Qualifying Exam (QE)

All GBS students are required to pass a QE prior to being admitted to candidacy. It must be scheduled as early as possible during your third year and no later than July of your third year. Before scheduling the QE, you must have at least one committee meeting to get approval of the planned topic of your thesis research. It is also strongly suggested that you complete a grant-writing course, but this is not a general GBS requirement. 

The QE has both a written and oral component. You will present a written research proposal and orally defend it. Always check with your theme director(s) to ask if your theme has any additional requirements for the QE.

The Written Exam

The topic will be your proposed thesis research. The minimal format for this document will follow the basic features of the NIH NRSA (SF424) predoctoral fellowship application:


Check with your theme director(s) about written exam requirements, such as longer page limits or different formats, since some theme requirements differ.

  • One page for Specific Aims
  • Six pages for Research Strategy
  • A Literature-Cited section

The NIH publication Individual Fellowship Application Guide (pdf) contains helpful guidance. Your mentor and committee members are expected to provide only general guidance as you write the proposal.

The written portion of the QE must be delivered to the committee members at least 14 days prior to the scheduled oral defense. Failure to deliver the document to the committee by this deadline may result in rescheduling the oral defense. The QE is specifically designed to examine the student’s oral and writing skills, but more importantly to allow the committee to assess whether the student has established both the fundamental knowledge base and intellectual acuity to move into the dissertation phase of his/her project.

After the QE

You may apply for candidacy after successful completion of both the written and oral components of the QE. 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.


  • It should be understood that the aims of the qualifying exam proposal do not constitute a binding contract for the successful completion of the thesis project.
  • Each theme has the option of adding additional requirements for the qualifying exam as needed, including the attendance of theme directors or other individuals who are not the student's committee members.
  • Students must have successfully completed GRD 717: Principles of Scientific Integrity, or its approved equivalent, in order to be eligible for Admission to Candidacy.
  • In the event that a student fails to meet the standards set by the thesis committee for the written and/or oral portion of the exam, then the student will have one additional opportunity to pass that portion of the exam. If the committee determines that the student did not pass the exam a second time, the student is dismissed from GBS.

QE Forms


Please see the handbook for additional information.