Qualifying Exam (QE)

All GBS students are required to pass a QE prior to being admitted to candidacy. Before scheduling the QE, you must have at least one committee meeting to get approval of the planned topic of your thesis research.

The QE has both a written and oral component. Students will present a written research proposal and orally defend it. Students are responsibility for checking with the theme director(s) regarding additional theme-specific requirements, including the attendance of theme directors or individuals who are not the student's committee members. 

The aims of the qualifying exam proposal do not constitute a binding contract for the successful completion of the thesis project.

 

Timing

Students are expected to follow the suggested dates below, indicated during their second year as a GBS student, for completion of the written and oral portions of the exam
  • March 31st: Written proposal due to all committee members
  • April 30th: Committee members comments returned to student
  • May 31st: Oral defense completed*
*Students may schedule the oral defense prior to successful completion of the written portion. However, the date of the oral defense cannot occur prior to one full evaluation of the written portion.

The final deadline for all students to complete written and oral portions of the exam is the end of the fall semester of the student's third year. 

Note: MSTP students may follow a different schedule and should consult the MSTP office for further information. The format of the QE will remain consistent for all GBS students.

Qualifying Exam Form
This form must be submitted two weeks prior to the scheduled QE.

Committee Composition

All committees are to be comprised of at least five faculty members, including the mentor, who have UAB Graduate Faculty status

GBS students must select a QE Committee Chair for the qualifying exam to be selected in consultation with the mentor. The mentor cannot serve as the QE Committee Chair. The QE Committee Chair will serve as the primary point of communication of outcomes to the student for both the written and oral portions of the QE. It is the student's responsibility to communicate with the QE Committee Chair and confirm their willingness to serve in that role. 

The Mentor serves as a key member of the committee. The Mentor can actively participate in committee meetings, but does not participate in the Qualifying Exam. The Mentor may attend to take notes and to provide later feedback, but cannot participate or answer questions from the student or the committee. In cases where factual interpretations are important for progress of the meeting, committee members may ask the Mentor for clarification of a point.

The Mentor is not required to attend the exam. In cases where the Mentor prefers to be absent during the examination, the committee of at least 4 faculty members will conduct the exam and inform the student of their performance.

Written Proposal

  • Submit written proposal to committee (F31 format = 1 aims page and 6 pages of research strategy, biosketch, and career goals or IDP). Many training opportunities in writing are available on campus. Examples of successful F31 proposals are available through UAB CCTS and the NIH. Mentors can provide general guidance and structure for the student during the writing process, but the student cannot mimic or copy the Mentor’s proposals. This is an original proposal, by the student.
  • The schedule allows at least 30 days for complete review of the written proposal.
  • Each committee member (excluding the Mentor) submits a written, abbreviated NIH-style critique of the proposal to the QE Committee Chair. Importantly, this critique is focused on the strengths and weaknesses of the written proposal. Only significance, innovation, and approach will be scored. A critique template is provided by GBS. Rather than a numerical score, each committee member will choose one of three options:
1. Pass without revision
2. Revise and submit a response to reviewer’s criticism
3. Rewrite and resubmit both a response and revised proposal for full review. In addition to the NIH style critique, the committee member can provide a marked-up version of the proposal (electronically or hard copy) to aid the student in revision.
  • The QE Committee Chair will collect the evaluations, communicate with the members as needed, and determine the outcome of the written portion of the exam selecting from the options above. In the event that a unanimous decision is not reached, the QE Committee Chair will determine which of the three outcomes is most appropriate.
  • If a response to critiques is requested, the student will have two weeks to submit this document. The response is limited to two pages in length.
  • If a re-write is required (in sum or in part), the committee will determine the time allotted for the re-write, pending the amount of revision required. It is expected that the time required to re-write will be less than four weeks, at the committee’s discretion.
  • If the revised document is unacceptable to a majority of the committee, this will be recorded as a “fail”. At this point, the Mentor, QE Committee Chair, Theme Director(s), and student will meet and create a timeline for repeating the process. The timeline will be written and agreed upon by all parties.
  • A second failure of the process will result in dismissal from the program.
The written and oral portions of the exam are independent of one another; however, the first evaluation of the written portion must be completed by the committee and responses returned to the student at least 1 week prior to the oral exam. This ensures that the student has sufficient time to adjust the oral presentation to accommodate the critiques.

QE Written Review Form
This form is utilized for review between the student and committee. 

Oral Defense

The format of the presentation is tailored around the major features of a research proposal:
1. What is the question being addressed?
2. Why is this question significant?
3. What research aims will be examined to address this question?
  • The student is evaluated on their ability to think and reason, not simply understand their project.
  • The committee is encouraged to ask questions probing experimental design and creative concepts.
  • Since this is an exam, the committee is expected to ask question relevant to the project but also relevant to general knowledge for a modern scientist.
  • The student should respond to any major shortcomings identified in the committee’s critiques of the written proposal during the oral exam.
  • In the closed door discussion, the QE Committee Chair must work to reach a resolution acceptable to all committee members. The Mentor can participate in this discussion to provide insight to the committee, but if a vote is taken, the Mentor will abstain.
  • The result of the meeting will be recorded on the GBS Qualifying Exam form. This form will be signed by each committee member and delivered to the GBS office within two business days of the oral defense.
  • In the event of a failure, the student is permitted one more attempt at the oral defense. A second failure will result in dismissal from the program.
After completion of the defense, the committee will hold a closed session to discuss the performance. There are three possible outcomes:
1. Pass without exception
2. Pass with additional requirements (For example, a certain course or training module can be required to fill an area or need, or certain sections of the oral defense can be redone)
3. Fail and re-schedule.

Qualifying Exam Form
The completed form must be signed by all committee members and returned to the GBS Process Manager within two days following the successful completion of the QE oral defense.

Admission to Candidacy

Admission to candidacy is an important transition during doctoral education. Advancement into candidacy reflects completion of the first stage of training and transitioning into dissertation research. Passage of the qualifying exam is one part of this transition.

Advancement to Candidacy Requirements:
  • Successful completion of all first-year courses (earning a B or better)
  • Completion of ethics training (e.g. GRD717)
  • Successful completion of one of the approved biostatistics courses (earning a B or better)
  • Completion of 48 semester hours of coursework and pre-dissertation research (see the UAB Graduate School policy for further details and exceptions)
  • Successful completion of the written qualifying exam
  • Successful completion of the oral qualifying exam

The student is to verify that these requirements have been met by contacting the GBS Curriculum Manager. Once all of these milestones are achieved, the student may call a meeting of the committee together, discuss the research plan (as any normal committee meeting), and have the committee verify advancement to candidacy by signing the official Graduate School- Admission to Candidacy form. The student may apply for candidacy after successful completion of both the written and oral components of the QE. This signed form should be signed and delivered to the GBS Finance Manager within two business days.

It is the student's responsibility to notify GBS Finance Manager when the official admission letter is received from the Graduate School, so that the student can receive the $1,000.00 increase in stipend.

Application for Admission to Candidacy (pdf)
This form must be completed and submitted to the GBS Office Administrator who will submit to the Graduate School before you can register for research hours.

QE Forms

  • Qualifying Exam Form
    This form must be submitted two weeks prior to the scheduled QE. The completed form must be signed by all committee members and returned to the GBS Process Manager within two days following the successful completion of the QE oral defense.
  • QE Written Review Form
    This form is utilized for review between the student and committee. 
  • Application for Admission to Candidacy (pdf)
    This form must be completed and submitted to the GBS Office Administrator who will submit to the Graduate School before you can register for research hours.
     

 

See the GBS Handbook for additional information.