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Before the end of the third academic year, students undergo a oral exam based on their proposed research project. This oral exam has two components:

  • a written component, in the form of a research proposal, and
  • an oral component, in the form of a presentation.

For the written component, students are expected to submit a 6-12 page written proposal in the form of a fellowship application (e.g. NIH or NSF) to their thesis committee describing their dissertation research project.  Details regarding the content of the proposal should be discussed no later than the annual thesis committee meeting at the beginning of the third year.  Detailed guidelines for conducting the exam may be found here.  Once the proposal is submitted to the thesis committee, students are required to defend their proposals during an oral exam given by their thesis committee.  Students are expected to demonstrate sufficient knowledge in their chosen research area and feasibility in completing their research plan by the end of the fifth year.  The specific content of these oral exams is dictated by the thesis committee and moderated by the committee chair.  Students who fail the exam have the option to take the exam again at a later date under terms and conditions set by their committee.  Students who fail a second time will be dismissed from the program.

In non-pandemic times (see below for pandemic-adjustment), the format of the oral component is an interactive chalk talk. The student should prepare a concise presentation of approximately 15 minutes to summarize the motivation behind the research project and outline the specific aims of the project. During this presentation, the student should expect to be interrupted with questions, yet retain the flow of the presentation. The committee’s questions should focus on the dissertation work to determine whether the proposed work is feasible, and whether the student has an adequate grasp of the literature and the skills to accomplish the work in a timely fashion. In order to facilitate an interactive question and answer format, the student will be limited to at most three Powerpoint slides that can show preliminary data or list specific aims.

Adjustment for COVID-19 pandemic: During social distancing, the oral component of the exam is given remotely and that chalk talk format will be adjusted appropriately. In most cases, unless the student has easy access to a large white board (real or virtual), the format will be of a powerpoint (or similar) presentation, albeit with the expectation that interruptions and questions will be frequent so as to retain as faithfully as possible the spirit of the original chalk talk format described above.

Forms Required for BCB Oral Exam

  1. BCB Report of Oral Exam
  2. Graduate School Committee and Dissertation Form
    1. Must get this form from BCB Curriculum Administrator
    2. Must provide names and titles (ie Professor, Assistant Professor, etc.) for all committee members
    3. Must provide designation of committee positions (ie: Chair, Advisor, Member)
    4. Form with original signatures must be turned in to BCB Curriculum Administrator  within 1 week of exam
  3. Graduate School Doctoral Exam Report Form
    1. Must get this form from BCB Curriculum Administrator
    2. Parts I and II will completed at this exam (Signature and Initials of Committee Chair are required for both parts)
    3. Form with original signatures must be turned in to BCB Curriculum Administrator within 1 week of exam