Microbial Biology Qualifying Exam


All Microbial Biology Ph.D. students are required to pass the Qualifying Exam before the end of their second year (the end of August).

Students (in consultation with their research advisor) are responsible for assembling an exam committee of four people (including the thesis advisor) who are members of the Microbial Biology Graduate Program and set a date for the exam before August 31. Students must send Dr. Zylstra an email with the names of the committee members at least one month before the qualifying exam so that he can approve the exam committee. Students must fill out the Candidacy Form and bring it to the Qualifying Exam so that the committee can sign that the student passed. The form must then be brought to Dr. Zylstra for his signature and then to the graduate dean's office for his signature. If the Qualifying Exam committee signs that the student did not pass the exam then the student, the research advisor, and Dr. Zylstra need to have a discussion of the options (most likely termination with a Plan B M.S.).

For the Qualifying Exam students must provide the committee with a 10 to 15 page research proposal (background, objectives and specific aims, and experimental plan) to form the basis of the exam. The purpose of the qualifying examination is for the student to demonstrate competency in the field of microbial biology. The exam is to determine if students can formulate a research proposal and defend their approach. Preliminary data is not needed for the proposal but can be included if students have already made progress on a research project.

In the oral examination students will specifically need to demonstrate:

  • solid knowledge and foundation in microbiology, and the ability to engage in a scientific discussion in the field of microbiology, in particular their sub-field of study
  • ability to formulate research questions and plan future research to answer these questions
  • ability to develop testable hypotheses, articulate proposed experimental approaches, and predict expected results that will help accept or reject the hypotheses
  • ability to explain broad concepts as well as specific technical details in their chosen field of study

Procedure for Scheduling the Qualifying Exam:
1) The student, in consultation with their research advisor, chooses four people (including their research advisor) to be on the Qualifying Exam committee and obtains Dr. Zylstra's permission for these professors to be on their Qualifying Exam committee.
2) The student contacts the professors to be on the Qualifying Exam committee and ensures that they are willing to serve on the committee.
3) The student arranges a date and time (at least two hours) that all of the professors are available to meet for the Qualifying Exam (use a Doodle Poll).
4) The student reserves a conference room for the Qualifying Exam.
5) The student provides the Qualifying Exam committee with their Research Proposal at least one week before the Qualifying Exam date.
6) The student brings their academic transcript and the completed Candidacy Form to the exam.

Qualifying Exam Format: The student should present a 45 to 60 minute Powerpoint presentation of their Research Proposal. During and/or after the presentation the Qualifying Exam committee will ask questions on the proposal. The Qualifying Exam committee has the option to ask any relevant question concerning general microbiology knowledge.