The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is (1) to determine whether the candidate has acquired an adequate background in his or her subdiscipline and to recommend additional courses or other work to fill gaps in this background, (2) to determine whether the candidate can effectively integrate and synthesize knowledge in novel ways by making connections between diverse facts and ideas, (3) to determine whether the candidate has the skills required to analyze and interpret data and ideas, and (4) to enhance the graduate experience by providing the candidate a learning format different from the usual courses and seminars.
The exam shall include a written section to evaluate a students scholarship and his or her ability to synthesize and solve scientific problems. An oral component will permit assessment of the depth of a students understanding of areas that may appear weak or poorly developed in the written part of the exam. In addition, the oral component will permit the student an opportunity to demonstrate additional knowledge and clarify specific points, and allow the examining committee an opportunity to assess the students verbal skills.
The qualifying examination normally will be taken at the end of the candidates fourth semester of graduate school. When a candidate has prior graduate experience or an especially strong undergraduate preparation, the examination may be taken at the end of the second semester in the program.
The qualifying examination will be conducted by an Examination Committee appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies. The Examination Committee will consist of four or five members of the Graduate Faculty. One of the Committee members will chair the Committee. The students advisor may not serve on the Committee.
The written portion of the examination will be distributed to candidates in late April or early May and will be turned in four weeks later. Although students are encouraged to discuss themes raised by the examination questions, the answers to the exam are expected to be the candidates own work. Any questions about the exam should be sent to the Graduate Director; answers to these questions will be distributed to all candidates.
Questions for the written component of the exam will come from the following areas: 1) systematics, 2) evolution, 3) population biology and genetics, 4) community ecology, 5) behavior and behavioral ecology, and 6) conservation biology. Students will choose 2 major areas (responses of 4 single-spaced pages not including figures and references) and 3 minor areas (one page responses not including figures and references) from these areas.
The oral part of the examination will be scheduled as soon as possible after the deadline for the written exam. The oral portion of the examination shall consist of a meeting, which may last up to two hours, with the Examination Committee. The line of questioning will be based on the written portion of the examination, and on closely related and relevant topics. The purpose of the oral component of the examination is to identify the candidates strong points and probe into areas of weakness sufficiently to make recommendations for the candidates graduate program.
Both the written and oral portions of the Qualifying Examination will have a single outcome, which will be reported to the candidate at the end of the oral examination. This outcome may be either a) an unconditional pass, b) a pass with additional requirements of courses or other work to be completed, c) failure with an invitation to retake the examination and with specific recommendations for areas of improvement, or d) failure with the recommendation that the student be terminated from the program. Following the examination, the Chairman of the Examination Committee shall write a report of the examination, which will be sent to the candidate and will become a part of the candidates permanent file.
If the outcome is (c) (failure with an invitation to retake the examination and with specific recommendations for areas of improvement based on issues with either the written document or the oral presentation), the student will be allowed to retake the examination once, at a time specified by the examination committee. If the outcome is still not satisfactory, the student will be dropped from the program.