Chemistry and Biochemistry Comprehensive Examination Guidelines

All Ph.D. students of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have to complete a Comprehensive Examination within the first 24 months from the start of their Ph.D. studies. The Comprehensive Exam comprises a written component and an oral component and will test the Ph.D. candidate’s general knowledge of chemistry and biochemistry and skills to express his/her thoughts in a logical fashion orally and in writing. For Ph.D. candidates in truly interdisciplinary program research areas the expected/tested knowledge may be extended to other fields, such as fields of physics or biology, and the expected background knowledge in chemistry and biochemistry may vary.

The Comprehensive Examination Committee is composed of the members of the Ph.D. Supervisory Committee, plus a Chair. The departmental graduate coordinator usually serves as the Chair. In case, the graduate coordinator(s) is/are already member(s) of the Supervisory Committee, the Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry will chair the Comprehensive Examination Committee. In case the Department Chair is also on the Supervisory committee, another department member will be suggested as the Comprehensive Examination Committee Chair. In case the student has two (co)supervisors, only one supervisor will participate in the Comprehensive Examination. At least four weeks before the beginning of the Comprehensive Examination, the Supervisor(s) recommend(s), in writing, the membership of the Comprehensive Examination Committee to the Doctoral Program Committee. The dates for the written and oral component of the comprehensive examination are set by the Comprehensive Examination Committee.


(i)  The Comprehensive Examination Committee will identify three general areas of chemistry or biochemistry that are not directly part of the doctoral research. Topics for comprehensive examinations should be chosen to test foundational knowledge in the field, as reflected for instance in standard undergraduate-level textbooks. Accordingly, resource material provided to the student as starting point for study will normally consist of chapters from standard textbooks, although other resources may be chosen if judged appropriate by the examination committee. The student will be provided with these three areas and will be given three weeks to prepare for the written and oral exams.


(ii)  Written Examination. Normally, the written exam will consist of three questions, of which the student will choose two. Questions will usually require essay-style answers. The student is expected to demonstrate a high level of understanding of the assigned topics through his/her written answers, as well as a reasonable level of mastery of written English. The student will be given 3 hours time to complete his/her written answers.


(iii)  Oral Examination. Normally, within one week after the written examination, the student will be examined orally on his/her written answers as well as more generally on the three areas of chemistry or biochemistry selected for the examination. The student may also be examined on any general background in chemistry or biochemistry. The maximum time of the oral examination is two hours. Usually, the chair does not ask questions.


(iv)  Grading. Both components of the Comprehensive Examination, i.e., the written and the oral part, have to be passed in order to pass the Comprehensive Examination. The grading of each component of the Comprehensive Examination is pass or fail. The student has to pass the written component to continue with the oral examination. The decision whether the student passes or fails the written component has to be made before the beginning of the oral examination.  If the student fails the written component, they will have one opportunity to rewrite the examination, but with a new set of areas and a 3-week time window to prepare for the second written examination. The Comprehensive Examination Committee will decide whether the student will pass or fail the oral component of the Comprehensive Examination directly after the Examination. In the case of a passed written, but a failed oral component, the student has to retake the entire Comprehensive Examination with new areas and questions, in order to pass. Students may take the Comprehensive Examination up to two times. If a student is unsuccessful with the Comprehensive Examination for the second time, then the student must withdraw from the Ph.D. Program. In case no unanimous decision is reached by the Comprehensive Examination Committee, the majority of committee members will decide the pass/fail grade.


(v)  Appeal. The student has the right to appeal a failed grade of the Comprehensive Examination. The process of such an appeal is the same as that for an appeal of thesis examination decision which is outlined in the PhD Program Policies & Procedures.

Approved by Graduate Council on January 22, 2020