Thomas Jefferson UniversityJefferson Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

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Preliminary Examination

Victoria GennaroVictoria Gennaro
Hyowon ChoiHyowon Choi, MD PhD
Maria GubbiottiMaria Gubbiotti, MD PhD
Caitlin BurnsCaitlin Burns MD, PhD
Frederick Arnold IIIFrederick Arnold III

Preliminary Exam is to be able to test......

  1. The student’s knowledge base in cell and developmental biology, with particular emphasis on the area of the student’s preliminary exam proposal.
  2. The student’s critical thinking skills. It examines the student's ability to critically evaluate relevant literature needed to prepare the proposal.
  3. The student’s knowledge of, and application, of the scientific method. It examines the student's ability to generate sound hypotheses, design experiments, evaluate the results and offer alternative approaches and interpretation.
  4. The student’s ability to write an organized, coherent scientific document.
  5. The student’s ability to prepare and present a PowerPoint presentation in a timely, well organized manner.

Timing of the Preliminary Exam

Students in the CDB program take the comprehensive exam by the end ofhis/her second year of enrollment in the graduate program. To initiate the process, the student submits a one-page abstract and two specific aims on a topic, which can be related to, but not identical, to their thesis research project. This is submitted to the Chair of the CDB Curriculum Committee, CDB Program Director and Education Coordinator. This is typically done by the end of the Spring 1 semester of the second year of study.

Examination Committee

An Examination Committee is appointed by the Curriculum Committee, consisting of three faculty members with expertise in the area of the proposal.  The Examination Committee will be composed of individuals who are standing faculty members in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and part of the Cell and Developmental Biology Program.  One Committee member will serve as Chair of the Examination Committee. The student’s Research Advisor is excluded from the Examination Committee. The Committee Chair will prepare a summary of the Preliminary Exam recommendation on behalf of the Committee to be part of the student’s record.

  • The student will contact the members of their Preliminary Examination Committee to set the date of the examination.  The examination portion is to be completed by the last part of June.
  • The Comprehensive Examination has both oral and written portions.  The Chair of the Preliminary Examination Committee will meet with the student once a Preliminary Exam Committee is assigned to address any deficiencies raised by the Committee.

Proposal & Format

The written Preliminary Exam Proposal is to be ten pages, double spaced and use Arial 11 font and 1 inch margins. It should be in the form on a mini NIH proposal and include an abstract, two specific aims, significance, background, innovation, approach, research design and methods and predicted outcomes and alternative approaches section.

At the beginning of the Preliminary Exam the student provides a 15-20 minute presentation summarizing the goals of the proposal. This is followed by a 1.5 h oral exam by the Committee. Once the exam is completed and after deliberation by the Examination Committee, the student is notified of the outcome immediately: Pass or Fail. 

The student can take the comprehensive exam twice.  That is, if the student fails on the first attempt, he/she will be re-tested according to the Examination Committee’s directive. The outcome of the second attempt is Pass or Fail.  Failing the comprehensive exam twice results in dismissal from the program. 

Upon successful completion of the comprehensive examination, the student officially becomes a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. During the remainder of his/her tenure as a graduate student, the candidate's time is devoted primarily toward completion of the research thesis.

Role of the Thesis Advisor

The Preliminary Exam Committee is a test of the student’s ability to pursue advanced studies in Cell and Developmental Biology.  Therefore, the student must be solely responsible for the preparation of the written and oral portions of the exam.

The student is not to be coached or receive help in preparing the proposal from their thesis advisor. The student and his/her thesis advisor must sign a statement to acknowledge their understanding of the process and the roles of advisor, faculty and peers. The student may:

  1. Contact the Chair of the Preliminary Examination Committee to request clarification regarding the Preliminary Examination process.
  2. Conduct a "mock exam" and submitting their proposal to receive feedback from their thesis advisor, faculty and peers.

Time Frame for Rectifying Failures

A student who fails the Comprehensive Exam is expected to retake it and pass no later than two months after the first attempt.

Extensions of the Deadlines

A student who is unable to comply with the deadlines must petition the CDB Executive Committee for an extension. Extensions will be granted only for verifiable extenuating circumstances such as illness or serious personal situations.