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Preliminary Exam

Preliminary Exam at the End of the First Year


1. The general format of a preliminary examination for the Cell Biology, Stem Cells and Development Graduate Program is a written grant proposal followed by an oral examination by a preliminary examination committee.

2. The preliminary examination committee will consist of five faculty members. Every year, following the first 2 years after initiation of this preliminary exam format, two committee members will be replaced with new faculty. Each member will serve a minimum of two consecutive years. The committee will also consist of faculty representing different aspects of the research within CSD, such as Development, Cell Biology and Stem Cell Biology.

3. Four weeks before the oral examination, students will be provided with five research topics; one topic from each committee member. Each topic will be represented by 2-3 papers that have been selected by the committee members. Each student will need to pick one topic for his/her proposal. While students can select the same topic, obviously, students are not allowed to work together on their proposals. The topic cannot have a significant overlap with student’s research interests in their future lab, and will have to be approved by the committee.

4. Each student will have one committee member assigned as a preliminary examination mentor. The same committee member will also serve as a chair during examination of this student. The main role of the mentor will be to serve as a “go to” person for the student if s/he (the student) has questions regarding the written and oral portions of the examination. The mentor can advise the student regarding the expectations of the written and oral examinations. The mentor cannot, however, be directly involved in editing or re-writing the student’s grant proposal. Mentor also cannot be directly involved in suggesting/designing the experiments or interpretations of potential outcomes that will be described in the proposal.

5. Students will complete the written proposal and deliver it to each member of the committee no later than 1 week before the date of the oral examination. This deadline is firm. The proposal is to follow the NIH predoctoral fellowship format and can be no longer than 6 pages (excluding references).

6. In addition to the written proposal, the student will be examined orally by the committee. The examination for each student will last approximately one hour, unless the committee decides additional time is needed.

7. The exam is designed to test each student’s understanding of key concepts and ability to think through experimental design, both of which are important for research in biomedical sciences, with a focus on development, cell biology and stem cell biology. While the main focus of the questions will be related to the written proposal, students should expect questions outside the immediate scope of written proposal. All questions, however, will be limited to the material that the student was exposed to during courses and rotations that they had within the first year of a graduate program.

8. Students will be graded on a Pass or Fail basis, as decided by a majority of the committee. The final grading will incorporate a combined evaluation of the written proposal as well as of the oral examination. Both aspects of the examination will be weighted equally.

9. In the event of a failed exam, the situation will be referred to the Graduate Advising Committee (GAC) for CSD for a remediation and exam retake plan to be completed by the end of the summer semester.


For additional information, please consult the CSD Student Handbook.​​