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Carnegie Mellon Department of Chemistry

Guide to Graduate Studies

Ph.D. Requirements

Research Progress Report and Candidacy Exam

For students entering Fall 2015 and later

Each student must write and present a detailed progress report on the current project, along with relevant background and future thesis plans for 1–2 years, and show breadth and depth of knowledge at the oral candidacy examination appropriate for a successful Ph.D. in that research area by the fourth semester in residence. The learning objectives of the requirement are for the student to:

Note that the student’s project may change from the current project after the candidacy exam. The thesis plan needs to address goals approved by the advisor in order to be potentially viable as the student’s next project. Students should be aware that the advisor may still alter the research direction based on the overall needs of the student and the group.

Passing this requirement is typically the last step to Ph.D. candidacy. Normally, students will complete the research progress report in the fourth semester in residence. All students must pass the research progress report requirement by the end of the sixth semester in residence to remain in the Ph.D. program, unless there are documented exceptional circumstances. The requirement may be completed in the third semester if the student is ready and the advisor is in agreement.

Eligibility for Oral Candidacy Exam

Passing the research progress report requirement and candidacy exam is normally the last step leading to Ph.D. candidacy. Thus, the Ph.D. requirements expected in the first and second years normally must be completed before the student may complete the oral and advance to candidacy. The report requirement includes a poster presentation to the entire department, a written report, and an oral exam by the Advisory Committee.

While two semesters as a teaching assistant are required to advance to candidacy, exceptional circumstances may occasionally delay a student’s completion of this requirement and this will not require a delay in completing the progress report requirement.

Students will typically not be eligible to take the oral exam if they have not passed all attainment requirements, have not satisfied the graduate course requirement, or have not made the required consistent efforts with the ICC toward passing the English proficiency requirement. Students may petition the GPC for an exception to go ahead with the oral exam; documentation must be provided to show strong effort to date and extenuating circumstances.

Since the advisor is the primary judge of appropriate research progress for his/her group, the advisor is strongly encouraged to provide a formal written warning letter by the end of the third semester if the student may not be making sufficient research progress for success on the research progress report requirement. Early warning gives the student opportunity to improve his/her research performance, work toward an M.S., and/or pursue other advisors or other Ph.D. programs. Ideally, the student should provide a draft of the results and discussion section of the research progress report to his/her advisor in the first week of the 4th semester to aid his/her assessment of research progress.

Poster Presentation

The purposes of the poster presentation are to expose the student to a wide range of questions in preparation for the oral exam, to develop scientific speaking skills appropriate for scientific conferences, and to facilitate feedback from various members of the department.

The report is to be presented as a formal poster presentation, following ACS format, with an accompanying research overview paper (details described below). The poster presentation must include the scientific objectives in the thesis research, an overview of the necessary background material, the theoretical and experimental techniques used, and representative results obtained to date. Students should expect to present their research in approximately 5–10 minutes, repeated 3–4 times to different small groups, during the day of the poster session, and to answer questions from a wide variety of faculty members and graduate students. Attendance at the poster session portion of the progress report may be by any of the Chemistry Faculty, graduate students, or other interested members of the department or university.

Written Progress Report and Future Plans

The purpose of the written report is to summarize the student’s research progress to date, demonstrate scientific writing skills appropriate for Ph.D. work, and provide context for the work presented at the poster session and assessed at the oral exam. In addition, a 15–18 page research overview (excluding References and Addendum), must be presented to members of the Advisory Committee and the Graduate Program Committee at least one week before the scheduled poster session. The report should include the following sections:

Reports must be in 12 pt Times New Roman or 11 pt Arial with 1.5 spacing and should follow ACS Style for references (although titles should be added). Note that students with multiple projects who wish to submit a progress report longer than 15–18 pages, excluding front matter and references, need written permission from all members of their advisory committee.

Advisors should review the draft of the report to offer suggestions and pose questions to mentor improvements in writing, but should not edit heavily. The quality of the writing should reflect the student’s efforts with feedback/suggestions from the advisor on a small number of initial drafts. If the written report is not assessed as at least a conditional pass by both advisor and advisory committee chair, the exam will be delayed for up to 3 weeks for revisions but no later than one week before the end of the semester, whichever comes first. If a student does not submit a written report that the advisor agrees should be presented to the committee by the 12th week of the semester, an advisor should place the student on probation in the group with the possibility of termination from the group, and possibly from the Ph.D. program, depending on the outcome of the oral exam.

