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Clinical Science PhD Program

Comprehensive Exam

PhD Home | Admissions | Clinical Investigation | Health Information Technology | Health Services Research | Requirements | Resources

The Comprehensive and Thesis Examination Committee will examine the student for both the Comprehensive Examination, to qualify for PhD candidacy, and the Thesis Defense Examination to complete the requirements of the PhD degree. Students select at least five members to serve on the Comprehensive Examination and Thesis Committee. This committee will administer both the Comprehensive Examination and the Thesis Defense Examination. This committee is typically formed during the first year of study or after successful completion of the Preliminary Examination. The committee is required to meet at least once per year, but it is strongly recommended that the committee meet more frequently (two or more times/year). Minutes of committee meetings are to be forwarded to the CLSC Program Administrator (Galit Mankin) for the student’s file to document progress.

We encourage students to talk with a number of faculty members about possible topics during the first year. If not already done, this must occur right after completing the Preliminary Exams. Contact faculty you might want to work with or faculty in an area that interests you. Academic Advisors are a wonderful resource for networking and identifying potential Research Mentors and committee members. When meeting with various faculty, you are not making any commitment to work with that person nor they with you. Do not assume that you need to find a topic on your own, but also do not assume that you will be handed a topic to work on. It will be helpful if you have some interests or specific things to suggest as you are meeting with faculty.

When you have selected your Research Mentor, also known as the thesis supervisor, (the person you will work most closely with for your research project and thesis) and are fairly confident you have a good topic or specific area to work in, begin forming the committee. You and your Research Mentor should determine other faculty with whom you would like to work and who would add expertise needed for your project. When you have agreed on a list of possible members, meet with each of those people to describe your proposed work and request committee membership. You and your committee should meet as a group at least once every year, although every six months is preferable. You will also need to identify the Chair of your committee. The Research Mentor and Chair must be different. The Chair is responsible for monitoring the conditions and reporting their outcome to the Clinical Science Graduate Program and the School. Specifically, s/he will complete the Thesis Committee Report form (in the following pages) following each committee meeting and will chair both the Comprehensive Examination and the Thesis Defense Examination.

All members of the committee must have or be eligible for a Graduate School faculty appointment. A Graduate School faculty appointment listing is posted on-line. For a committee member who does not have a Graduate School appointment, students may request that the CLSC Program submit an appointment nomination to the Graduate School. To begin this process, the student must submit to Galit Mankin a biosketch of the nominee and a written explanation of what this potential member would contribute to the committee. The nomination/approval process takes six to eight weeks, so nomination requests must be submitted to the CLSC Program no less than two months before the planned comprehensive and thesis proposal examination date.

Committee Composition for Clinical Investigation and Health Information Technology

  • The committee must contain at least 5 members.
  • The majority of committee members must be CLSC faculty.
  • At least 1 member must NOT be from the CLSC faculty.

Your Research Mentor (the person you will work most closely with to develop and conduct your research project) is a member and MUST attend the Comprehensive Examination and the Thesis Defense Examination but is NOT allowed to chair the committee nor the exams.

The Chair of the committee must be a CLSC core faculty member (This includes the Track Directors, Educational Director, Program Director and Program Director Emeritus). This individual will chair the Comprehensive Examination, your committee meetings, and the Thesis Defense Examination.

Following the above guidelines and with input from the Academic Advisor (Track Director) and Research Mentor, the student should prepare a list of proposed committee members for review and approval by the Clinical Science Program Director. This should be done at the latest two terms following passing of the Preliminary Examination (although it is encouraged that the committee be formed much earlier).

Committee Composition for Collaborative CLSC-CSPH Health Services Research

  • The committee must contain at least 5 members of which the majority must be HSR faculty.
  • Three committee members must be HSR faculty.
  • Two committee members must be CLSC faculty.

Your Research Mentor (the person you will work most closely with to develop and conduct your research project) is a member and MUST attend the Comprehensive Examination and the Thesis Defense Examination but is NOT allowed to chair the committee nor the exams. Your Research Mentor must be HSR faculty.

The Chair of the Committee is typically one of the Track Advisors or a committee HSR faculty member. This individual chairs the Comprehensive Examination, your committee meetings, and the Thesis Defense Examination.

Following the above guidelines and with input from the Academic Advisor (Track Director) and Research Mentor, the student should prepare a list of proposed committee members for review and approval to one of the Track Directors who will attain approval from the Clinical Science Program Director. This should be done at the latest two terms following passing of the Preliminary Examination (although it is encouraged that the committee be formed much earlier).

