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Comprehensive Exam for Doctoral Candidacy

Details concerning the Comprehensive Examination are given below (Guidelines and Checkoff for the Comprehensive Examination) and should be reviewed by the student and Mentor in preparation for the comprehensive examination. In summary, after taking most of your academic courses and having chosen a Research Mentor (usually by the end of your second year), you will choose a committee to oversee your comprehensive examination which when successfully completed leads to your candidacy for the Ph.D. This committee may also constitute all or part of your doctoral thesis committee. With your Mentor and Committee, you will propose, outline, and write a 15-page grant application in the NIH format. The preparation of this application will establish the mentor-apprentice relationship between you and your Research Mentor, and will provide you with the opportunity and obligation to apply concepts learned in your first years of graduate school to research oriented problem solving. It will provide your Research Mentor an opportunity to observe your ability and potential, and to teach those thinking and writing skills needed to accomplish research goals.

  1. Students are eligible for the comprehensive examination when they have met the following requirements:
    1. Completed all Year 1 and 2 Core courses.
    2. Completed the Research Skills and Ethics requirements.
    3. Completed their lab rotations and selected a research mentor.
    4. The student's grade point average must be 3.00 or better.
  1. An examination committee must be organized and approved by the graduate studies committee. This usually begins at the beginning of the Spring semester in the 2nd year. The exam committee must have five members consisting of at least 3 members from the Neuroscience Graduate Program. University policy requires that one member must be from outside the department (but must have a primary appointment at KUMC). The fifth member may be from either the program or other graduate programs. The chair of the committee will be a member of the Neuroscience Graduate Studies Committee and will be agreed upon by the graduate studies committee. The student's research mentor will be a member of the examination committee, but cannot be the committee chair. Therefore, the student and his/her mentor will select the three additional members, including at least one from outside the program. The Neuroscience Graduate Studies Committee must approve the composition of the committee. The examination committee chair will run the examination and will be responsible to make sure the department and Office of Graduate Studies rules and policies are followed.
  1. The mentor and student develop an outline of an NIH-style proposal (Specific Aims, Significance, Innovation, Research Approaches, References sections; do not complete budget pages etc.) that they present to the examination committee for their approval. This occurs during the Spring semester of the 2nd year in an initial committee meeting. The topic of this proposal is typically is related to their area of research interest, but is not restricted to this area. If the committee approves the proposal outline, the student then begins to work on this proposal with the input of his/her mentor.
  1. When the 15-page proposal is completed, it is given to the committee members with sufficient time (by agreement of the committee members, usually 1 month prior to the scheduled examination) for their review and any input prior to the comprehensive examination. The committee may require you to respond in writing to questions based on the material in your grant proposal. Acceptance of the proposal in final form by the committee will lead to your University-required oral candidacy examination. At least two weeks prior to the scheduled date of the comprehensive examination, a Progress To Degree online form must be completed by the Director of Graduate Studies to the Office of Graduate Studies for their approval. The Progress To Degree online form indicates that this is a request for a comprehensive examination on a specific date and identifies faculty serving on the committee (Chair and members) and how the Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship requirement was met. The room for the examination should be reserved at this time.
  1. The student's mentor and the student will carry out the following procedures. At least one week prior to the date of the comprehensive examination, two copies of the NIH proposal are given to the Director of Graduate Studies. A copy will be placed in the student's file. At least one week before the examination, the student and student's mentor will send out an announcement of the scheduled Comprehensive Examination to the program’s faculty and copies should be available for faculty review. All neuroscience faculty members are invited to sit in on the initial component examination and ask questions, but only the comprehensive examination committee will vote on the performance of the student.
  1. The Comprehensive examination is a test of the breadth and depth of the student's understanding of: 1) the program’s core courses; 2) the student's elective courses; and 3) their research area (as reflected by the student's NIH proposal). It is designed to be a rigorous evaluation of the student's knowledge base in the neurological sciences and should be treated as such. Students are expected to have acquired a sufficient understanding of the fundamentals and details of the neurological sciences to function as a Doctoral Candidate after the examination and to carry out their research project. It is the responsibility of the Chair of the Comprehensive Examination committee to see to it that proper procedures are followed in regards to execution of this Comprehensive Examination. These responsibilities include: 1) following all procedures required by the Program and University; and 2) seeing to it that a rigorous examination is executed by the committee.
  1. After the examination is completed (they are usually scheduled for 3 hr), a discussion of the student's performance will be carried out by the committee. Each committee member will then submit an oral or written score (Pass or Fail) to the Chair. Further discussion of any student deficiencies will be carried out at this time. After discussion, the committee will make a final decision by simple majority vote to: 
    1. Fail the student based on a deficiency in any core course area, their elective course areas, or their research area. In this case the committee may:
      1. decide to not allow the student to repeat the examination and the student will be terminated from the program. The committee may recommend to the Neuroscience Graduate Committee that the student may qualify for a Master's Degree after completion of the requirements for that degree.
      2. allow repeating the exam, the earliest being 90 days after the failure. The student will be counseled as to what areas need to be strengthened before the exam is rescheduled.
    2. Pass a student, but require that the student make up deficiencies through further course work or special study. Any further study by the student as recommended by the exam committee will be directed by the Chair of the comprehensive examination committee and the Mentor. As indicated, this can be in the form of additional course work or in advanced readings courses.
  1. The Progress to Degree (PTD) online form will be completed by Director of Graduate Studies to convey the results of the examination to the Office of Graduate Studies.
  1. The Dissertation Research Committee will be selected at some point after the student has passed the Comprehensive Examination. The Dissertation Research Committee can be the same or different than the Comprehensive Committee. The Dissertation Research Committee is chaired by the student's Mentor, and must have at least four other members. The Mentor (Chairperson of the Committee) and student will select the members with the approval of the Department Graduate Studies Committee. University policy requires that one member must be from outside the program, but must have his/her primary appointment at KUMC. This "outside" person is the Graduate School's representative and sees to it that all University policies are followed. The committee will meet with the student soon after the comprehensive examination to approve the dissertation research project and be informed of any progress that has been made. The committee will meet every 6 months during the research phase of the student's graduate training, and progress reports are made to the graduate studies committee as detailed above.
Last modified: Oct 29, 2020
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