Campus alert status is yellow: For the latest campus alert status, news and resources, visit umassmed.edu/coronavirus

Search Close Search
Page Menu

The Second Year: Preparing for the Qualifying Exam

Clinical & Population Health Research program students: Please speak to your Program Director for more information.

Basic Biomedical Science students: The information outlined below is not all-inclusive. Please familiarize yourself with all of the requirements as outlined in the Student Handbook

The Qualifying Exam (QE)

The QE is conducted in three parts: 

  1. Specific aims meeting
  2. Creation and submission of a written proposal 
  3. Oral examination

QE Timeline

  1. QE Committee should be formed and approved by the Program Director and the Dean or his/her Designee by January 31.
  2. The Specific Aims page is due to the committee 1 week before the Specific Aims meeting.
  3. The Specific Aims meeting must be held by March 15.
  4. The written proposal is due to the committee 4 weeks after successful completion of the Specific Aims meeting.
  5. The oral exam must be completed by May 1 and must be 5-7 weeks after the Specific Aims meeting.
  6. The QE committee determines the timeline for completion if revision or retest is required. If more than three weeks are granted for revision or a retest, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs must be notified.
  7. Any exceptions to the overall timeline must be communicated to and approved by the Dean or his/her Designee.

Selection of QE Committee Members

Timeline

QE Committee should be formed, and approved by the Program Director and the Dean by January 31.

Adminitrative Requirement

Student initiates Qualifying Exam Committee Selection Form (GSBS03) which automatically circulates to all required signers after the student completes their portion
Preview GSBS03  |  Initiate GSBS03 in DocuSign

Membership

The committee consists of four members. Three members are chosen by the graduate program, or, if permitted by the graduate program, are chosen by the student and advisor and subsequently approved by the graduate program. The fourth member is the General Examiner, appointed by the Dean or his/her designee.

QE Committee Membership Requirements

The Thesis Advisor is not a member of the Qualifying Exam Committee (QEC). 

All members of the Qualifying Exam Committee (QEC) must be primary members of the GSBS faculty. GSBS Associate and Affiliate Faculty are not permitted to serve on a QEC. No QEC member can be the current or former spouse or a relative of the student or the dissertation advisor. 

The QE committee Chair and the GE must be a tenured Associate Professor or Professor. Neither the QE committee Chair nor the GE can be a co-author, co-advisor, or active collaborator with the student. Prior collaborations with the Chair or the GE and any prior or current collaborations between other members of the QE committee and the student must be declared at the time of committee selection.

The final QE committee selection, including the Chair, will be approved by the student’s program director and the Dean. No portion of the QE may proceed without approval of the QE committee by the Dean.

Specific Aims Meeting

Timeline

  • The Specific Aims page is due to the committee 1 week before the Specific Aims meeting.
  • The Specific Aims meeting must be held by March 15.

Administrative Requirements

  • Student schedules Specific Aims meeting and enters date in BlackBoard Learn immediately
  • Thesis Advisor provides a letter to the Committee (GSBS Office initiates request)
  • General Examiner initiates and completes Specific Aims Outcome Form (GSBS72)
    Preview GSBS72  |  Initiate GSBS72 in DocuSign

COVID-19 Accomodations

As Specific Aims meetings occur primarily in the Spring term, detailed updated guidelines will be provided at that time. If conditions allow, Specific Aims meetings may be held on-site in-person or remotely via Zoom. Please be prepared to follow the most up-to-date guidance that will be presented.

On-site Specific Aims meetings must be held in designated rooms that are hybrid enabled if any member of the committee wishes to participate remotely. This must be established ahead of time for planning purposes.

The student has total discretion as to whether the Specific Aims meeting will be held remotely or onsite. The General Examiner will ensure that the student’s preference is established and honored.

Meeting Guidelines

No Specific Aims meeting will proceed in the absence of any member of the QE committee. If a member of the Committee cannot be present, the Specific Aims meeting must be rescheduled.

During the Specific Aims meeting the student will articulate the hypothesis or question to be investigated and the rationale for undertaking these studies.  General approaches will also be discussed so that the committee can evaluate the feasibility of the proposed Aims. During this meeting, the committee may suggest revisions to the Aims, including the removal or substitutions for Aims more suitable for testing the student’s competency during the subsequent exam.

This meeting also provides an opportunity for faculty to communicate areas of investigation or concerns that the student should expect to address during the formal exam. The primary purpose of the Aims meeting is to help the student prepare for the subsequent exam.

