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Ph.D. Proposal Examination

The objectives of the Ph.D. Proposal Examination are to set specific expectations for the successful defense of the dissertation, to give students experience in writing research proposals, to effectively communicate research results, and to allow for the development of research ideas that could be expanded for future opportunities.  The oral presentation provides training in presentation skills and fielding questions on a scientific topic. Finally, the examination also provides valuable feedback on the student’s research ideas.

The Ph.D. Proposal Examination consists of the written proposal document and an oral presentation. Students must have passed the Research Aptitude Exam and earned a minimum grade of B (3.0) in each of the core courses to be eligible for the proposal exam.

Ph.D. Proposal Examination Committee

The research advisor serves as chair of the Ph.D. Proposal Examination Committee, which must consist of a minimum of four voting members, two of whom must be full-time faculty in the Fischell Department of Bioengineering. (Affiliate and Adjunct faculty are not considered full-time in the department.) It is highly recommended that the Proposal Examination Committee members also serve as the Dissertation Examining Committee; therefore, please see the requirements for the membership of Dissertation Examining Committee. The student and advisor may choose to include more than four members for the proposal committee. Selection for this option should be determined by the student and advisor.

Ph.D. Proposal Timing

It is recommended that the Ph.D. Proposal Examination be completed within two years after successful completion of the Research Aptitude Exam. By this deadline, the student is expected to have prepared the proposal, formed a committee, scheduled, and announced the proposal examination. If the student’s proposal is not ready for examination, the student is still required to have formed a committee and scheduled a pre-examination meeting with the committee. During the pre-examination meeting, the student is expected to discuss his/her research progress and provide a detailed timeline towards an examination date. The committee documents the timeline and their recommendations for the student’s file.

It is the student’s responsibility to schedule the exam with the committee. Students must distribute the proposal to the committee and submit to the BIOE Graduate Office an announcement including date, time, location, committee names, and abstract at least 10 business days prior to the exam. The presentation portion may be attended by any member or affiliate of the department.

All students must pass the proposal examination by the end of the fourth year. Each student is allowed two attempts to pass the proposal examination. Students who fail to meet the deadline for the first attempt or pre-examination meeting will have one failed attempt recorded in their file. If the student fails a second attempt, s/he must leave the Ph.D. program and has the option of entering the Master of Science program.

Written Proposal

The written proposal is prepared by the student in consultation with the chair/advisor. The objective of the written document is to communicate a vision of how the specific research problem for the student’s PhD dissertation will be investigated. The proposal is approximately 30 pages in length using an 11-point Arial font, 1-inch margins, and 1.0 line spacing. The page recommendation covers the proposal body text, as well as any figures, tables, and schemes. The title page, abstract, specific aims, and cited references are the only sections that do not count toward this recommendation.

Proposal Examination

The proposal examination consists of two parts: an oral presentation followed by formal questioning.

Part 1: Oral Presentation

The objective of the oral presentation is to communicate succinctly the key points of the written proposal. Typically, the presentation should include an introduction that presents the field of research, any preliminary research, and then a discussion of the specific aims and subsequent experimental plan. The presentation should not exceed 30 minutes; therefore, it is recommended that the presentation not exceed 25 slides. During Part 1, questions from the audience are permitted. For questions from persons who are not members of the proposal committee, the chair has discretion to decide whether such questions are germane to the topic of the proposal and how much time can be allotted for the answers.

Part 2: Formal Questioning

Members of the audience who are not Graduate Faculty members are asked to leave the room, and only the committee is permitted to ask questions. The chair then invites questions from each member of the committee. The questioning may continue as long as the committee feels that it is necessary and reasonable for the proper examination of the student. The student must have ample opportunity to answer the questions of the committee. Typically, the questioning period does not exceed 90 minutes. At this time the student must also present a detailed plan and timetable for publication goals from the time of the proposal to graduation.


After questioning has been completed, the student and any others who are not members of the committee are asked to leave the room while the committee discusses whether or not the proposal is satisfactory. The committee will evaluate the written proposal and oral presentation with regard to the following categories and scale. A minimum total score of 10 out of 20 possible points is considered a passing score.


  • Manuscript: Format and Organization
  • Manuscript: Logic and Clarity
  • Manuscript & Oral Presentation: Literature and Background
  • Manuscript & Oral Presentation: Originality and Significance
  • Manuscript & Oral Presentation: Feasibility of Proposed Research


  • 0 = unacceptable
  • 1 = marginally acceptable
  • 2 = acceptable
  • 3 = above average
  • 4 = outstanding

Based on this scoring system, the committee has the following three alternatives.

  • Pass. Consensus for the scoring of each category, or averages of mixed scoring, with a total score of 10 or higher.
  • Conditional Pass. The committee shall define and document the circumstances for conditional pass and document specific recommendations.
  • Fail. Consensus for the scoring of each category, or averages of mixed scoring, with a total score of less than 10.

For all of the above outcomes, a detailed explanation of any deficiencies must be submitted, and recommendations for the student must be provided.