Preliminary Examination

You should complete both components of the Preliminary Exam by the end of the first semester of the third year. If you fail to pass the Preliminary Examination before the start of the spring semester of the third year, you will be placed on probation automatically. Reversion to regular status will not occur until you have passed your Preliminary Exam. If you have experienced extenuating circumstances that have delayed your progress, resulting in two consecutive semesters of enrollment on probation, you are required to petition the Steering Committee for an extension to be allowed to continue in the Program. N&PP students will be given an additional year and Neuro/Law students an additional two years to complete the preliminary exam.

If you change advisors during the first two years of study or experience unusual circumstances beyond your control that substantially delay normal progress, such as an extended illness, you may petition the Steering Committee for an extension to complete the Preliminary Examination without sanctions.

Preliminary Warrant

At least one month before the day of your Thesis Proposal oral exam, contact the Program Office to request a “Request for a Preliminary Warrant” form be completed by the Program office and sent to the Graduate School. The Ph.D. office of the Graduate School issues a Warrant authorizing the Program to administer the Examination. You may pick the Warrant up from the Program office. Fill out the requested information on the Warrant prior to the Examination. Leave the minor section blank as NTP students are not required to complete a minor. The Preliminary Warrant is taken to the Examination and signed by your Advisory Committee and the Chair of the Program after you have successfully completed the Examination. Part II of the Certification Form should also be filled out and filed at this time. Please return the completed Warrant and Certification Form II to the Program Office immediately following your examination. You also need to e-mail a copy of the outside area paper and thesis proposal you sent the committee to the NTP Office at

Structure of the Prelim papers and oral exams

The Preliminary Examination consists of two components, an “outside-area” paper and a thesis proposal, which are reviewed by your Committee, followed by an oral defense/examination of each paper with your Committee. The outside area paper should be written during the spring semester of your second year. The oral defense/examination will take place during your spring semester committee meeting. The thesis proposal component should be completed by the end of the fall semester of the third year.

Outside Area Paper: The outside-area paper should be a critical analysis of current knowledge about a topic that is not related to your area of research. The topic is chosen by you and approved by your Committee. The purpose of this paper is to stimulate directed reading in a specific area, to integrate what is known, to critique it, and to propose new experiments or ideas that clarify unresolved issues. The paper should include critique of the experimental design and statistical analyses used in the studies analyzed. Overall, the emphasis should be placed on critical analysis and not on exhaustive description. Generally, this should be accomplished in approximately 20 double spaced pages. You should allow about 4 weeks, but not longer than 6 weeks, to write your outside-area paper. Students are encouraged to adapt their outside area paper for submission as a published review article.

Oral Exam: The oral examination for the outside area component will take place during your spring semester of second year committee meeting. For the outside area paper defense, you should prepare a short presentation (20 minutes) that is structured as a critical analysis rather than a lengthy description of data from the studies you analyzed. Remember that for both prelim components, the majority of the time in the oral exams will be spent on discussion of questions from your committee. You should not prepare presentations that will fill the entire time period. Your committee will ask questions about the topic in general, the specific studies you covered, your proposed future experiments or ideas, and the experimental design and appropriate statistical analyses.

Thesis Proposal: The thesis proposal should be written in the style of an NIH grant proposal, and include specific aims, background and significance, preliminary results, and experimental plan. The proposal should be approximately 20-30 double spaced pages in length. The background section should include an overview of the essential areas related to the proposal, and provide a strong conceptual framework and rationale for the proposed project. Often this part of the thesis proposal (with the necessary updates) serves as the template for the first chapter in the Ph.D. thesis. The experimental plan should outline the experiments to be done, a description of methods and statistical analyses to be used, and include discussion of interpretation of the results and potential problems. Obtaining satisfactory preliminary results for an acceptable thesis proposal will take substantial time. Therefore, you should be exploring various research topics during the summer between the first and second years, and be working in the laboratory on your proposal during the second year. Keep in mind, however, that the aim of the proposal is to demonstrate that the thesis research you have selected is original and feasible. The proposal and preliminary results need not address every conceivable problem that might occur once the research is fully underway. In other words, the thesis proposal is not a preliminary thesis and should not be approached as such.

Oral Exam: For the thesis proposal, you should prepare a longer presentation (40-45 minutes) that includes background, preliminary data and your proposed experiments. The defense of your proposal may take up to 2 hours, however most of the time again will be spent on questions from your committee.

For both prelim components, the written paper should be submitted to your Committee for review at least two weeks before the Oral Examination. If the papers are delivered late, your major professor will reschedule the Examination to allow two weeks for the Committee to read your work. A waiver of this scheduling requirement requires approval by the entire Advisory Committee.

Both prelim exam meetings will be chaired by a member of the committee who is not the thesis advisor.  The chair will be selected by the committee and will complete Certificate II form in consultation with the whole committee. You must pass both components of the Preliminary Examination and turn in Certificate II to become a candidate for the Ph.D. degree. If you fail one or both parts the first time, you will have a second chance within two months to retake the Examination. Continuance in the program is contingent on passing. If you do not pass, it will not be possible to continue in the Program.

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