Qualifying Examination

Sunlight breaks through the branches at the T. Elliot Weier Redwood Grove in the UC Davis Arboretum on Thursday, September 15, 2011.

The main purpose of the Qualifying Examination (QE) is to validate that you are academically qualified to conceptualize a research topic, undertake scholarly research and successfully produce the dissertation required for a doctoral degree. The committee consists of four Chemistry Graduate Group members and one faculty member external to the program. The QE must evaluate your command of the field, ensuring you have both breadth and depth of knowledge and must not focus solely on the proposed dissertation research.


Guidelines for the Student

  1. Consult with your research director and with the concurrence of your academic adviser, make a recommendation to the Graduate Affairs Officer for the appointment of the fourth member of your QE committee. This individual must be both external to the program and not an active collaborator with your Research Director.
  2. You may request any one member of your committee be changed. Such a request should be made within three business days of being informed of the composition of the committee.
  3. Meet with the chair of your QE committee at least two weeks prior to the exam date to discuss any concerns or questions about the exam and to deliver the doctoral research report (signed by your Research Director).
  4. At least one week prior to the exam date, you should submit to all committee members your signed abstract and copies of any publications or manuscripts submitted or in press that have resulted from your research here.
  5. In Part I of the QE, you will present a description of your research projects(s). The research presentation and scope should be similar to the brief presentations given at ACS meetings. The objective of the research presentation is to clearly explain the broad importance of the scientific work, with particular emphasis on communicating the big picture to a non-specialist audience (rather than providing detailed descriptions of experimental procedures and methods).
  6. You may use up to five PowerPoint (or equivalent) slides to present complex formulas, graphical material and other details that would be difficult to reproduce by hand on a blackboard. Normally, no other materials are allowed.
  7. In Part II of the QE, the questions will broadly address your area of specialization. Also, areas of weakness evident from Part I may be addressed.

Outcome of the QE

At the conclusion of the QE, the chair will facilitate discussions by the committee members to reach a final recommendation. In reaching their decision, members will consider all areas of your progress, including your academic record, your performance on specific parts of the exam and your overall performance and potential for scholarly research.

The chair must inform you of the decision--Pass, Not Pass or Fail--immediately at the conclusion of the discussion and voting. In the case of a Not Pass, the chair must clarify the nature of the deficiencies identified and provide a written description of the requirements that should be met and the timeline for meeting them. This must be done within 72 hours of the exam.

In the case of a Fail, the student may not remain in the Ph.D. program. The committee has the option of recommending that the student be allowed to pursue a M.S. degree if the performance on the exam was sufficient to establish competence at the Masters level.

In either of these two cases, students have the right to appeal the committee's decision for cause as deliniated by the Dean of Graduate Studies.

The Research Report

The doctoral research report should provide the QE committee with the following information:

  • background,
  • research plan,
  • significance of research,
  • status of research progress, and
  • expected future directions.

That description should be in the form of a Journal of the American Chemical Society communication, having a three-page limit, as formatted for journal publication using the journal template* for communications (references are required and are not counted in the page limit). The document should utilize color-coding as appropriate:

  • black = introduction and work done by others
  • blue = accomplishments of the student
  • red = planned work and expectations
  • green (if applicable) = work to be done by collaborators

The research report should be approved and signed by your research director as valid and representative. The QE committee chair should review the abstract for clarity and completeness and return it within three days with any suggestions for appropriate modification.