Assessment of Graduate Student Progress

First Year Evaluation

The Graduate Committee evaluates the overall performance and progress of each new student after the first year. The Committee considers the following:

  1. Performance in formal course work and laboratory rotations.
  2. Participation in seminars, teaching and other general academic activities of the Department. A student whose overall performance has been judged satisfactory may proceed into the second year of study. A student whose overall performance has been judged unsatisfactory will be required to do one of the following:

              a. Successfully complete additional course work
              b. Pursue a program leading to the Master's degree
              c. Leave the Department graduate programs

Second Year Evaluation

Qualifying Examination

During the spring semester of the second year of study, each student must successfully complete a qualifying examination administered by his or her Dissertation Committee. The Qualifying Examination consists of two components:

  1. Typewritten document describing the student's proposed research with experimental plan:
         a. The written document consists of a proposal that includes the specific aims of the student's proposed research, the scientific background and significance of the proposed study, a summary of preliminary results, a detailed description of the planned experiments, including the rationale and expected outcomes, and a list of all references cited in the text.  
  2. An oral defense of the document.


​The Dissertation Proposal Guide assists students in writing and organizing their dissertation proposal. Proposals must conform to all stated guidelines, including page limits, to be acceptable for review.

The student will also be expected to demonstrate an authoritative and up-to-date grasp of the literature in their area of specialization and to be able to discuss in detail the experimental design, rationale, and methodology used in their proposed research program.

Prior to submitting the Dissertation Proposal to the Dissertation Committee, the proposal must be evaluated by two members of the faculty. One of these faculty is the First Reader of the Dissertation Committee and the other (Second Reader) is a member of the student’s Dissertation Committee who is selected by the First Reader.

When both reviews are completed, the student will receive a written evaluation of their proposal from the First Reader, indicating the proposal’s acceptability, detailing the overall strengths and weaknesses of the research plan, and outlining any revisions that may be required for the final draft.

A student whose Dissertation Proposal is deemed acceptable after the preliminary review will distribute a copy of their proposal to each member of their Dissertation Committee and to the Graduate Program Coordinator, and then schedule an oral presentation and defense of the Dissertation Proposal with their Dissertation Committee. A minimum of two weeks must elapse between distribution of the proposal to the Committee and the exam. The Qualifying Examination should occur no later than the last day of classes in the spring semester.

A student whose written proposal is deemed unsatisfactory will be given an opportunity to address the deficiencies noted by the faculty reviewers and to submit an appropriately modified proposal. If the resubmitted proposal is accepted, the student will be allowed to proceed to the Qualifying Examination.

A student whose overall performance in the Qualifying Examination has been judged unsatisfactory will not be admitted directly to doctoral candidacy. At the discretion of the Dissertation Committee, such a student may be offered the option of reexamination within a specified period of time. If the student is not offered reexamination or if the student's performance is judged unsatisfactory on reexamination he or she will be directed either to pursue a program leading to the Master of Science degree or to leave the Department. It is the responsibility of the First Reader to complete a “Ph.D. Examination Form”, which includes a written summary of the outcome of the Qualifying Examination and any recommendations of the Dissertation Committee for the student to the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Third Year and Beyond Evaluation

Annual Progress Evaluation

The student must meet with the committee at least once every 12 months, beginning in the Fall term of the student’s third year. This meeting is necessary to remain in good standing in the Ph.D. program. After the meeting, the First Reader submits a brief report describing the Committee's appraisal of the student's progress, as well as any recommendations, directions or additional requirements set for the student by the Committee, to the Graduate Program Coordinator.

For a copy of the graduate committee progress sheet click here.

The Dissertation and Defense

Each student is required to complete a piece of original research as part of the requirements for the doctoral degree. Upon completion of the research program, the candidate presents the written dissertation, in a form approved by the Major Professor and First Reader of the Dissertation Committee, to the Dissertation Committee for its approval.

The dissertation must be prepared in the format specified by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the pamphlet entitled "Physical Standards for Preparation of Dissertations and Theses" (see this link for GSAS specifications: In addition, students are encouraged to document their research in a form suitable for publication prior to completing the dissertation. An acceptable form for the dissertation would be an introductory review of the literature, followed by one or more papers in publishable form, followed by a general discussion. Prior publication of the work is not only acceptable, but desirable; however, in the case of multi-authorship publications, the degree candidate should clearly indicate in the dissertation the extent and nature of their experimental contribution.

The dissertation, in a form acceptable for submission to the University, will be submitted to each faculty member of the Dissertation Committee at least two weeks prior to the defense of the dissertation. The First Reader chairs the dissertation defense, and a representative of the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (i.e. a faculty member from another department) must be present. Up to one member of the Dissertation Committee may participate in the defense via video conferencing.

After successful defense of the dissertation, the student should ensure that the “GSAS Final Exam Form” is completed and signed by all members of the Dissertation Committee; this form should be given to the Graduate Program Coordinator for signature by the Department Chair or Director of Graduate Studies.

Upon acceptance of a final version of the dissertation (i.e. the version that will normally be presented to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences) by the Dissertation Committee, a public defense of the dissertation will be scheduled. The public defense should be announced to the University community two weeks in advance of the event.

The public defense will take the form of a departmental seminar. Following the completion of the public defense the title page must be signed by members of the Dissertation Committee. Signature by members of the Dissertation Committee verifies that all departmental requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy have been satisfied. If substantive questions about the dissertation are raised during the public defense, then the Dissertation Committee will meet in private to discuss any changes to the dissertation required to complete the defense successfully. This permits the candidate to complete the final formal procedures for bestowal of the degree by the Graduate School.