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Two exams are required by the Graduate School as benchmarks toward the Ph.D. Information about the Graduate School requirements and guidelines for these exams can be found on the Graduate School site.  Field requirements and guidance is found below.

A-Exam: Admission To Candidacy Examination

To qualify as a Ph.D. candidate, each graduate student must pass an “Admission to Candidacy” exam (or A-exam) before the start of the fifth semester.  The examiners are the members of the student’s Special Committee and one other faculty member (to be chosen jointly by the student and thesis advisor).  The purpose of the exam is to test the student’s level of knowledge and ability to design research strategies. This exam has both written and oral components.

The student must submit a Schedule of Exam form (found on the Graduate School website) at least seven (7) days prior to the exam. When reserving a room for the exam, allow for three (3) hours. The proposal title should be provided to the GFAs when the exam is scheduled.  The Graduate School requires that the exam be announced to the GGD faculty; this announcement goes out a week prior to the exam.  A Results of Exam form must be submitted within three (3) days of the exam.

The written component takes the form of a grant proposal (See Written Component tab below).

The oral component is a defense of this proposal and you can expect that the majority of questions will be directly related to your proposal or to areas that are considered off-shoots of it.  Your committee member representing a minor subject area, however, represents a special case.  This person has the responsibility to ascertain that you have achieved competency in that subject area, and the topic of the research proposal may not afford a good opportunity to do this.  We recommend that you meet with the person in question, and determine prior to the A-exam how he/she suggests you prepare.  Some committee members representing minor subject areas may ask broadly-based questions on very basic concepts, whereas others may address a more narrow area and ask the candidate to be prepared for questions in that area.

In addition to the evaluation of your proposal, the A-exam is the time when committee members will discuss and evaluate your performance in the laboratory.

For more information about the components of the A-exam, please click on each link provided below.  In addition, current students have written a tips document on Preparing for Your A-Exam.

The examination consists of a written proposal for a research project on a student’s thesis project or on an unrelated project, and the student’s oral defense of the proposal (the actual A-exam).  The format of the proposal should be either that of an NSF or an NIH grant request (15 double-spaced pages of text, 12-point type or larger-see below for details). It should explain how the research will answer some important scientific question, or (at least) how the research will rule out some possible answers to an important question.  Individual members of the Committee may add special requirements to be included in the proposal; for example, a detailed protocol for mapping a gene involved in the proposal, etc. The major professor is permitted one reading of the proposal prior to submission to the exam Committee.  The student must deliver a copy of the completed proposal to each exam Committee member no later than one week before the A-exam.  At the A-exam, the Committee will question the student about various aspects of the proposal; but their questions need not be limited to the proposal and should assess the student’s ability to analyze and plan experiments in genetics or development, and their knowledge of genetics or development.

Satisfactory defense of the proposal and related questions at the A-exam leads to admission of the student to candidacy for the Ph.D.   Failure of the exam leads to one of the following:  A one-time rescheduling of the exam; a decision to terminate the student at the Master’s degree level upon completion of a Master’s thesis; or dismissal from the program (at the discretion of the student’s committee).

You need to take your A-exam by the beginning of your fifth semester in graduate school (by September 15 of your third year).  To ensure that the exam will be completed within this time frame, students will be asked to set an exam date in the summer after their fourth semester (June 15).  Students who have not set a date by this time will have one set by the Director of Graduate Studies.

You should consult with your committee about an acceptable date/time and reserve a room.  You must file a Schedule of Examination Form (on-line and available from the Graduate School Forms web site by June 15. The completed Schedule of Exam form for the A-exam must be filed with the Graduate School at least seven (7) days prior to the date of the exam. This form must be electronically signed by all of the members of the Special Committee, the Director of Graduate Studies, and one of the GFAs.

Genetics, Genomics and Development graduate students have the option in their second year to take BioMG8380, Methods and Logic II (or SOS, Skills of a Scientist), taught by David Shalloway (with permission of Dr. Shalloway).  This course provides a good preparation for the A-exam because assignments are given in which students write and critique grant proposals relevant to their thesis work.  In addition, students are taught analytical and statistical skills and are introduced to career paths that are pursued by many of our graduates.

Remember that, in addition to your Special Committee members, you need to ask one additional faculty member to join to read your proposal and attend the examinationThis person is not officially a member of your committee, and should not sign the Schedule of Examination form or the Results of Examination Form.  The additional faculty member does not necessarily have to be in the Field of Genetics, Genomics and Development; but if you decide to invite someone other than a Field member, please check first with your major professor.

You should give a copy of your proposal to each member of your examination committee at least a week before the exam.

It is essential that your Schedule of Exam form is completed at least 7 days prior to the A-exam. The GFAs are required to announce the exam to the faculty in the Field seven days prior to the exam.  In accordance with the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty, your A-exam is announced to all Field faculty. Please do not be concerned; Field faculty outside your Special Committee, although free to attend by Graduate School rules, rarely, if ever do.

You must complete the Results of Examination form within 3 business days after the exam to the Graduate Field Assistant (GFA) and the Graduate School.  Both of these forms are on-line and are available on the Graduate School web site at

B Exam: Thesis Defense

Defending a thesis successfully requires at a minimum that the student has obtained sufficient data to make a significant contribution to at least one research paper that has been submitted or published in a peer-reviewed journal.  If this expectation is not met, the Chair (thesis advisor), with help from the Special Committee, must determine that circumstances beyond the student’s control that prevented the student from meeting these expectations.

As with the A-exam, a Schedule of Exam form needs to be filled out and signed by your committee and the DGS and then submitted to GFAs for transmission to the Graduate School at least 7 days before the examination date. You are also required to provide the title and abstract for your dissertation and the list of your publications to the GFAs for the announcement of your exam.

A section of the Graduate School website ( is dedicated to information about the dissertation process, including the Thesis and Dissertation Guide.  You are highly encouraged to follow the process it lays out in planning submission of your thesis and graduation.

The Graduate School Office of Academic & Student Affairs ( also coordinates a number of workshops to assist you with thesis writing.

Your thesis may be organized either as a single work (traditional thesis) or as a series of relatively independent chapters (independent chapter thesis).  In the latter case, there may be a unified introduction and bibliography or separate introductions and bibliographies.  There may be a unified summary, or the two-page abstract (required of all theses) can serve as a summary statement for all chapters.  Some examples of thesis formats are shown below.

Traditional Thesis Independent Chapter Thesis
Literature Review

Materials & Methods




Literature Cited


Chapter 1:  General Introduction and Literature Review

Chapter 2:


Materials and Methods



Literature Cited

Chapter 3: (as above)

Final Chapter including

General Discussion,

Speculations and



The independent chapter option allows you to prepare your thesis as a series of papers in a format ready for publication, and chapters can be published before the thesis defense.  The work in your thesis must be primarily, if not entirely, your own.  If your published work includes co-author(s), you may cite the work of your co-author(s) in your thesis with appropriate acknowledgment, but you should not include the data of your co-author(s) in your thesis.  An exception could be if data from a co-author are needed for clarity.  In that case, the legend to the figure should explain this.  You should acknowledge in the publication that the research is part of a thesis, and the Graduate School requires written permission from the publisher to include it in your thesis.

Full collections of dissertations are maintained in Mann Library.  There are also a collection of theses of graduates in the Fields of Genetics, Genomics and Development and Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology in the Keller Reading Room, Biotechnology Building, Room G09.  You can view these by asking someone in the MBG Department Office (107 Biotech) to let you into this room.  Please ask to be let into that room.  NOTE:  Materials are NEVER to be removed from this room.