Individually, all students take the comprehensive exam by the end of his/her second year of enrollment in the graduate program. To initiate the process, the student submits a one-page abstract of his/her intended thesis work to the Curriculum Committee (typically, by the end of Spring I of the second year of study). MD/PhD students may take the comprehensive exam by the end of the first year in the PhD program. If a student wishes to pursue this option, she/he and her/his thesis advisor must consult with the GPN Directors.
A single Examination Committee appointed by the Program Director, consisting of three faculty members with different areas of expertise, will examine each student. The Examination Committee will be composed of individuals who are standing faculty members in the College of Graduate Studies and part of the Neuroscience Graduate Program. One Committee member will serve as Chair of the Examination Committee. The student’s Thesis Advisor is excluded from the Examination Committee.
- The Comprehensive Examination Committee will set the date of the examination. This will typically take place in early to mid-July. All students in a given year will receive the same questions. All examinations will be held over the course of 1-2 consecutive days.
- The Comprehensive Examination has both oral and written portions. The Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee will provide three questions to the student two weeks prior to the oral exam. The student will choose two questions on which they will write their document. Questions will be developed according to the criteria outlined below:
- Knowledge base in the field of neuroscience. It examines the student's ability to synthesize and apply basic principles of biological structure and function.
- Critical thinking. It examines the student's ability to critically evaluate the literature and extract the relevant information.
- Knowledge and application of the scientific method. It examines the student's ability to generate sound hypotheses, design experiments and evaluate the results.
A given question may concern one or all of the criteria. One week after receiving the questions, the student submits the written answers to the Chair of the Examination Committee. The total length of this document (excluding references) should be no longer than six-eight pages (single space; 11 point Arial; 1’’ margins all around). The three members of the Examination Committee attend the oral component of the exam that will typically last 1.5 hrs. The Examination Committee employs the student's written answers as a framework to conduct further questioning to specifically evaluate the areas outlined above.
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.
Concerning the Role of the Advisor
The Comprehensive Examination Committee is a test of the student’s individual ability to pursue advanced studies in Neuroscience. Therefore, the student must be solely responsible for the preparation of the written and oral portions of the exam. There can be no discussion of the questions, approaches or answers between the student and their peers, advisor or other faculty once the questions are distributed and until all oral examinations are completed. The student may:
- Contact the chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee to request clarification regarding possible ambiguities in the exam questions.
- Contact the chair of the Curriculum Committee to request clarification regarding the Comprehensive Examination process.
- Conduct "mock exams" and receive feedback from faculty and peers before (but not after) receiving the Comprehensive Exam questions (optional).
Before the Comprehensive Examination Committee sends the exam questions to the student, 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. After receiving the questions from the committee the student may not request help from peers, the thesis advisor or other faculty to answer the Comprehensive Examination questions. After turning in the written answers and before the oral exam, answers may not be read or corrected by peers, the advisor or other faculty.
Time Frame for Rectifying Failures
A student who fails the Comprehensive Exam is expected to retake it and pass no later than three months after the first attempt.
Extensions of the Deadlines
A student who is unable to comply with the deadlines must petition the Executive Committee for an extension. Extensions will be granted only for verifiable extenuating circumstances such as illness or serious personal situations.