A student admitted into the PhD program is classified as a PhD student. After the successful completion of the Doctoral Candidacy Examination (or 'PhD Candidacy Exam,' as described below), the classification of the student changes to 'Doctoral Candidate' (DC), or 'PhD Candidate.'
Purpose of the Candidacy Examination
The purpose of the candidacy exam is to test the ability of the student to conduct advanced research, as required to succeed in the PhD program. The Candidacy Examination explores the depth of understanding of the student in areas considered core to his/her specialty area in Biomedical Engineering or Biomedical Science. The student is expected to be familiar with, and be able to use, the contemporary tools and techniques of the field and to demonstrate his or her ability to analyze and critique the principle results and key findings.
Objectives of the Candidacy Examination
The PhD candidacy exam consists of a written report, an oral presentation, and an oral examination. Evaluation of the student’s written report and performance during the oral examination includes testing the student’s ability to survey the relevant literature, identify gaps in knowledge, define a research question, design experiments to answer that question, and discuss the interpretation of results and any potential pitfalls for the first specific aim of his or her thesis only. In addition, the student should be prepared to answer questions that test knowledge that is central to the student’s research discipline.
Composition of the Candidacy Examination Committee
A Candidacy Examination Committee, which will become the student’s Thesis Committee, of at least 5 members will be appointed in consultation with the student's thesis advisor, and is to include: at least 3 faculty members with a primary full-time appointment in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems ('the School') and at least 1 faculty member who is not a member of the School's faculty (preferably from outside of the University). At least 3 of the Committee members must be currently tenured or tenure-track faculty members at Drexel University.
The student's advisor should be a member of the Candidacy Exam Committee, but not its Chair. The Chair shall be a School faculty member, preferably a senior faculty member. All members of the Candidacy Exam Committee must attend the presentation in person or via Skype. Individual examinations on a one-on-one basis are not permitted. If one member of the Committee does not attend and a replacement who satisfies the aforementioned requirements of the Committee cannot be found, then the Candidacy Exam meeting must be rescheduled.
Preparation of the Written Report
The written report consists of one Specific Aims page for the student’s entire thesis (1 page limit) and a research proposal describing the first Specific Aim only. The Specific Aims page should briefly provide the rationale for the entire thesis and list the main goals of each Specific Aim for the entire thesis. These Specific Aims are not set in stone and can be changed prior to the thesis proposal, but it is helpful to be aware of the bigger picture of the entire thesis to put Specific Aim 1 in context. The rest of the document (6 page limit, not including references, at least 11pt font and 0.5” margins) should include the following sections for the first Specific Aim only:
- Background/ Significance - should include a literature review that critically evaluates previous work in the area, identifies gaps in knowledge, and leads to the formulation of a scientific question that will be addressed by the specific aim.
- Innovation – briefly highlight the main innovative aspects of the proposed research
- Experimental design
- Experimental Methods
- Expected outcomes and interpretation
- Anticipated potential pitfalls and alternative approaches
This document must be saved as a .pdf file and emailed to the Committee at least 2 weeks before the scheduled date of the candidacy exam. Reports that do not follow these formatting guidelines or that are not sent to the committee at least 2 weeks before the candidacy exam will NOT be accepted. The Committee will use this document to prepare questions for the candidacy exam. Note that this written report will not be the sole focus of the questions posed during the oral candidacy exam- other questions will include general knowledge pertinent to the student’s field of research.
Other Documents to Send along with the Written Report
Students should submit to the Committee a Drexel unofficial transcript and a resume containing education, publications, and presentations, along with their written report.
Preparation of the Oral Presentation
Students should prepare a presentation that mirrors the content of the written report. This presentation will not be interrupted and will be planned to last 20-30 minutes to leave time for questioning. It is recommended that the students include slide numbers on each slide to increase efficiency during questioning.
Preparation for the Oral Exam
Questions posed by the Examiners during the oral examination will focus on the written report as well as content knowledge that is considered central to the student’s discipline. In general, through both the written report and the oral examination, students will be expected to demonstrate:
- a broad command of existing knowledge that is central to the student’s research discipline;
- the ability to think critically about research questions in their field;
- the ability to identify existing gaps in knowledge and how their proposed research fills those gaps;
- understanding of relevant research methods, including key assumptions and technical considerations such as experimental, analytical, and statistical methods.
Students are advised to review the example candidacy exam questions.