Exam Committee

The Exam Committee will normally be the student’s Advisory Committee, although the Graduate Program Committee may add or approve replacing a member if additional expertise is needed in a specific area.

All committee members are expected to ask questions and should not intervene in each other’s questions, except to rephrase questions, if needed, after a student’s response. Attendance at the examination may be by any of the Chemistry Faculty, although they will be nonparticipating spectators. Note that members of the GPC can attend to assist with questions about requirements, policy or procedure or to facilitate completion of the outcome/feedback form.

The Advisory Committee Chair is responsible for the following aspects of the requirement:

The Advisor is responsible at the exam for:

Oral Candidacy Exam

The purpose of the oral exam is to assess whether the student has the necessary background knowledge to conduct his/her thesis research and to determine whether the student is on a trajectory to complete the Ph.D. successfully. The Graduate Program Committee holds a yearly information session on preparing for this exam.

Scope.

The oral exam comprises a 25–30 minute student presentation and 1–1.5 hours of question and answer with the exam committee. While the student may prepare additional slides to help with answering questions, committee members may require that some questions be answered without those aids.

The scope of the advisory committees’ questions may include topics directly related to the background, methods and results of the current project and future thesis directions as well as any subject matter related to the student’s thesis research area. During this oral examination, the student is expected, through a prepared presentation and substantive responses to questions, to show:

Because the focus of the exam is the evaluation of the student’s knowledge and progress toward the Ph.D., discussion between the committee members should be limited to brief clarification of issues that the student would not be expected to know.

It is recommended that the student organize a practice oral exam with other members of his/her group and of related research groups in order to prepare for the potential range of questions in the oral exam, including fundamental background critical for the student’s Ph.D. work. Since advisors generally do not attend practice exams, students are strongly encouraged to discuss their areas of study with their advisor(s) to seek guidance well in advance of the oral exam (e.g. by the start of the 4th semester).

Attendance at the examination may be by any of the Chemistry Faculty, although they will be nonparticipating spectators. Note that members of the GPC may attend to assist with questions about requirements or procedure.

Timeline.

The written research progress report should be presented to the Advisory Committee at least one week before the scheduled poster session. When the paper is submitted, a date for the oral exam should be arranged that is acceptable to all committee members and falls within 2–6 weeks of the poster session. The student must receive oral feedback from the committee on the day of the exam and written feedback from the Advisory Committee Chair should follow in 1–3 days.

Any extension beyond the end of the fourth semester requires approval of a written petition from the student to the GPC and the agreement of the advisor. (See Petitions for Extension)

Outcomes

Note that a passing performance requires satisfactory performance on both the written report and oral exam. The poster presentation is required as preparation for the oral exam and an early feedback opportunity, but is not normally evaluated formally. There are four potential outcomes to the progress report requirement, to be determined by majority vote of the committee: high pass, pass, conditional pass, or failure (See the Candidacy Exam Assessment Form online). In the case of failure, the committee must agree by majority on one of the following next steps:

            Probation with opportunity to revise and have re-exam in the current group. The student may repeat the oral exam and revise the written report, continuing as a member of the group(s) on probation. The student must pass fully, without conditions, at the re-exam, within 2–4 months to continue in the group and the Ph.D. program, with the specific deadline to be set in consultation with one of the GPC Co-Chairs. Financial support from the advisor for the student must be continued during the probation. The student must pass fully on the second attempt to remain in the Ph.D. program.

            Termination from group with option to change groups on a probationary basis. Note that in the case of co-advisors, a new, signed thesis agreement is needed if the student wishes to remain with one of the current advisors. If a change of groups is possible, the student must then fully pass the progress report requirement and oral preliminary exam in the new research group by the end of the sixth semester in residence to regain good standing and remain in the Ph.D. program. If the student is not able to join a new group officially within 1–2 months grace period (funding for a grace period is not guaranteed), he/she cannot continue in the Ph.D. program. Students must have 3 or more months written notice in a probation letter from the advisor prior to this result.

