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Program in Virology and Gene Therapy
Candidacy Examination Format

The following format of the Ph.D. candidacy exam is for the students who have affiliated with the Virology and Gene Therapy program.

The Ph.D. Candidacy Exam will consist of written and oral components in the following process:

(1) The student submits the proposal abstract to the student’s Examination Committee and declares 3 areas of breadth (decided in consultation with the thesis advisor). Example areas are: membrane biology, gene regulation, bioenergetics, transport mechanisms, signal transduction, protein-protein interaction, chemical carcinogenesis, etc. Given the diversity of our faculty and students, great latitude will be given in the three areas, as long as they are reasonably distinct and general. The Examination Committee will determine whether the proposal topic and areas of breadth are acceptable, and the chair of the Examination Committee will communicate with the student regarding any modifications. Approval of the proposal abstract and areas of breadth by the Examination Committee starts the clock (Time 0). At this time the student should schedule the exam to be held 6-7 weeks later.

(2) The student prepares a proposal as described under the heading “Ph.D. Research Proposal” in the GSBS Policies and Procedures ( The proposal must be handed in to the Examination Committee within three (3) weeks after abstract approval. The student will provide each member of the committee the proposal on the due date. The Examination Committee will briefly review the proposal and decide whether it is adequate to proceed*; this entails a brief perusal of the proposal to judge whether it fulfills the format criteria. If so decided, the committee will provide the student three (3) questions covering each of the areas of breadth within 1 to 3 days. The chair of the Examination Committee is responsible for providing the questions to the student. An example of a question is: "A fundamental question in bacterial chemotaxis is the mechanism of transmembrane signaling, i.e., how chemoeffector binding in the periplasm modulates the activity of the cytoplasmic histidine-kinase. Review current models for this process and propose an experimental strategy to distinguish them. Identify possible outcomes and pitfalls in your experimental design."

(3) The student has two weeks after receiving the three questions to prepare a written answer to one of the questions [5 page limit single-spaced, not counting reference page(s)]. The student must research the literature and prepare the answer independently, without any consultation with others. The student turns in the answer on or before the due date to each member of the Examination Committee. The student is also responsible for a general understanding of the other two questions.

(4) The exam is taken approximately one week after the question due date. The exam should have been already scheduled in advance near the beginning of this process. In the oral examination, the student will be tested on (i) the proposal, (ii) the written answer, (iii) the other two questions, and (iv)other aspects of the areas of breadth. The student is expected to have a good command of the material in her/his coursework, which is tested implicitly in the two written documents and in the oral exam.

(5) Upon completion of the oral examination, the Examination Committee will evaluate the performance of the student, using the instructions on the form “ Results of the Ph.D. Written and Oral Candidacy Examinations”. Because the written and oral portions of the exam are integrated in this format, only one form will be used and one result indicated (Unconditional Pass, Conditional Pass, Re-Examination, or Fail). For Conditional Pass status, the exact nature of any deficiencies (whether they be in the written or oral portion of the examination) and suggested mechanisms for correcting the deficiencies should be clearly stated. Re-Examination must include an oral examination component, but may be focused on the proposal, the areas of breadth, or both, as stipulated by the Examination Committee. If the student receives a failing grade on the exam, the committee may elect to extend an option to the student to pursue an M.S. degree, or may recommend that the student be dismissed from the (M.S.)/Ph.D. program.

*If at step (2) the proposal was judged below the minimum quality required to proceed, the student has 3 weeks to revise it for a second, and final, attempt.