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Preliminary Examinations (& Advancement to Candidacy)


Ph.D.  Qualifying Examinations


During the first half of the Spring Semester of the second year, each doctoral student will prepare a written proposal for his/her dissertation project (format below) and present it to the advisory committee no later than the mid-point of the semester (ca. middle of Week 8; see the web-based UGA Academic Calendar).  The major professor may provide general guidance only on the Specific Aims section of the proposal, but the student is strongly encouraged to get input from other faculty (including his/her committee), post-docs, and more advanced students in crafting the final proposal.


When students distribute their proposals to committee members, they should email the Graduate Program Associate  (, stating the date it was distributed and the names of the committee members. This will help us get the results of the exams reported promptly.   If committee members reside outside the Microbiology Department, it is the student’s responsibility to communicate the rules and timeline governing the exam process (e.g. that committee members have two weeks to submit an evaluation) to such committee members.


The advisory committee should decide within 2 weeks whether the student has passed this written portion of the qualifying exam, and committee members should notify the student and the Graduate Program Associate  of their evaluation.  If committee members do not submit an evaluation in this time frame, the Graduate Program Associate  will contact them and request an evaluation.  In the event that it is not a passing evaluation, the Graduate Coordinator should be notified as well.   The committee members may choose to return the marked up proposals to the student. 


If more than one committee member requests that the exam be rewritten or rates the exam as unacceptable, the student is allowed a single rewrite of the proposal to incorporate changes based on input from the committee.  The rewrite must be submitted within 3 weeks after the pass/fail decision.  As with the first submission, the committee is expected to evaluate the proposal within two weeks and will be contacted by the Graduate Program Associate  if they do not.  A student failing this re-written exam (i.e., receiving an unacceptable ranking from more than one committee member) will transfer to the M.S. program.


ORAL EXAM         

After passing the written exam, the student will schedule an oral exam to take place no later than the last day of finals in the Fall Term of year 3. An exam committee chair will be appointed by the major advisor prior to the oral preliminary exam meeting. The chair will be a tenured faculty member who scored the written proposal with a passing grade. Prior to the exam, the chair will read the policy regarding Microbiology preliminary exam format.  

  • At this exam, the student will be allowed a maximum of twelve slides and fifteen uninterrupted minutes for a presentation, to be followed by questions that are specific to the proposal as well as questions that test general knowledge.   
  • Students may prepare a limited number of extra slides that might facilitate discussion of complex datasets, pathways, structures, etc.; however, text should be minimized and committee members may stipulate whether such slides can be used to answer any particular question. 
  • Typically, initial questions will focus on the proposal, but there should be time for general knowledge questions as well.  
  • During the exam, the student’s advisor will not participate in the discussion unless asked a direct question and granted permission to participate by the committee chair. 
  • After the exam, the exam committee chair will draft an evaluation letter summarizing the student's performance and indicating specific strengths and weaknesses that were identified by the exam committee. This letter will be submitted to the student, the major professor, and the Graduate Program Associate .

It is the responsibility of the student to schedule the exam well enough in advance to ensure that all committee members can attend in person or by conference call. 

The Graduate School must be informed of the date, time, and location of oral exams at least two weeks in advance.  That information should be sent to the Graduate Program Associate at least two weeks prior to the oral exam.

How Do I get my Oral Exam Form from the Graduate School?

Once the Graduate School has been informed of the exam, the Program Associate will receive the exam signature form from The Grad School and forward to the student.  Regardless of pass or fail, the form must be returned to the Graduate School within two weeks after the announced oral exam date.  If the student fails the first oral exam (same conditions as above for written exam), he/she must retake the exam by the end of finals in following summer "through session".  Failure on the re-take of the oral requires transfer to the MS program.


PASSING THE EXAM    Regardless of the number of members on an advisory committee (four or five for doctoral committees), a student will pass the exam if no more than one unsatisfactory (failing) grade is received.


APPLICATION FOR ADMISSION TO CANDIDACY    After passing the written and oral exams, the student must complete this form to petition the Graduate School for admission to Ph.D. candidacy.    Generally, the application for advancement to Candidacy is submitted at the same time as the form signed by committee members evaluating the preliminary exams.  Note that there is a 2-semester residency requirement following admission to candidacy before a student can graduate.


POSTPONEMENT     The student and his/her advisor may request a postponement in the above schedule due to special circumstances.  This is done by a written request to the Graduate Coordinator that explains the reason for the delay and suggests an alternative schedule.  Requests for postponement of the written exam must be received at least two weeks before the exam is due.  Requests for postponement of the oral exam or of a re-take of the written exam  must be received by the Graduate Coordinator within one week after the pass/no-pass decision.  A postponement beyond the Fall Semester of the third year generally will not be granted.


Format for the Research Proposal Component of the Qualifying Exam

Length/Typography:  The total proposal length should be no more than 10-12 typed, single-spaced pages (~6000 words) in 12-point Times or Arial fonts.  You may place figures, tables and photos on separate pages together with their corresponding legends or footnotes.  These pages DO count towards the total length and you should subtract 1/3 page from the page limit for each figure and table.  These pages may be interspersed among the text pages or clustered at the end of the document. Alternatively, you may embed figures and tables within the text such that the total document length is no more than 12 pages.


Organize the proposal as follows:

Title Page: A succinct but informative title for your project, your name, the date (month and year) and the names of your committee members (does not count in the page limit).


Specific Aims:  This is a brief summary or abstract of the proposed work.  Provide a short introductory paragraph followed by a brief "bullet" listing (each item no longer than a short sentence) of the specific studies that you propose in the order in which they will be conducted.  The Specific Aims page is your opportunity to make a good first impression regarding the importance of your project.  It should be simple, clear, and succinct. (0.5-1 page).


Background/Significance: Summarize the relevant information leading to your proposed work. Critically evaluate the pertinent existing knowledge in the field.  Identify the gaps in that knowledge that your work will fill.  Clearly establish the importance and relevance of your proposed work (2-2.5 pages).


Preliminary Studies: Describe your own recent/current work in preparation for the proposed experiments.  This section should support the feasibility of the proposed studies and provide evidence that you can carry out related experiments (2-3 pages).


Research Design and Methods: Describe the experimental approaches you will take to complete the Specific Aims.  It is generally sufficient to simply cite references for routine/standard procedures, but you should address specific modifications or details that are relevant to your own project.  Be aware that you should understand thoroughly the techniques you will be using, as you can expect questions on them during your oral exam. If several techniques are available for asking a certain type of question, explain why you chose the technique(s) you have and not another. Anticipate where potential problems might arise and indicate alternative approaches.  Most importantly, explain how your observations will test your hypothesis.  The purpose of this section is to describe what you will do, and demonstrate how well you understand what you will do, how you will deal with problems which might reasonably arise, and where this work might lead (5-6 pages).


References: Use ASM journal format to cite references in the text and to list at the end of document. Reference list does not count in the text page limit.  Make sure that the title of each cited reference and ALL authors are included.

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