Admission to Candidacy

Graduate School Rules apply to Comprehensive Exams of all CLSC PhD students. The purpose of the Comprehensive Examination is to provide the candidate with the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of a broad range of knowledge in clinical science. While specific courses completed by the candidate are important, their content has been tested as a portion of the grading process for the course. The Comprehensive Examination is not, therefore, a re-examination of course content but rather the integration and application of knowledge and skills. A form of evidence of this ability is the student’s thesis proposal. The candidate should demonstrate synthesis of knowledge in the areas of:

  • theory construction, analysis, and evaluation;
  • research and analytic methods required to answer significant clinical science questions;
  • existing and emerging knowledge in clinical science, the identified clinical science track and other contributing fields.

Before admission to candidacy for the PhD in Clinical Science, each student must pass a Comprehensive Examination in his/her selected track or field of concentration. This examination will include: 1) a written exam component, 2) a presentation of the thesis proposal that is open to the public, and 3) a closed oral exam on the proposal, related clinical science topics and synthesis of completed coursework. The format of the written exam requirement can take the form of an NIH-like grant or the first three chapters of the student's thesis.

Requirements Prior to Scheduling the Comprehensive Examination

  1. Preferably completed by the end of the student's third year.
  2. Completion of or current registration for all program-required, non-thesis coursework.
  3. Validation of any course work to count toward the degree that was taken more than 5 years before the Comprehensive Exam.
  4. A cumulative 3.00 G.P.A. for completed CLSC program coursework.
  5. Students must be registered for a minimum of one credit at the time of the examination.
  6. Attend at least one CLSC peer’s public presentation portion of the Comprehensive Examination.
  7. A CLSC program approved list of committee members including the Research Mentor and Thesis Committee Chair.
  8. Ready to initiate the project. Students must submit the "Approval of Thesis Proposal Form" (signed by the Chair and Mentor) to Galit Mankin at least 8 weeks before the exam

The student must have prepared a written research proposal in the form of an NIH grant submission or the first three chapters of the thesis that has been read by your Research Mentor. (It is strongly encouraged that the student holds a committee meeting or has met with the individual members prior to the Comprehensive Examination to determine general agreement regarding the proposal).

The student must submit his/her thesis proposal to all committee members and to Galit Mankin AT LEAST 8 WEEKS before the exam.

All required paperwork must be completed and submitted to the Graduate School NO LESS THAN 14 DAYS before the exam is held.

Instructions and forms are available on the Graduate School website. Please read all instructions carefully. An “Application for Admission to Candidacy for the PhD” form must be submitted along with the “Request for Scheduling Exam” form.

The paperwork requires the CLSC Program Director review, approve and sign the form before the Graduate School will accept it.

Any student who does not meet the Graduate School deadline will be required to re-schedule his/her Comprehensive Examination. Therefore, we strongly recommend students begin the paperwork process NO LESS THAN 8 WEEKS before the planned exam date.

Important Note: Students must be registered at the time they take the Comprehensive Examination. Students who schedule their examinations after the last day of a given term must register in the subsequent term.


Due to limited faculty availability during the Summer semester, Comprehensive Exams will normally be held during Fall and Spring semesters.

The Graduate School requires that students and committee members set aside 4 hours for the Comprehensive Exam. CU Denver Educational Support Services( is available for reserving a room and providing equipment (e.g., projector).

Comprehensive Examination Process/Content

All members of the committee must be present for the examination. One member, but not the chairperson or the student, may participate by interactive video or telephone. Any costs incurred to bring an outside member to campus or to connect the member by interactive video/telephone are the responsibility of the student. The examination form, indicating the pass, conditional pass, or fail status of the exam, must be signed by all committee members and returned to the Graduate School Office. Students might remind the chair of his/her responsibility to get signatures of the committee members. Graduate School policy requires that the student never be in possession of the completed exam form; failure to comply with this requirement nullifies the exam results. A copy of the completed form should be provided to the CLSC Administrative Offices (Galit Mankin, Leprino Building, Suite 351, Anschutz Medical Campus, Mail Stop B141.)

The thesis proposal should describe the proposed topic, background and relevant literature, theoretical foundations, methods, and intended approaches. The student and the Research Mentor (and perhaps other committee members with whom the student may have worked closely) should work together to get the proposal in good shape, and then circulate it to the committee for comments. This process is meant to help assess the level of agreement between the student and the committee, describing expectations and scope of work. The PhD research project and thesis should show originality on the part of the student and be of peer-reviewed publishable quality.