            Termination from the Ph.D. program. The student cannot continue in the Ph.D. program and may transfer to the M.S. program, although funding cannot be guaranteed for M.S. students. Up to 6 units from the written research progress report may be applied toward the M.S. pending approval from their research advisor and the GPC Co-Chairs. This outcome is reserved for re-exams or for students who have had 3 or more months written notice in a probation letter.

The Advisory Committee Chair should normally submit the outcome and feedback in writing within one week to the student, Advisory Committee, and Valerie Bridge for the Graduate Program Committee, including detailed requirements for revisions or re-exam with a specified deadline.

Any requests for extensions beyond the agreed-upon deadline must be made and approved in writing by the GPC co-chairs; otherwise, the student is at risk for termination.

In the case of failure, the Advisory Committee Chair must share the draft with the GPC Co-chairs to ensure sufficient feedback about deficiencies and clear expectations for revisions or a re-exam or reasons for failure and termination. He/she is encouraged to circulate the draft by email to the Advisory Committee in all cases.

For students entering Fall 2014 and earlier

Each student must write and present a detailed progress report on the proposed thesis project and present that to both the department and to the Advisory Committee in the fourth semester in residence. The purpose of the requirement is to demonstrate that the student:

Passing the research progress report requirement is normally the last step leading to Ph.D. candidacy. Thus, the Ph.D. requirements expected in the first and second years normally must be completed before the student may complete the progress report orals and advance to candidacy. The report requirement includes a poster presentation to the entire department, a written report, and an oral exam by the Advisory Committee. While two semesters as a teaching assistant are required to advance to candidacy, exceptional circumstances may occasionally delay a student's completion of this requirement and this will not require a delay in completing the progress report requirement.

Poster Presentation

The report is to be presented as a formal poster presentation, following ACS format, with an accompanying research overview paper (details described below). The presentation must include the scientific objectives in the thesis research, an overview of the necessary background material, the theoretical and experimental techniques used, and representative results obtained to date. Students should expect to present their research in approximately 5-10 minutes, repeated 3-4 times to different small groups, during the day of the poster session and to answer questions from a wide variety of faculty members and graduate students. Attendance at the poster session portion of the progress report may be by any of the Chemistry Faculty, graduate students, or other interested members of the department or university. The purposes of the poster presentation are to expose the student to a wide range of questions in preparation for the oral exam, to develop scientific speaking skills, and to facilitate feedback from various members of the department.

Written Progress Report

In addition, a 15-18 page research overview (excluding reference pages), must be presented to members of the Advisory Committee and the Graduate Program Committee at least one week before the scheduled poster session. The purpose of the written report is to summarize the student's research progress to date, demonstrate scientific writing skills appropriate for Ph.D. work, and provide context for the work presented at the poster session and assessed at the oral exam. Therefore, the report should include the following sections:

Reports must be in a 12 pt font with 1.5 spacing and should follow ACS Style. Note that students with multiple projects who wish to submit a progress report longer than 15–18 pages, excluding front matter and references, need permission from their advisory committee. In general, the report should reflect the student's writing abilities after feedback/suggestions from the advisor on a small number of initial drafts. If a student does not submit a written report that the advisor agrees should be presented to the committee by the 12th week of the semester, an advisor may either (1) delay a student's oral exam until the end of that semester to allow for revisions, with the agreement of the GPC, or (2) if the deficiencies are serious, place the student on probation in the group with the possibility of termination from the group, and possibly from the Ph.D. program, pending the outcome of the oral exam.

Oral Exam

Within 2–6 weeks after the poster session, the student will meet with the Advisory Committee for a private oral exam on his/her research progress. It is recommended that the student organize a practice oral exam with other membersof his/her group and of related research groups in order to prepare for the potential range of questions in the oral exam, including fundamental background critical for the student's Ph.D. work. Advisors are also encouraged to suggest areas of study to the student and to share these topics/areas with the advisory committee to help them in preparing background questions for the oral exam. Attendance at the examination may be by any of the Chemistry Faculty, although they will be nonparticipating spectators. Note that members of the GPC may attend to assist with questions about requirements or procedure.

