Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Penn State Science
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Description of the candidacy exam, the comprehensive exam, the research seminar requirement, and the dissertation and thesis defense for the Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology program

Candidacy Exam: Each student will write a two-page summary of his or her current research which should include a clear, concise and original description of the hypothesis and questions to be addressed for their dissertation research as well as the rationale behind the hypothesis and a succinct description of the experimental approaches that will be utilized.  That summary will be submitted to the faculty members on the student’s candidacy panel who will then also select a recent paper from the scientific literature related to the student’s research in consultation with the student’s research advisor.  The student will then make a presentation of the literature article to the candidacy panel in an oral examination. The student will also be examined on their research summary during the oral examination.  The goal of the candidacy examination is to ascertain whether or not the student understands the application of the scientific method in terms of testing hypotheses, experimental design, data interpretation, and elaborating alternative and follow-up experimental strategies.  Once a student successfully passes the candidacy exam, he or she will eligible for consideration as an official Ph.D. degree candidate based on an evaluation of the student’s performance in coursework, teaching, and research.

Comprehensive Exam: For the comprehensive exam the student will write and defend a research proposal that outlines his or her thesis research. In this proposal, the student outlines the background and explains why the research is important, states the overall aims of the research, and discusses the experimental plan to fulfill these aims while incorporating preliminary research already accomplished. This document is the blueprint that will guide the student’s thesis research. The comprehensive exam will be evaluated by a panel of faculty members who will eventually serve on the student’s thesis committee. Thus, the exam provides an opportunity for the student to build a relationship with his/her thesis committee.

Research Seminar Requirement: Students present their research in the third and fourth years. The third year talk is a 15 minute overview of the research plan and preliminary results. The fourth year talk is a formal 45 minute seminar on the thesis research.

Dissertation and Thesis Defense: At the end of their PhD research, all students are required to prepare a formal manuscript covering their research according to the formal guidelines established by the university. The student will give a public seminar on their thesis research and defend their research during an oral defense with his/her thesis committee.