Qualifying Exam

Research Proposal

One month before the qualifying exam, the student will provide to the degree committee a written document (typically five to ten pages of a research proposal written in NIH or NSF format) that describes his or her research topic, summarizes progress to date, and outlines what he or she proposes to do, why it is relevant, and what will be learned. The committee will review this document with the student and determine if the student has outlined a project that is appropriate for a Ph.D. If not, the student is required to rewrite the research plan.  Once the research plan is approved the student may take the oral portion of the qualifying examination.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

All students in the Biological Engineering and Small-scale Technologies Ph.D. program are required to pass a qualifying examination before advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Students are expected to take and pass the qualifying examination within the first two years of graduate study unless they successfully petition the graduate group chair to take it at a specific later date. The examination committee is the same as the student’s faculty committee except that the graduate research advisor is replaced by another member of the group, selected by the chair of the graduate group in consultation with other committee members. The members of each student’s examination committee will select one member to chair the examination committee. The dates for the examination are arranged between the student, their graduate research advisor, and the examination committee chair. The graduate research advisor may attend the qualifying exam if he/she wishes, but is a non-speaking and nonvoting attendant.

The qualifying exam may be taken only after the student’s written research proposal has been approved by the student’s committee. The exam will focus on the student’s research proposal, but may cover any related field of science or engineering (including biology, chemistry, physics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, behavior of materials, electronics, and kinetics), and will typically last three hours. The committee conducts the examination, and immediately thereafter submits the results of the examination to Graduate Studies. Possible outcomes are:

  • Pass
  • Conditional pass (additional assignment or course may be required by the committee)
  • Fail, with an option to retake the examination once within a specified time period

The committee members should include in their evaluations of the student such factors as relevant portions of the previous academic record, performance on the examination, and an overall evaluation of the student’s performance and potential for scholarly research as indicated during the examination. The committee should strive to reach a unanimous decision. If a unanimous decision is reached, the committee shall inform the student of its decision in one of the forms listed above.  If the decision is “Conditional Pass” or “Fail,” the chairperson of the committee must include in a report a specific statement, which may include a minority report, explaining its decision and must inform the student of its decision. In the case of a “Conditional Pass” decision, the committee must include in its report a further statement of its terms and inform the student of those terms. In those cases when it is not possible for the members to resolve their differences, the student should be informed of the nature of those differences and each member should submit a detailed assessment of the student’s performance to the chair of the graduate group. The chair, in consultation with other members of the graduate group, will use these individual reports to adjudicate the result.

Upon recommendation of the examination committee, a student who has not passed the examination may repeat the qualifying examination after a preparation time of no more than six months. The examination must be held by the same committee except that members may be replaced, with the approval of the graduate advisor, for cause such as extended absence from the campus. Failure to pass the examination on the second attempt means that the student is subject to disqualification from further study for the doctoral degree.

Advancement to Candidacy

Upon successful completion of the examinations and approval of a research plan, the student is given an application for advancement to candidacy by the examining committee chair. When it is filled out and signed by the graduate research advisor, the student pays a candidacy fee and submits the form to the Graduate Division. Upon advancement to candidacy for the degree, the faculty committee is then charged to guide the student in research and in the preparation of the dissertation.

Contact Us

Graduate Admissions:
Phone: (209) 228-4723
Graduate Funding:
Phone: (209) 228-4622
Mailing Address:
University of California, Merced
ATTN: Graduate Division
5200 N. Lake Road, Ste KL 227
Merced, CA 95343


University of California, Merced
The first new American research
university in the 21st century, with a
mission of research, teaching and service.
University of California, Merced
5200 North Lake Road
Merced, CA 95343
T: (209) 228-4400
University of California
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