student of its decision in one of the forms listed above. If the decision is “Conditional Pass” or “Fail,” the chairperson of the committee must include in a report a specific statement, which may include a minority report, explaining its decision and must inform the student of its decision. In the case of a “Conditional Pass” decision, the committee must include in its report a further statement of its terms and inform the student of those terms. In those cases when it is not possible for the members to resolve their differences, the student should be informed of the nature of those differences and each member should submit a detailed assessment of the student’s performance to the chair of the graduate group. The chair, in consultation with other members of the graduate group, will use these individual reports to adjudicate the result.

Upon recommendation of the examination committee, a student who has not passed the examination may repeat the qualifying examination after a preparation time of no more than six months. The examination must be held by the same committee except that members may be replaced, with the approval of the graduate advisor, for cause such as extended absence from the campus. Failure to pass the examination on the second attempt means that the student is subject to disqualification from further study for the doctoral degree.

Advancement to Candidacy

Upon successful completion of the examinations and approval of a research plan, the student is given an application for advancement to candidacy by the examining committee chair. When it is filled out and signed by the graduate research advisor, the student pays a candidacy fee and submits the form to the Graduate Division. Upon advancement to candidacy for the degree, the faculty committee is then charged to guide the student in research and in the preparation of the dissertation.