Thesis Proposal or NIH-like Submission Elements

  1. Cover letter/memo: Provide a list of the names of the Comprehensive Examination Committee, provide the date, time, location (including room number) and title of the proposal and oral presentation.
  2. Chapter 1- Introduction: Provide a brief overview, conceptual framework, purpose, and problem statement of the proposal.
  3. Chapter 2- Background/Review of the Literature: Perform a review of the literature that identifies, reviews, and critically appraises existing knowledge in the identified fields and topics. Gaps in evidence, knowledge and/or practice should be identified that the proposed project addresses.
  4. Chapter 3- Study Hypotheses, Methods and Analysis Plan: Briefly present the proposed study’s hypotheses/research questions, the methods proposed to address the hypotheses/questions and the accompanying analysis plan.

Evaluation Criteria for the Paper/Written Element

  1. Focuses on a substantive topic in clinical science that synthesizes theory, research and practice.
  2. Reflects breadth of knowledge in the field.
  3. Reflects understanding of the issues and problems related to the topic.
  4. Presents original ideas and sound rationale; the significance for clinical science is convincing.
  5. Discusses and suggests methods and approaches to the inquiry.
  6. Is concise, logical and readable.
  7. The content is well founded and accurate.
  8. Citation and documentation of sources used are accurate and comprehensive.

Comprehensive Exam Structure

The Comprehensive Examination has two components: 1) a formal, public presentation of the student’s thesis (dissertation) proposal, and 2) a closed discussion with the exam committee during which the student is required to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the methodological, clinical and social issues pertinent to the student’s project and selected track.

The public presentation should last approximately 30-40 minutes, followed by an open question-answer session. Following the public presentation is a closed meeting with committee members. During this exam component, content from track-specific courses and the student thesis proposal will be covered (related fields of study, methodology, statistics). Listed below are some examples of core content areas according to track.

  • Clinical Investigation: Students will be expected to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the challenges and potential solution/approaches used in clinical investigations, research methods, and principles of clinical translation.
  • Health Information Technology: Students will be able to present and discuss the goals and objectives for HIT in clinical, financial and administrative realms; describe the role of HIT in improving patient safety, quality, and operational efficiencies; and explain the major barriers to implementing HIT.
  • Health Services Research: Students will be expected to demonstrate their understanding of research methods, health economics, and the principles of health services research including the major seminal HSR literature.

Prior to their own Comprehensive Exam, CLSC students must attend at least one of their CLSC peer’s public presentation component of the Comprehensive Examination. Students are encouraged to attend more than one to become familiar with the process and to participate in the scholarly dialogue.

Examination Grading

There are three possible outcomes for the Comprehensive Exam:

  1. Pass – The student must receive affirmative (passing) votes from the majority of the committee members to pass.
  2. Pass with conditions – The committee may decide that although the student has passed the examination the student should complete additional work on the thesis proposal or coursework. Areas of additional work or other conditions will be specified on the examination form and must be satisfied within 6 months of the examination. The committee chair is responsible for monitoring the conditions and reporting the outcome to the Graduate School and to the Clinical Science Program office. Failure to satisfy these conditions will result in failure of the examination.
  3. Fail – If the student fails the examination, per Graduate School Rules, the student may be subject to immediate dismissal from the program. At the program’s discretion, the student may be allowed to re-take the examination once. The retake must be completed within 6 months in a format designated by the committee.

Upon completion of the Comprehensive Examination, the Chair ensures completion of the Graduate School form and the CLSC Approval of Thesis Proposal form and that all committee members have signed the forms. These forms should be provided to the CLSC Administrative Offices (Galit Mankin, Leprino Building, Suite 351, Anschutz Medical Campus, Mail Stop B141.) These forms should never be in the student’s possession. Copies will be kept in the student’s file.

Post Comprehensive Exam Requirements

  • After passing the Comprehensive Examination, students must register for at least 5 dissertation/thesis credits every semester (excluding the summer semester).
  • The student must register for a minimum of 5 thesis credits during the semester in which he/she defends (summer is NOT excluded in this instance).
  • A maximum of 10 thesis credits can be taken in any semester (In rare circumstances, 15 credits may be taken with Academic Advisor approval). Only 10 of the thesis credits taken prior to the Comprehensive Examination may be counted towards the minimum 30 credit hours required.
  • In addition to the maximum 10 thesis hours that may be completed prior to the Comprehensive Exam, up to 10 additional thesis hours may be completed during the semester in which the Comprehensive Exam is done.

Important Note: There is some strategy required in taking thesis credits. Because of the continuous registration requirement, taking too many credits early may result in additional expense; however, if a student takes too few, it may limit how quickly the student can graduate.

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