· Purpose of the Ph.D Program Qualifying Examination:
· Format of PPQE:
The purpose of Ph.D Program Qualifying Examination (PPQE) is to determine whether a graduate student should be admitted to the Ph.D education program and continue with research that would lead to the Ph.D degree. The examination focuses on a student's ability to identify an important open question in research that is not directly related to the student's thesis work, to develop a hypothesis, and to outline a series of experiments required to answer the open question. The PPQE should be completed by the end of the second year.
Students are required to submit a written research proposal based on a topic they select, and orally present and defend the research proposal. The students may consult with their supervisors about hypothetical projects, but they must design and write the proposals independently.· Timetable:
Early January: Education Administrative Department informs the second-year students to start on preparation of two research proposal abstracts. Note: The selected topics must be project-unrelated, but should be in the field of virology and viral immunology (broadly defined).· Organization of the review committee:
Middle January to early March (6 weeks): Students select two research topics, write abstracts and submit them to the Education Committee for review.
Early March to middle March (2 weeks): The Education Committee reviews the abstracts and selects one topic for each student. Students will need to rewrite the abstracts if both abstracts fail to pass the review.
Middle March to late April: The students have 6 weeks to develop a complete research proposal based on the topic chosen by the committee.
The first week of May: Students take the oral defense on the research proposal.
November: The second and final chance will be given to the students who fail in the first examination
The Graduate education committee will appoint a PPQE review Committee for each student. This review committee consists of 3 members, including the student’ thesis advisor. A chairman will be appointed by the Graduate education committee and should NOT be the student’s thesis advisor. All committee members must read the written proposal, and participate in the oral examination. · Evaluation:
During a close-door discussion, the committee will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal by the student. Each student's performance will be evaluated on: · Outcome of the review:
1) quality of the written proposal; 2) quality of the oral presentation; and 3) general knowledge of biology. The Chair will write a report on the student's performance.
1) Pass. This is the outcome for the students who do well in the PPQE and show good potentials in independent research in the future. Students who pass the PPQE will proceed to the Ph.D education program. · Instructions for the Research Proposal
2) Conditional Pass. This is the outcome for students who show good potentials as a future scientist and have a fair performance during the examination, but show a significant weakness in certain specific areas. The review committee may ask students for certain improvement, such as rewrite the proposal, do some reading on topics. This should typically take less than one month for the students to meet the requirement. Students will proceed to the Ph.D education program after they meet the conditions raised by the review committee.
3) Fail. This is the outcome when the written proposal is completely unacceptable. Students who fail in the PPQE will be given a second chance to take the PPQE within 6 months of the first one. If the student's second PPQE is unsatisfactory, he/she will not proceed to the Ph.D education program and has to quit from the program.
The PPQE is meant to test student's ability to identify important open questions in research, to develop a hypothesis, and to outline a series of experiments that answer the open questions. The selected research topic must be unrelated to the student's thesis work, the research work in his/her laboratory or any other activities he/she has been involved in (for example, rotation work). · Selection of Topics
Identify an interesting problem. To do that, pick up recent issues of good journals and read articles that appeal to you. Imagine you had done this work and wanted to continue the research work. You need to formulate a hypothesis and propose reasonable experiments to test your hypothesis. Your topic must be clearly outside of your thesis work and should not be connected to what you or your lab have done. The proposal must be realistic and focused such that it can be completed in 3-4 years by one or two skillful persons. · Abstract
Note: Picking a good topic is an extremely important first step.
The Abstract must have the following structure: (A) Title; (B) Background, Significance, and Hypothesis (C) Specific Aims; (D) Outline of experimental plan; (E) References. The Abstract cannot be longer than one page with the maximum of 500 words, not including references. References (no more than 5) can be on a second page. Background, Significance and Hypothesis together should cover approximately 1/3, Specific Aims 1/3, and Experimental Plan 1/3 of one page. · Proposal
The written proposal follows the outline of the Abstract and must be organized into sections A-E. · Oral presentation
B. BACKGROUND, SIGNIFICANCE, AND HYPOTHESIS summarize the literature and critically evaluate existing knowledge, and identify the open questions. State the importance of the research described in the proposal. The open questions should lead to a HYPOTHESIS that underlies the proposed research. This section should not exceed 3 pages.
C. SPECIFIC AIMS are the logical continuation of the Background, Significance and Hypothesis. Restate briefly the open questions and the hypothesis. State concisely what the research of the proposal is intended to accomplish. Specific Aims are statements of what will be accomplished in order to answer the open question and address the hypothesis. The number of aims depends on the overall goal of the project. Do not exceed 3 specific aims. This section should not exceed one page.
D. EXPERIMENTAL PLAN should be organized into four parts: rationales, experiments, expected results and potential problems. The following key points should be addressed in this section. What is the purpose of an experiment? How are you going to do it and why are you choosing a certain procedure. What is the expected result? What if you get another result? If one approach does not work, which alternatives do you have in mind? This section should not exceed five pages.
E. REFERENCES. Cite only the most important references. Include the names of all authors, title, journal, year, volume number and page number. An example is listed below. This section should not exceed one page.
You, D.J., Chon, H., Koga, Y., Takano, K. and Kanaya, S. Crystal Structure of Type 1 Ribonuclease H from Hyperthermophilic Archaeon Sulfolobus tokodaii: Role of Arginine 118 and C-Terminal Anchoring. Biochemistry. 2007, 46, 11494-11503.
During the oral presentation students will presents his/her research proposal and answer questions. The presentation should not exceed 30 minutes, but should cover the background information and proposed experimental plans. It should be informative enough so that the general audience can understand it without first reading the written proposal. The questions posed by the Committee can cover the area of the student's presentation as well as general knowledge in biological science.