The purpose of the oral exam is to assess whether the student has the necessary background knowledge to conduct his/her research and to determine whether the student is on a trajectory to complete the Ph.D. successfully. The scope of the advisory committees' questions may include any subject matter tangential to material in the written report or oral presentation. During this oral examination, the student is expected, through a prepared presentation and responses to questions, to:

Students will typically not be eligible to take the oral exam if they have not passed all attainment requirements, have not satisfied the graduate course requirement, or have not made the required consistent efforts with the ICC toward passing the English proficiency requirement. Students may petition the GPC for an exception to go ahead with the oral exam; documentation must be provided to show strong effort to date and extenuating circumstances.

Timeline

The written research progress report should be presented to the Advisory Committee at least one week before the scheduled poster session. When the paper is submitted, a date for the oral exam should be arranged that is acceptable to all committee members and falls within 2–6 weeks of the poster session. The student must receive oral feedback from the committee on the day of the exam and written feedback from the Advisory Committee Chair should follow in 1–3 days.

Any extension beyond the end of the fourth semester requires approval of a written petition from the student to the GPC and the agreement of the advisor. (See Petitions for Extension)

Outcomes

Note that a passing performance requires satisfactory performance on both the written report and oral exam. The poster presentation is required as preparation for the oral exam, but is not normally evaluated formally. There are four potential outcomes to the progress report requirement: pass, conditional pass, conditional pass with probation, or failure.

  1. Pass indicates clearly satisfactory knowledge of both fundamental background and research methods, along with satisfactory research progress that is on a trajectory to successful completion of the Ph.D. Both written report and oral exam are deemed satisfactory by the advisory committee.
  2. Conditional pass indicates that deficiencies, while deemed minor, must be addressed. The student is required either to revise the written report or otherwise address deficiencies as requested by thecommittee. Conditional pass generally indicates satisfactory research progress with minor deficiencies in knowledge, written report, and/or oral exam performance that the student should be able to address in 2-6 weeks, including potentially revising the report, or answering additional questions for the committee.
  3. Conditional pass with probation indicates that at least one deficiency is considered significant or that a combination of weaknesses will require 2+ months to address. Re-exam by the committee and revising the written report is normally required in this situation; advisory committees may assign additional written follow-up as appropriate. Any deficiencies need to be addressed in 2-3 months or no later than the end of the subsequent semester, with the specific deadline determined by the advisory committee, with goal of making the time as short as is reasonable for the required work. The advisor is responsible for providing summer support if there is an intervening summer. Inability to address the deficiencies and pass unconditionally by the stated deadline will be considered grounds for termination from the Ph.D. program.
  4. Failure indicates grave concerns about a student's research progress, knowledge, written report, and/or oral exam performance such that the advisor and committee question the student's ability to complete a Ph.D. in this research area. The advisor may terminate the student from his/her group or, upon agreement of the advisor, advisory committee and GPC Co-Chairs, the student may be permitted to repeat the oral exam, including revisions to the written report, by no later than the end of the subsequent semester, with the specific deadline to be set by the advisory committee. The advisor is responsible for providing summer support if there is an intervening summer. If the student is terminated from the group and is not able to secure a new advisor within a 1-2 month grace period (see Research Advisors), he/she would be terminated from the Ph.D. program. If the student is permitted to repeat the oral exam and the student does not pass unconditionally on the second attempt, he/she would be terminated from the Ph.D. program.

In cases B, C and D, the deficiencies must be communicated in writing by the Advisory Committee Chair to the student and the Graduate Program Committee, along with a new deadline for re-defending the progress report, if a re- defense is required. Any requests for extensions beyond the agreed-upon date must be made and approved in writing by the GPC co-chairs; otherwise, the student will be on probation until the requirement is satisfied. In case D, the Advisory Committee Chair must also give the student and GPC a written document describing the deficiencies that warranted failure.

Normally, students will complete the research progress report in the fourth semester in residence. Students may petition the GPC for a one-semester extension, with their advisor's agreement, as described under Petitions for Extension. All students must pass the research progress report requirement by the end of the sixth semester in residence to remain in the Ph.D. program, unless there are documented exceptional circumstances.