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GCAC-604

Qualifying Examination - Research Doctorate

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Purpose

To establish the content, form, scheduling, and reporting requirements for the Qualifying Examination.

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Academic Goal

To assess early in the student’s program whether the student is capable of conducting doctoral-level research based on evidence of critical thinking and other skills that the Graduate Faculty of the program view as necessary to a successful researcher in the disciplinary field.

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Scope

All students enrolled in programs of study leading to the Ph.D.

Graduate education leading to an advanced research degree (M.A., M.S., or Ph.D.) is fundamentally different from undergraduate education in form and content. Graduate work on an advanced research degree is often solitary and in close collaboration with one or a few faculty members or other research personnel. Research doctorate education in particular is focused on research methodologies and is uniform across disciplines in its characteristics, including but not limited to being hypothesis-driven, and evidence-based, and results in the creation of new knowledge. To ensure adequate progress toward the Ph.D., there are a set of formal assessments at various times in the student’s program; at Penn State the first of these is referred to as the Qualifying Examination.
Academic Adviser
A Graduate Faculty member assigned to an individual student who provides individualized advice that promotes intellectual discovery and helps guide the student to meet the student’s goals through the successful completion of the degree program.
Dissertation Adviser
Graduate Faculty member principally responsible for day-to-day guidance of the student’s dissertation research and academic and professional development.
Qualifying Examination Committee
A committee of members of the Graduate Faculty, charged by the Graduate Program head to administer the Qualifying Examination.

Policy Statement

  1. The primary purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to provide an early assessment of whether the student has the potential to develop the knowledge, skills, and attributes the program has defined in its formal Learning Objectives, including evidence of critical thinking skills, necessary for a successful researcher in the disciplinary field.
    1. The Qualifying Examination is conducted early in a student’s program to ensure that the considerable investment of time, resources, and effort required by the student has a high likelihood of leading to completion of the Ph.D.
    2. Additionally, the Qualifying Examination may assess if the student is well grounded in the fundamental knowledge of the discipline.
  2. Content:
    1. The student’s major program must establish guidelines for the Qualifying Examination that are uniformly applied to all students. These guidelines and evaluation criteria must be presented in the graduate program’s handbook, which must be provided to the student upon matriculation. These guidelines must include:
      1. The timing and the format of the examination.
      2. Clear criteria for evaluation.
      3. The program’s policy describing the student’s options in case of failure. The policy must include:
        1. If retaking the examination after failure is allowed.
        2. If retaking the examination after failure is permitted whether there is a limit to the number of attempts and a timeline under which the retakes must be completed.
        3. If students who have failed the final attempt will be dismissed from the program or may be allowed to change to the master’s degree.
    2. If the student is also enrolled in a dual-title graduate degree program,
      1. the Qualifying Examination requirement shall be satisfied by one of the following:
        1. Ideally, a single Qualifying Examination that incorporates content from both the graduate major program and the dual-title program. The Qualifying Examination Committee must include at least one member of the Graduate Faculty from the dual-title program.
          1. In cases where the timing of the Qualifying Examination in the major area precludes the inclusion of the dual-title area, the dual-title program may choose to examine proficiency in the dual-title area at a later time, but no later than the end of the fourth semester (not counting summer semesters) of entry into the major doctoral program.
        2. Dual-title programs may choose to allow the Qualifying Examination in the major area alone to satisfy the requirements for the dual-title program.
      2. The means of establishing proficiency in the dual-title area must be defined in the major program proposal adopting the dual-title degree and must be included in the student handbook for each dual-title program.
  3. Format of Exam:
    1. Each graduate program will determine the composition of its Qualifying Examination Committee. All members of the Qualifying Examination Committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty, with the majority drawn from the faculty of the program.
    2. The graduate program administering the Qualifying Examination may choose from the following general formats with the specific details being left to the discretion of the program. The exam can be:
      1. a written, oral, or written and oral assessment of a student’s ability to conduct doctoral-level research as determined by the graduate program; or
      2. an assessment of a thesis submitted in fulfillment of a research master’s degree in the major or a related program.

