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Research Degree Policies

GCAC-606 Comprehensive Examination - Research Doctorate

Purpose: to define the requirements for the second summative assessment of doctoral student progress, the Comprehensive Examination.

Academic Goal: to evaluate the student’s mastery of their major field and, if appropriate, dual-title and minor fields, and whether the candidate is prepared to embark upon their dissertation research.

Scope: all students enrolled in programs of study leading to the Ph.D.

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 Definitions

Professional Doctoral Degree Program: an integrated program of study combined with understanding of research literature to support application of knowledge to practice at the highest level, culminating in a project, portfolio, or performance that demonstrates expertise in professional practice. Students successfully completing a professional doctoral degree program are awarded the appropriate doctoral degree; professional doctoral degrees at Penn State include D.Ed., D.M.A., D.N.P., and Dr.P.H.

Research Doctoral Degree Program: an integrated program of study combined with investigation of a significant problem, question, or issue in the discipline, culminating in the completion of an original scholarly contribution (in the form of a dissertation) that expands the frontiers of knowledge. Students successfully completing a research doctoral degree program are awarded Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.

Policy Statement

  1. When a candidate for a doctoral degree has substantially completed all course work, a comprehensive examination is given. The examination is intended to evaluate the candidate’s mastery of the major, and if appropriate, the minor field and whether the candidate is prepared to embark upon his/her dissertation research.
  2. The graduate student must be in good academic standing and must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester in which the comprehensive examination is taken.
  3. All candidates are required to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University at the time the comprehensive examination is given, and may not have deferred or missing grades.
  4. Doctoral candidates must have satisfied the English competence and any program-specific communication and foreign language requirement before scheduling the comprehensive examination.
  5. The format for the comprehensive examination may be entirely oral, or it may have both a written and an oral component.
  6. When a period of more than six years has elapsed between the passing of the comprehensive examination and the completion of the program, the student is required to pass a second comprehensive examination before the final oral examination or final performance will be scheduled.
  7. Comprehensive examinations are scheduled and announced officially by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services upon recommendation of the program head, and must not be held without official notification from the Graduate School.
  8. It is expected that comprehensive examinations will take place at the campus location of the graduate center offering the program, and the graduate student must be physically present at the comprehensive examination.
  9. If a committee member is unable to participate in any of the doctoral examinations and this results in not enough members serving on the committee (i.e., four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty), another Penn State graduate faculty member will need to be appointed officially to the Ph.D. committee to replace the absent member in order to constitute a legitimate Ph.D. committee. A revised committee appointment form must be submitted to Graduate Enrollment Services, removing the individual as a regular committee member and requesting the replacement committee member. These changes and approvals must occur before the actual examination takes place (ad hoc substitutes are not permitted).
  10. At least three members of the Ph.D. committee (including the thesis adviser or chair) must be physically present at the comprehensive and at the final oral examination. The graduate student must also be physically present at these examinations. (Thus for a five-person committee, two could participate via distance.) No more than one member may participate via telephone; a second member could participate via interactive videoconferencing. The examination request and a request for exceptions must be submitted to the dean of the Graduate School for approval at least two weeks prior to the date of the examination. Special arrangements, i.e., requirements for meeting participation via distance, should be communicated to the student and to the Ph.D. committee members well in advance of the examination. // The dissertation adviser, as well as the chair of the Ph.D. committee (if not the same individual as the dissertation adviser), along with additional members of the committee to total a minimum of three, also must be physically present at the comprehensive/final examinations. (Thus, for a five-person committee, two members could participate via distance.) Requests for exceptions to allow participation of any committee member via distance must accompany the Examination Request Form, and must be submitted to the director of Graduate Enrollment Services for approval at least two weeks prior to the date of the examination. Of those approved to participate via distance, no more than one member may participate via telephone; any or all of those approved to participate via distance may participate via interactive videoconferencing. Special arrangements, i.e., requirements for meeting participation via distance, must be communicated to the student and all Ph.D. committee members well in advance of the examination.
  11. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing a comprehensive or final oral examination. If a candidate fails an examination, it is the responsibility of the Ph.D. committee to determine whether the student will be granted a second opportunity to take the examination. Regardless of the outcome and of the committee’s decision about whether to grant a second opportunity, the program head must report the results of each scheduled examination immediately to Graduate Enrollment Services.

Process

The program head will notify Graduate Enrollment Services, providing two weeks' notice, when the candidate is ready to schedule the comprehensive examination.

Revision History

Adapted from Graduate Bulletin: June 2018

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