Format

  1. The student will prepare a 1-page Specific Aims page (single spaced; 11 pt NIH-approved font (e.g., Arial); 0.5” margins). References are optional, but if included must be on a separate page.
  2. A student who has previously submitted an NIH F31 or grant application of similar length with substantial input from their thesis advisor is expected to develop at least one Aim not contained within the jointly developed application.
  3. Previously submitted grants must be disclosed and submitted to the QE committee prior to the Specific Aims meeting.
  4. The meeting must not exceed one hour in duration, unless discussion of revisions requires additional time.
  5. The student must prepare a brief PowerPoint presentation (no more than 15 minutes uninterrupted and 10 slides) to introduce the background and rationale for the research proposed, as well as a brief experimental outline of each Aim. Experimental details or preliminary data will not be presented.
  6. Transcript and letter from the thesis advisor (supporting the student’s candidacy) will be reviewed by the committee at this time.
  7. The thesis advisor can have input on the Specific Aims before this meeting.
  8. The thesis advisor may attend the Specific Aims meeting but is not a member of the committee. The advisor is allowed to have a wrap-up discussion with the student following the meeting.
  9. The outcome of the meeting, including details of any substantial revisions to the Specific Aims, must be communicated to the student in writing by the QE Chair.

Meeting Outcomes

  1. The Specific Aims are approved, and the student may begin preparing the full proposal.
  2. The Specific Aims must be revised according to committee recommendations. Revisions must be submitted by email to committee members within one week. The Chair, in consultation with the rest of the QEC, will communicate approval of the revised Aims or requests for additional revision within the subsequent week.
  3. The committee may call an additional Specific Aims meeting at their discretion if extensive revision of the original Specific Aims is warranted.
  4. Only two revisions are permitted.  After the second revision, the student proceeds to the Proposal stage.

In all cases, the student will initiate the Specific Aims Outcome Form (GSBS72)
Preview GSBS72  |  Initiate GSBS72 in DocuSign

Qualifying Proposal and Examination

Timeline

  • The written proposal is due to the committee 4 weeks after successful completion of the Specific Aims meeting.
  • The oral exam must be completed by May 1 and must be 5-7 weeks after the Specific Aims meeting.
  • The QE committee determines the timeline for completion if revision or retest is required. If more than three weeks are granted for revision or a retest, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs must be notified.
  • Any exceptions to the overall timeline must be communicated to and approved by the Dean or his/her Designee.

Administrative Requirements

COVID-19 Accomodations

As Qualifying Exams occur primarily in the Spring term, detailed updated guidelines will be provided at that time. If conditions allow, Qualifying Exams may be held on-site in-person or remotely via Zoom. Please be prepared to follow the most up-to-date guidance that will be presented.

On-site Qualifying Exams must be held in designated rooms that are hybrid enabled if any member of the committee wishes to participate remotely. This must be established ahead of time for planning purposes.

The student has total discretion as to whether the qualifying exam will be held remotely or onsite. The General Examiner will ensure that the student’s preference is established and honored.

Purpose

The Qualifying Examination (QE) assesses the student’s preparedness for doctoral research. The QE is designed to allow the student to demonstrate, in written and oral communication, that they have acquired the skills necessary to generate a testable hypothesis in their field of study, design experiments to test this hypothesis, as well as to critically analyze experimental data associated with these experiments.

Format

  1. Students are encouraged to write a proposal that directly relates to their likely thesis research, although an unrelated topic may be chosen.
  2. The written exam must be in F31 (F30 for MD/PhD students) format: 1-page specific aims (single spaced), 6 pages (single spaced, 11pt NIH-approved font (e.g., Arial), 0.5 inch margins) proposal, inclusive of figures but not references.
  3. The exam room must be scheduled for a 3-hour time period, although the expectation is that exams will be completed within 1.5-2 hours.
  4. The thesis advisor may not be present at the QE exam.
  5. The student must prepare a brief (~10 minute) presentation to introduce their proposal, which they will be allowed to present uninterrupted at the beginning of the exam. Additional slides can also be prepared to facilitate further discussion, if needed.

No QE will proceed in the absence of any member of the QE committee. If a member of the Committee cannot be present, the QE must be rescheduled.

Outcomes

Pass: The proposal meets or exceeds expectations, and the exam performance meets or exceeds expectations. This outcome requires that at least three QE committee members vote to pass the student.

Not Passed – Revise: The student is required to revise the QE Proposal and may not enter into doctoral thesis research until the revisions have been approved by the committee. The QEC sets the timeline for completion of revisions. If the timeline exceeds three weeks, the QE Chair will advise the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in writing. Revisions are not complete until all members of the committee approve.

Not Passed – Retest: The student must retest and may not enter into doctoral thesis research until passing the retest. At the direction of the QE committee, this may require that some or all of the proposal be re-written. The QE committee sets the timeline for completion of revisions and the retest. If the timeline exceeds three weeks, the QE Chair will advise the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in writing. Only one retest is permitted.

Fail: The student does not meet the specified objectives of the QE upon a retake. Failure of the QE results in withdrawal of the student from the GSBS.

In all cases, the student will initiate the Qualifying Exam Outcome Form (GSBS04)
Preview GSBS04  |  Initiate GSBS04 in DocuSign

Questions?

Ask Mindy Donovan
Project Coordinator
GSBS Student and Academic Affairs
508.856.5938