Process

  1. Scheduling:
    1. It is the responsibility of the major Graduate Program Head to ensure that the Qualifying Examination is scheduled within the required time limits as defined below.
    2. All students must take the Qualifying Examination within three semesters (not counting the summer semester) of entry into the doctoral program.
      1. Students who have been identified as master’s-along-the-way upon admission into the graduate program may be allowed an extension such that the three semester time limit will begin upon completion of the master’s degree.
      2. Students pursuing dual-title degrees must take the Qualifying Examination within four semesters (not counting the summer semester) of entry into the doctoral program.1
    3. To be eligible to take the Qualifying Examination the student must:
      1. Have earned at least 18 credits in courses eligible to be counted toward the graduate degree (these may be graduate credits earned previously at other recognized institutions from which transfer credits would be accepted) or the equivalent as determined and documented by the program.
      2. Have a grade-point average of 3.00 or greater for work done at the University while a graduate student.
      3. Have no incomplete or deferred grades.
      4. Be in good academic standing and must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester (excluding summer session) in which the qualifying examination is taken.
  2. Outcome: At the conclusion of the evaluation, students must be informed of the results in writing. In cases when the Qualifying Examination is not passed, the student must also be notified whether a re-examination is offered or if the student will be terminated from the Ph.D. program. If the student will be terminated from the Ph.D. program, they must also be informed if they will be allowed to change to the master’s degree.
  3. Reporting: The same report of all Qualifying Examinations, regardless of the outcome, must be reported to the student, the adviser, and Graduate Enrollment Services as soon as possible. The timing below applies to both the initial examination, and any subsequent retakes.
    1. For programs where qualifying examinations are scheduled for individual students or all students in one time block, results must be reported no later than 30 days following the examination of the student.
    2. For programs where individual qualifying examinations are scheduled in multiple time blocks for groups of students, results must be reported no later than 30 days after the last group completes the qualifying examination, but no later than 60 days after the first group completes the qualifying examination.
    3. The report will include any identified deficiencies as well as any remedial steps the committee recommends or requires the student to undertake. Unresolved deficiencies from other assessments (e.g., English Competence, see GCAC-605) should be included.
    4. Following the examination, the Qualifying Examination Committee should also share any recommendations for further study or preparation, as well as any remedial steps the committee requires the student to undertake with the student’s Academic or Dissertation adviser and Ph.D. Committee (when formed).
    5. While it is common and helpful for a student and the student’s Ph.D. Committee to use the information gathered to further guide the student’s program, such discussions are not part of the examination itself.

    1The additional time allowed for dual-title degree students is in recognition of the additional requirements they may need to fulfill.

    Responsibilities

    The program is responsible for ensuring that:

    1. Qualifying Examinations are administered fairly to all students.

      Examples (not an exhaustive list):

      1. Smaller programs may use the same Qualifying Examination Committee for all eligible students.
      2. Larger programs or programs with distinct subdisciplines may use multiple committees, but will undertake measures to ensure that the evaluation criteria are equally applied across all examinations or consistently within each distinct subdiscipline; a description of such measures will be included in the program’s handbook (e.g., the evaluation criteria will be listed in the handbook).
    2. Conflicts of interest in administering the Qualifying Examination must be avoided or effectively managed.

      Examples (not an exhaustive list):

      1. For students whose dissertation adviser has already been identified at the time of the Qualifying Examination, the adviser may participate in the examination (if oral) or review the examination (if written) but not be the sole participant in the formal assessment.
      2. Graduate programs will undertake measures to ensure that conflicts of interest are managed; a description of such management measures will be included in the program’s handbook.

    Forms

    insert_drive_file Report on Doctoral Qualifying Examination

    Further Information

    Qualifying Examination - Research Doctorate - FAQs

    Revision History

    • Approved by Graduate Council, February 17, 2021. Effective immediately.
      • Policy Statement 2.a.iii.2: Added a requirement that graduate programs must determine a timeline for retakes.
      • Process 1.: Moved from the Policy Statement to the Process section.
      • Process 1.c.iv.: Moved from the Procedure to the Process section.
      • Process 2 and 3: Moved from the Policy Statement to the Process section.
      • Process 3, 3.a., and 3.b.: Revised to add that the student’s adviser must receive the report on the Qualifying Examination and to clarify the timeline for reporting the examination results.
    • Approved by Graduate Council, May 1, 2019. Effective date: Fall 2019 (8/12/2019).
      • Policy revised extensively.
    • Adapted from Graduate Bulletin: June 2018.
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