Doctoral Qualifying Exam

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination is an important assessment designed to demonstrate that the student has the knowledge base and expertise in his/her discipline and is making progress towards the PhD degree. Specifically, students should demonstrate competence in their academic track and an ability to design and carry out independent scholarly research. The Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Qualifying Examination consists of the written proposal and oral examination component. The Qualifying Examination is taken at the end of the second year of the Ph.D. program by all PhD students.

Written Component

The written component of the qualifying exam follows the format of a NIH style research project (R01) grant proposal. Students are required to write a research proposal component of an R01 style grant on a particular research topics within their discipline. Topics for each student are selected 2 month prior to the completion of the qualifying exams by a committee of faculty within each respective tract. Students will be given six weeks to complete and submit their proposals. Within the first week into the writing phase, they must submit an Abstract page to be checked by the committee to ensure that they are on the right track.

Oral Component

In addition to the written examination, the student is required to defend the proposal in an oral examination. Students must give a 30-minute presentation about their R01 proposal and answer questions from a three-member committee for up to additional 90 minutes. The committee makes a final pass/fail decision for the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination based on the combined results of the written component and oral presentation. In the event of an unsuccessful attempt, the exam may be repeated once if necessary and at the discretion of the committee.

Additional Guidelines for the Doctoral Qualifying Exam

(i) Students need to prepare an R01 proposal on a subject which can be selected from a pool of topics provided by their major advisors and have been cleared by the track review committee. The topic must be different than their PhD research topic, their lab’s ongoing research topics, and their major advisor’s research proposals.

(ii) Each year, the BME department will form 3-member committees, one for each track. The committees will create a pool of subjects for R01 proposals, will assemble an information package for the exam using NIH material and possibly successful R01 Grant Applications, and conduct the qualifying exams. The research advisor of the student cannot be a member of the committee (the advisor may be present, but cannot say anything and must keep his/her camera off in case of virtual meetings).

(iii) Students will be able to contact the committee members when they select their topic and during their preparation for the exam.

(iv) The possible result of the exam can be: “Pass”, “Conditional Pass”, or “Fail.” If the result is “Conditional Pass”, the student will have a two-week period to respond in writing to questions from the committee. If the result is “Fail,” the student will have another opportunity to take the exam before the beginning of the next academic year.


  • NIH R01 sample grants page
  • Students are encouraged to enroll in “Tool Kit for Scientific Communication” course (BME 6086/MEDS 6447; 1 CREDIT; Syllabus) during the spring of the second year. This is a new course offered in the spring term and covers fundamentals of scientific communication and grant writing (including R01 type proposals). This course is not required for the PhD but is highly recommended.