General Exam: Organic

Written Exam:

What are the pre-requirements?

  • There are no formal pre-requirements.

When in my PhD timeline should I take it?

  • In the organic division the written portion of the general exam is a series of cumulative exams offered eight times per year. You should begin taking the cumulative exams in your first semester.
  • You must accumulate 5 points within the first 19 cumulative exams offered from the date you start the graduate program. Scoring is detailed below.

When during the year is it offered? How is it announced? How much advanced notice is given?

  • Eight cumulative examinations are given each year, one each month from October through May, with specific dates and faculty giving the exam announced at the beginning of each academic year.

How do I sign up?

  • You should inform the cumulative exam coordinator (currently Mark Peczuh) that you intend on joining the organic division and obtain an ID number to be used for identification on the exams.

What is the format? How long does the exam take?

  • Each exam is written and graded by a member of the Organic Division and its format will be determined by the individual who writes it. The exams typically involve a series of questions drawn from material covered in courses, the current literature, and recent seminars presented in the Department. At the discretion of the individual who writes the exam, the topics to be covered may be announced in advance and take-home exams may also be given.
  • Scoring is as follows:
    • 1 point for each exam you pass (=full pass).
    • 0.5 points for each half pass.
  • The total of 5 points can come from 5 full pass grades or from 4 full passes plus 2 half passes.

Oral Exam:

What are the pre-requirements?

  • You must complete the written part of the general exam before proceeding to the oral part.
  • The Division requires that you provide a one-page pre-proposal of your idea to your advisory committee for approval prior to writing the full proposal. The purpose of this exercise is to prevent you from proposing something that is likely to be indefensible or that is too close to your thesis project. The document should be a well-articulated, advanced draft of the Project Summary, described below. It should include two to four key references that provide the foundation of your idea.

How much guidance can I get from my research advisor regarding my general exam proposal?

  • Your research advisor should have little or no input on the development of the idea for the proposal and in the proposal writing. You can ask the other committee members specific questions about your idea, however. The research advisor, along with the other members of your advisory committee, must approve the pre-proposal. The associate advisors must also approve the written document before the oral presentation and defense of the original idea (See below).

What are the parts of the oral exam? What does the oral exam consist of?

  • You must submit a detailed written research proposal, not related to your thesis/group research, and defend it in an oral presentation with questions from your advisory committee and other examiners (See below).

How soon after I’ve completed the written exam should I take it?

  • As soon as you like, but it must be completed within 3 months of completion of the written part. This is usually in the third year of your training.

What is the format for the proposal document?

  • The format of the written proposal should follow a typical grant application, and consist of two main parts: 

1. Project Summary
This part summarizes the following components of the proposal.
– the ‘what’: This section identifies background facts (“the lay of the land”) and identifies the key unaddressed question(s) that will be addressed.
– the ‘how’: These are the specific aims of the proposed work. A specific aim should be a statement of a measurable goal with a strategy for achieving it, and a method to evaluate its success.
– the ‘why’: This should be a short summary of the major implications of your proposal.
– Figures may be included, and the entire project summary should be no more than one page in length.

2. Project Proposal
This is the main proposal.
– It should include the following sections (in an order that is appropriate for the proposed work): Background & Significance, Innovation, Experimental Design & Methods, and References. References should include titles in the citations.
– The length of the Project Summary and Project Proposal together, excluding references, should be a minimum of six pages and not exceed 10 (1” margins, font no smaller than 11pt, single spaced).

What happens once my full proposal is written and approved my associate advisors?

  • You must submit your full proposal (Project Summary + Project Proposal) to your associate advisors no later than 30 days after the approval of your pre-proposal. The associate advisors will evaluate the proposal on all grounds, but with emphasis on organization, grammar, and style.
  • They can decide to either request revisions or approve the proposal. If revisions are requested, the proposal must be revised and resubmitted to the associate advisors for evaluation, a process that could take multiple iterations. When the proposal is deemed satisfactory, you are allowed to defend it for the oral component of the General Examination.

Which (and how many) faculty members must attend the exam? What is the role of the general examiner?

  • At least five faculty members, including the student’s advisory committee, must participate in the exam. The role of the general examiner is to ensure that a fair and comprehensive exam is administered.

When do I give my committee a copy of my proposal? How many days in advance of the exam?

  • The full, approved proposal should be distributed to all five faculty members that will be at your general exam at least one week before the oral examination.

What is the nature and length of the oral presentation?

  • The presentation is an oral defense of the research proposal that will be the focal point of the Oral Exam. The presentation should be long enough to explain the proposed research adequately, approximately 30 minutes. Questions during the exam will, however, be comprehensive in nature, and the candidate should be prepared to answer questions in all areas of basic chemistry.

What should I do about refreshments?

  • Refreshments are not expected for the general exam. Save your money for a celebration with your labmates and friends afterwards.