Guidelines & Procedures For Preliminary Examinations

To be provided to Ph.D. students and their supervisors after successful completion of the ATC examination.                                                                                                                                January, 2007

A.    Introduction
The Preliminary Examination has two components - a writing assignment and an oral defense.  The writing assignment consists of an essay reviewing the literature in the area of biology of the thesis and a research report.

The oral examination is a defense by the student of both the essay and the research in progress.

B.    General Purpose of the Essay Requirement
Students in a Ph.D. program are expected to develop some breadth of knowledge in addition to the depth and focus they acquire through research into a specific biological problem, and the writing of a thesis.  In the essay, they should address the area of their research from a broad perspective and in a critical manner.

The essay should provide the student with an opportunity to select the appropriate body of literature and to evaluate it in writing.  It should help to develop the skills needed later in writing the thesis, and where the task proves difficult, to indicate the need for assistance or practice in written presentation of information.

C.    Length of the Essay
It can be misleading to prescribe a fixed number of pages since quality, not quantity is what will be judged.  However, a total text length of 20 pages, typed double-spaced on letter-size paper plus references would be a reasonable maximum.  Tables and figures may be added.  More than 40 pages total is excessive and may be considered justification for rejection by examiners.  In terms of effort, the essay should take six weeks to three months to complete. 

D.    Format
The review should be critical (i.e., including evaluation of conflicting evidence) and organized and written in the style appropriate to the thesis.

E.    Content
A mere survey or summary of the literature is not enough.  The essay must not only provide significant information about the topic but must assess it as well.  The writer's views and conclusions are an important part of an essay.  These should lead to a new synthesis of previously scattered ideas and disconnected facts as an appropriate beginning to the development of the thesis.

F.     Plagiarism
Never transcribe information in its original written form.  Put it into your own words and acknowledge its source.

G.    Help
Supervisors are expected to help students improve their writing ability by carefully criticizing drafts of the essay.  Other members of the Supervisory Committee may also be willing to help, but on a voluntary basis.

H.    Scheduling - Essay, Research Report and Examination
        Preliminary examinations are to be held between the 20th and 30th month after commencing the graduate programme.  The examinations will be scheduled by the graduate coordinator with secretarial help, following receipt of the essay.

        Students who, with their supervisory committee's approval, plan to extend their programmes at least one year beyond residency requirements, may apply to the graduate coordinator for a 6 months' extension of the deadline for the examination.  No more than two such extensions will be permitted.

        Students who fail to complete the essay and oral defense requirements by the scheduled (or rescheduled) date, will be deemed to have failed the examination.  The graduate coordinator will notify the student and supervisor in writing.

The Preliminary examining committee will consist of the student's supervisory committee augmented by at least one additional person suggested by the ATC examiners and/or the GPC.  The graduate coordinator is responsible for determining the composition of the preliminary examining committee, obtaining the agreement of all examiners to serve and notifying the student of final arrangements, including the projected date of the examination.

At least two weeks before the scheduled date of the examination, the student must submit to each examiner a copy of the essay.  Prior to submission, the student should consult his/her supervisor for suggestions for improvement.  After formal submission, the student must be prepared to defend the essay.

At least one week before the scheduled oral defense, the student will submit to each examiner, an up-to-date report of research progress and a plan for completing the thesis project.  This report should be concise, but sufficient for the examiners to make critical judgement of progress.  Papers published, or in preparation for submission to journals, are useful appendices.

The review essay and progress report should be provided as hard copies to examiners, unless an examiner agrees to receiving them in electronic form.

I.      Format of Oral Examination
        The oral defense will be chaired by the supervisor.

The oral examination will include a twenty minute oral presentation of the essay as an introduction, but focusing on the research results, followed by questions from the examiners.  The student will be examined for mastery of all aspects of the thesis research including its background.  The examiners should be satisfied that the student has a thorough understanding of concepts and methods needed to complete the project, as well as the intellectual ability and independence expected of a Ph.D. candidate.

The examination can have only two outcomes - pass or fail.  The chair will accept the view of the majority of examiners but may cast a deciding vote if necessary.  Students who fail the defense may apply within 2 weeks to the graduate coordinator for reexamination.  Students will be fully informed as to the reasons for failure.  Scheduling of a second defense and the composition of the examining committee will be at the discretion of the graduate coordinator after consultation with the original examining committee and the supervisor.

If the student fails upon reexamination, or if no request for reexamination is received, the graduate coordinator will so inform the Department Chair and the Dean of Graduate Studies and recommend that the student be dismissed from graduate studies.

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