Skip to Main Content

Qualifying Examination

A qualifying examination composed of two parts 1) the written dissertation proposal and 2) and oral presentation of the proposal must be passed by the student as required by the Graduate School. The student's dissertation advisory committee will administer the qualifying examination by end of the student’s 2nd year. Prior to the examination, the Graduate Studies Executive Committee must review and approve the dissertation advisory committee and specific aims with a working title for the research (deadline end of Spring semester 2nd Year). This will ensure that the dissertation advisory committee is approved early in the process to avoid any questions or concerns. In addition, it is recommended that students take course CDE 617b to aid in timely completion of the qualifying examination.

The written dissertation proposal can be either in the format of the full prospectus (20-pages double-spaced, see “Guidelines for Prospectus and Dissertation” document). Or in the format of a NIH NRSA F31 Predoctoral Fellowship grant; single-spaced Arial 11 or Times New Roman 12, specific aims (1 page), research strategy, with sub-sections covering the proposal’s significance, innovation, approach (6 pages), references (unlimited). At least three weeks before the oral qualifying examination, the written proposal will be distributed to Department of EHS faculty. Three EHS faculty members selected by the student’s dissertation advisor will form an evaluation committee. The evaluation committee will be responsible for providing constructive comments within two weeks of receiving the document. Other faculty members are also encouraged to provide comments to the student. All comments should be emailed directly to the student and their dissertation advisor. 

During the oral part of the qualifying examination, the student will present their dissertation proposal to the dissertation advisory committee, evaluation committee and other EHS faculty. One hour will be scheduled for the student to present their proposal (30 min) and answer questions from the faculty (30 min). The questions will evaluate: 

  1. the student’s readiness to conduct the research proposed, 
  2. the timeline for completion, 
  3. the rigor of the research, 
  4. the significance to environmental and public health, and 
  5. the student’s communication skills and critical thinking. 

At the end of the presentation the student will leave the room and the faculty will discuss and vote on the grade. The possible outcomes are (a) pass unconditionally with minor revisions, (b) pass conditionally, with further study suggested (or required) in one or more areas, or (c) fail, with or without the option to re-take the examination after the areas of concern have been addressed. If a student receives an unconditional pass, the faculty should note whether the student will receive a merit of distinction defined by both an excellent written proposal and oral presentation.

Once the student has passed the qualifying examination without conditions, the prospectus will be developed/revised to incorporate comments raised by the evaluation committee and other faculty. The revisions will be approved by the dissertation advisory committee and the prospectus submitted to the Graduate Studies Executive Committee for final approval. The student will then be admitted to candidacy.

Important Deadlines

End of Spring Term 2nd year: Send dissertation advisory committee selection and dissertation specific aims to GSEC for review and approval.
End of Summer Term 2nd year: Send written proposal to evaluation committee and EHS faculty three weeks before carrying out oral presentation of proposal.