Qualifying Exam

Vision Science students are expected to take their Oral Qualifying Examination (QE) in the fourth semester. If there are extenuating circumstances beyond the student’s control, then the student can petition the Chair of the Vision Science Group for an exception to this time frame. The central goal of the QE is to evaluate and establish the student’s aptitude and readiness for completing a PhD research project.

Students should submit a research proposal that follows the NIH R21 format to all their committee members at least one week prior to the examination date. The Exploratory/Development Research Proposal does not require preliminary data but should provide a conceptual framework of the thesis research and background/justification through literature, other sources, and/or preliminary data. In some cases, students may wish to complete their QE by the end of the second semester. In such cases, presenting a fully developed research proposal may not be possible, and this will be taken into consideration.

Parts of the Exam

The exam consists of two main parts:

Oral Presentation
Covers the Exploratory/Development Research Proposal and related topics. This can include a PowerPoint/Keynote presentation.

General Questions
From the committee on three general subject areas that the student selects based on the proposed thesis research and expected field of knowledge.

Committee Composition

Exam Committee

The qualifying exam committee requires four faculty members comprising:

Committee Chair
A Vision Science faculty member who is not the student’s research advisor.

Two Faculty Members
Vision Science faculty members who serve as “inside members."

Non-Vision Science Faculty Member
Also known as an “outside member.” The non-VS representative must be a faculty member on the Berkeley campus who is a member of the Academic Senate.

About the Exam

Exams are scheduled for 3 hours; they typically last from 2-3 hours. Expect to be interrupted with questions from your committee during the presentation. This part of the exam is likely to occupy more than half of the time.

Exam Outcomes

Students can pass, fail, or receive a partial fail.

Students who pass move on to the next stage towards advancing to candidacy, forming a Thesis Committee and preparing a formal Thesis Proposal.

If a student fails all or certain parts, then the committee will decide on the action to be taken.

If a student fails only certain parts, then the chair or a member of the qualifying committee will make a recommendation for remediation and decide if another oral exam is required on these parts.

Students who fail are entitled to retake the exam one more time.

Students must wait three months from the initial exam date to retake the exam or parts of it, but they may not re-test beyond six months of the original exam.