Ph.D. Student Handbook
The Qualifications Evaluation
The purpose of the Qualifications Evaluation is test the student’s ability to identify a research question, formulate a testable hypothesis parse the hypothesis into testable aims, and articulate a limited set of experiments to address these aims. The student will be evaluated for basic knowledge in the field of research, and ability to think logically and communicate effectively in both written and oral formats. The student is also expected to recognize the strengths, weaknesses, and feasibility of the proposed approach. The student is not expected to have substantial preliminary data for the written or oral examination.
Procedure for Qualifications Evaluation
All graduate students are required to complete the Qualifications Evaluation within the first 14 months of their residence (typically by Nov. 1). The Qualifications Evaluation requirements include: 1) preparing a written proposal, and 2) presenting and discussing the proposal during an oral examination by a committee of 3-4 members of Penn’s Bioengineering Graduate Group.
Bioengineering Qualifying Examination: Student Guidelines and Timeline
- Any doctoral student intending to take his/her qualifying examination must attend a meeting with the Graduate Examinations Committee (GEC) co-chairs that is held each spring semester at the end of April or early May. The meeting will explain the process and prepare you for the exam.
- All oral exams will take place on a limited set of dates during June-September. The student, in consultation with his/her advisor, should identify availabilities and complete the online registration form in May.
The student’s advisor will be required to confirm the timeframe through an analogous web page. The combined exam period will take place during a 3-week window, during the first two weeks of which the written document for the qualifier will be prepared.
- At noon on the first day of the exam period, the student will receive an email from the Graduate Coordinator that lists the committee members (3-4 faculty in the Bioengineering Graduate Group). The topic should be related to your current research or your intended thesis project, but should not be a duplication of your advisor’s grant. This committee will judge the written and oral components of the student’s qualifying exam, including biosciences and engineering/quantitative knowledge base (see evaluation forms).
- After the student completes the written document, the student must e-mail this final qualifier document to his/her committee members and the Associate Director of Graduate Programs (firstname.lastname@example.org) by noon on the last day of this first two-week period. The student is not allowed to send any subsequent versions to his/ her committee. The student must comply with this first deadline for successful completion of the exam.
- The student then has another 7 days (immediately following the first 14-day period) to work on the presentation, which is to be delivered on the day the committee meets. At the end of the 21 days, the student is allowed to submit a 1-page written update on the qualifier, indicating any changes or clarifications; this is optional and gives the student an opportunity to address any significant change in thinking that arose while preparing the presentation.
While preparing the qualifier (both written and oral components), the student is not to consult the advisor, peers, or anyone else. No scientific help is allowed. The Bioengineering graduate coordinator, the GEC chair, and the Bioengineering Graduate Group chair will provide administrative guidance, if necessary.
- The student makes a presentation to the committee who evaluate both the written and oral parts according to the guidelines stipulated by the Graduate Group. The student should take a copy of the evaluation form to the oral exam.
- The committee will meet immediately after the exam in the absence of the student to discuss the student’s performance and to make its recommendation. Possible outcomes are: successfully completed, retake, and failed (only after retake).
- The results are approved by the Graduate Group Chair and communicated to the student.
The written document should take the form of an NIH R21 proposal, including sections for Specific Aims, Significance, Innovation, Approach, and Literature Cited. The proposal should be no longer than 7 pages, using at least 0.5” margins, single spacing, and 11-point font (preferably Arial). As a rough guideline, one page should be used for Specific Aims, 1-2 pages for Significance and Innovation, and <2-5 pages for Approach. The Literature Cited section does not count towards the page limit. Examples of successfully funded NIH
proposals can be found here: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/researchfunding/grant/pages/appsamples.aspx. These examples also include summary statements that highlight the perceived strengths/weaknesses by reviewers, which are helpful to review to understand common strengths/pitfalls.
For the oral portion of the exam, your presentation should last 10-15 minutes when uninterrupted (no more than 10 slides for planned presentation, excluding the title slide; backup slides are permissible, but only to address committee questions).
Kathleen Venit, (email@example.com), Associate Director, Graduate Programs
David Issadore, Chair, Graduate Examinations Committee
Joel Boerckel, Graduate Examinations Committee
Riccardo Gottardi, Graduate Examinations Committee
Yale Cohen, Chair, Bioengineering Graduate Group
Formatting Guidelines and Timeline
The written document should take the form of an NIH R21 proposal, including sections for Specific Aims, Significance, Innovation, Approach, and Literature Cited. The proposal should be no longer than 7 pages, using at least 0.5″ margins, single spacing, and 11-point font (preferably Arial). As a rough guideline, one page should be used for Specific Aims, one page for Significance and Innovation, and five pages for Research Design and Methods. The Literature Cited section does not count towards the page limit. For the oral portion of the exam, your presentation should last 10-15 minutes (no more than 10 slides, excluding the title slide) when uninterrupted. A sample timeline is below:
|Spring Semester||Graduate Exams Committee Chair meets with students to discuss the expectations and timeline of the qualifier exam.|
|May 15th||The two-week window during which the student will prepare the written document and ranked areas of concentration must be submitted through an online form by this date. Advisor approval of the timeframe and the concentration areas must also be submitted by this date as well.|
|October 31st||All qualifier examinations must be completed by this date.|
Example: If two-week writing period is June 2 – June 16:
|June 2nd||At noon, student will receive an e-mail with the research topic and names of the committee members. Student should prepare written document and finalize date for oral presentation during the next 14 days.|
|June 16th||By noon, student must e-mail Kathleen Venit and committee members the qualifier document, CV/Biosketch, current graduate level transcripts, and date of the oral presentation. Student can begin work on the oral presentation and, optionally, the 1-page written update.|
|June 30th||By noon, student must e-mail the presentation slides and the 1-page written update, if applicable, to Kathleen Venit and committee members.|
|July 2nd (or later, before October 31st)||Student gives oral presentation.|
Students are strongly encouraged to schedule the qualifier as soon as possible to minimize conflicts with coursework and schedules of committee members!
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