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Oral Preliminary Examinations

The oral preliminary examination establishes each student’s candidacy for the PhD degree. The preliminary exam must be completed and defended by the end of the fifth semester (fall and spring) of graduate study, unless an extension is granted by the Graduate Studies Committee. In order to qualify to take your OP exam, you must complete the following requirements:
  • Have an approved plan of study that reflects 18 hours of completed graduate coursework (600 level or approved 500 level)
  • Have successfully passed 5 cumulative exam.

In the Department of Chemistry, this examination consists of two features, the Original Proposition (OP) and the Dissertation Research Summary:

An Original Proposition (OP):

  • The OP must originate with the student. Some divisions require that the OP not be related to their doctoral research or prior research work if the student entered the program with an MS degree. Please consult with your advisor early on to determine whether you will be expected to propose research unrelated to your doctoral work.
  • The OP should include a concise statement of the problem or hypothesis to be tested, its significance and originality, why the proposal is superior to previous approaches (if applicable), how it is proposed to address the problem, what difficulties can be expected in the course of the project (and their solutions), and what will be accomplished by addressing the project.
  • Although the student is expected to have a complete knowledge of the area(s) related to the OP, the written OP document should not include an extensive review of an area.
  • The OP should outline a research program, as opposed to a single experiment.

A Dissertation Research Summary:

  • The Dissertation Research Summary will be primarily based on the second year research report you are currently working on as part of your annual report. With this in mind, help prepare yourself for the OP early by writing a thorough research summary so you can get early feedback from your advisor on ways you might improve it and to find out if there are specific things the advisor would like to see included.
  • As appropriate, students should add a supplement to the annual research report as they near their preliminary exam to ensure it is up-to-date: Additional items that should be included as you prepare for your exam:
    • Accomplishments completed after the second year report but before the preliminary exam) and
    • A discussion of directions that future research might take. 
  • The summary should also discuss any improvements noted by the student’s Advisory Committee when they received the second year written report. Students who complete the OP prior to the fifth semester should submit the second year research report early. In addition to speaking to your primary advisor about a deadline for turning in your annual report for review and evaluation, make sure to reach out early to the faculty members who will be filling out the secondary committee evaluation to let them know when you expect to get the report to them (based on the deadline your advisor sets for you to provide the material to them).

Proceedings of the Examination:

  • The oral examination will begin with a presentation by the student
  • The committee will discuss the original proposition and research summary.
  • The committee will feel free to interrupt the student at any time and probe, by detailed questioning, the depth of the student’s understanding of the proposal and research.
  • The committee shall meet with the student in the absence of the major professor at the conclusion of the Oral Preliminary Examination in order to counsel the student regarding any issues about their experience in graduate school.
  • Dress should be professional; snacks and refreshments for the committee are not necessary.