The student must complete the Candidacy Exam no earlier than July 1st of his or her first year, and no later than the end of the summer term of the second year. The student must petition the Candidacy Exam Committee for any deviation from the above outlined policies. It is recommended that the student follow the timeline below:
- 2-3 months before the exam: In consultation with Advisor, form Committee, name the Chair of the committee, and schedule exam date
- The Advisor should ensure that the Chair is familiar with the responsibilities of the Chair, listed below.
- At least 8 weeks before the exam: Finalize research ideas with Advisor and begin writing the written report
- 2-6 weeks before the exam: Meet with the Committee Chair to discuss exam format
- 2-3 weeks before the exam: Practice oral presentation
- 2 weeks before the exam: Send written report, transcript, and resume to the Committee
Other Responsibilities of the Student
- The student is responsible for arranging a time (Doodle is a suggested tool) during which all Candidacy Exam Committee members must be present (Skype is permissible for those who would otherwise have difficulty attending). However, all Candidacy Exam Committee members must attend the presentation and question session in one way or another.
- The student is responsible for scheduling a day, time, and room reservation (see the School of Biomed front desk in the Biomed Office for room reservations, or email Danielle Crocker at firstname.lastname@example.org) for the Candidacy Exam presentation. Allow at least 1.5 hours when booking the room.
- The student must submit a D-3 Dissertation Advisory Committee Appointment form (if changes to the Candidacy Exam Committee occur after the Candidacy and prior to the thesis proposal, then an updated D-3 form should be filed).
- The student must bring forms D-2 and D-2A (one copy of D-2A for each Candidacy Exam Committee member) to the Candidacy Exam presentation for the Committee members' signatures.
Responsibilities of the Advisor, Examiners, and Chair
Advisor- Advisors are responsible for working with the student to select appropriate members of the Candidacy Exam Committee who are knowledgeable in the general area of research of the student. The Advisor should ensure that the Chair is familiar with the responsibilities of the Chair, listed below.
The Advisor should work with the student to make sure he or she is preparing appropriately for the exam. It is recommended that the Advisor attends a practice presentation by the student and prepares practice oral examination questions.
Examiners- Examiners are responsible for thoroughly reviewing the student’s written report and for preparing questions related to the proposed research of Specific Aim 1 only as well as questions that more test the student’s general knowledge of facts and concepts that are pertinent to the student’s proposed research.
Chair- It is the responsibility of the Chair to ensure a fair and balanced examination while maintaining the high standards of the School. The Chair should ensure that every Examiner has the opportunity to ask questions during the exam, and that the exam remains an examination of the student as opposed to a discussion of the research. In addition, the Chair should meet with the student several weeks before the exam to ensure the student understands how to prepare for the exam. During the exam, the Chair should maintain the order of questioning. Following the exam, the Chair should summarize the recommendations of the Committee and ensure that the student understands them.
Recommended Procedure for the Candidacy Exam
- 20-30 minutes: The student presents their research presentation.
- 5 minutes: The audience is given the opportunity to ask questions, and then is dismissed.
- 40 minutes: Each Examiner takes approximately 10 minutes to ask questions of the student.
- 10-15 minutes: The student is dismissed while the Committee deliberates.
- When a consensus decision is reached, the student is asked to return, and the Chair informs the student of the Committee’s decision and summarizes the Committee’s recommendations. These recommendations are included in the D-2 form. Each Committee member will individually complete a D2A form, and copies will be emailed to the student following the Candidacy Exam, with copy to the Committee.
The Candidacy Exam Committee will meet in a closed-door session immediately after the question and answer session and will come to a consensus decision, with 4 possibilities based on the merit of the student's performance. Each Candidacy Exam Committee member will also complete a form (based on the current D-2A form) highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the student's performance, and will specifically address certain criteria, including:
- Conditional pass: At the discretion of the Candidacy Exam Committee, the student may pass the exam contingent on meeting one or more additional conditions. Examples of conditions include (but are not restricted to) taking a course on a particular topic perceived as lacking in the student's background, and receiving a B+ or better, revising the written Candidacy Exam document to the satisfaction of all Candidacy Exam Committee members, or providing a written review of one or more research articles related to a specified topic.
- Re-take the Candidacy Exam within a period of 6 months, including submission of an extensively revised preliminary proposal document.
- Failure and dismissal from the PhD program, with the option to engage in the master's program, at the discretion of the Candidacy Exam Committee.