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Comprehensive Exam Policy

The Comprehensive Examination in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The comprehensive examination is comprised of two components, a written examination and a comprehensive oral examination. The written component must be successfully completed before taking the oral exam.

For the written examination, the student will write a 6-page grant proposal that follows all other general guidelines for either the NIH F31 Individual Fellowship application or the KUMC Biomedical Research Training Program (BRTP) application. The project should be related to the mentor’s research interest but have no direct overlap with work that is already funded or direct overlap with topics already developed in the PI’s grant applications. The PI should vet the overall project idea. However, the student should develop a focused hypothesis, should develop the experimental design to test that hypothesis, and should write the proposal. Although the use of these guidelines is intended to aid students in preparing grant applications, applying for grant funding is not required as part of the qualifying exam. Subject material for the oral examination is centered around the written proposal but may also cover broader aspects of biochemistry and molecular biology.

KU regulations dictate that a graduate student is not a candidate for the Ph.D. degree until he or she has passed the comprehensive examination. The goal of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) is that their students formally become Ph.D. candidates as soon as possible. Therefore, we have outlined the following process for completing the comprehensive exam.

Summary of deadlines (effective for entering students in fall 2010):

  • Sept 1 - Choose Examination Committee
  • Sept 15 - Set oral examination date for the following May
  • Jan 25 - Turn in Specific Aims
  • Feb 1 - Comments from Examination Committee on Specific Aims returned
  • Mar 1 - Full written proposal due
  • Mar 15 - Comments from Examination Committee on full proposal due
  • Apr 15 - Amended proposal due; Student requests Catherine Kinsey and Graduate Director to file for necessary KUMC approval at least 3 weeks in advance of oral exam
  • May 6-20 - Oral examination

Deviations from these dates will only be granted for exceptional reasons and must have the approval of the graduate director.

Detailed instructions:

  1. A graduate student should pick an Examination Committee by Sept 1 of his or her second year (the beginning of the first full year in the BMB department), or the Graduate Committee will assign an Examination Committee after Sept 5.  An Examination Committee comprises 4 BMB faculty (including the mentor) and one outside faculty member.  One of the committee members, other than the mentor, serves as chair of the Examination Committee.  All students matriculating in the Ph.D. program must attempt the comprehensive exam.
  2. The student will work with the Examination Committee and the Graduate Director to schedule a May date for the oral exam (point “h” below) by Sept 15. Committee members should also note the deadlines for the written proposal and make plans to complete their reading and comments in a timely manner.
  3. The deadline to turn in Specific Aims to the Examination Committee is Jan 25. 
  4. The Examination Committee will return comments on Specific Aims by Feb 1.  Comments may be returned to the student by email, in person, or in a called meeting, at the discretion of the committee.  If a student turns in the Specific Aims prior to Jan 25, the Examination Committee shall make every effort to return comments at an earlier date.  If the topic is too similar to the student’s thesis work, it can be rejected by the Examination Committee.
  5. The deadline to turn in a full proposal is Mar 1.  Comments from the Examination Committee should be returned within 2 weeks.  Again, if the student turns in the full proposal early, the Examination Committee shall make every effort to return comments at an earlier date.
  6. The deadline to turn in an amended proposal is Apr 15.  If substantial revisions are required, the student is strongly encouraged to interact with the Examination Committee prior to this date in order to facilitate the successful completion of the written component.
  7. The do-all form will be filled out by Apr 15.  In the absence of approved, extenuating circumstances, failure to turn in a satisfactory written proposal constitutes failure of the first attempt. 
  8. The comprehensive oral exam will be taken between May 6 and May 20.  The exact date of the exam will be scheduled with the Examination Committee during the previous Sept.  The student should plan a very short presentation (~15 minutes) to introduce the problem, central hypothesis, and specific aims of the written proposal.  Subject material for the comprehensive oral examination is centered around the written proposal and may also cover broader aspects of biochemistry and molecular biology.  Upon passing the exam, the student becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. degree.
  9. If the exam does not take place on the scheduled date (absent extenuating, approved circumstances) the do-all will be recorded as "failed" for the first attempt.
  10. In the event that a student does not pass the first attempt, the second attempt, which must occur at least 90 days later per KU regulations, should be completed during the week of Aug 20 (the end of the student’s second year of graduate school).  KU allows a maximum of two attempts to pass the exam.  Upon successful completion, the student becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. degree.
KU School of Medicine

University of Kansas Medical Center
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
1080 HLSIC ,  Mailstop 3030
Kansas City, KS 66160-7421