Doctoral Qualifying Exam

After successful completion of all required coursework for the Ph.D. (Study Plan) and, if applicable the Designated Emphasis, students advance to PhD candidacy by passing a comprehensive doctoral qualifying examination, usually in the summer of their second year in the program. The exam follows the guidelines and policies set forth by Graduate Council (

Exam Topics

Examination is on the student's dissertation research proposal, knowledge in general immunology, two sub-specialties of immunology as well as an outside research area chosen in discussion with the faculty mentor and the graduate adviser.

In preparation of the exam the student will be asked to name two sub-specialties in immunology (e.g. innate immunity, cellular immunity, cytokines, autoimmunity) and an outside area of research (e.g. virology, microbiology, molecular biology) in which to be examined. Usually the outside area is connected to the proposed dissertation research, but can be chosen from any discipline taught on the UC Davis campus. In consultation with the mentor, the student will develop a research proposal as the student's dissertation topic and provide the proposal in writing (3 - 5 pages) to all examination committee members at least two weeks prior to the scheduled exam.

Selection of the Qualifying Examination Committee

In accordance with the guidelines and policies (Service on Advanced Degree Committees and Doctoral Qualifying Examinations) set forth by Graduate Council, the exam committee consists of 5 faculty members, of which 4 are from within the Graduate Group in Immunology and one is from outside of the graduate group.

The graduate student will be asked by the Graduate Group to identify a timeframe during their second year in the program in which they will take their qualifying exam. They will also be asked to provide the name of a faculty member that will act as Chair of the exam committee. The student will further be asked to provide the name of at least one faculty member that can test the student in the outside area of research. While the Chair is to be selected from the faculty members of the graduate group in Immunology, the faculty member examining the outside area does not have to be a member of the group.

The Executive Committee will identify three additional faculty members that will exam the student in general immunology and the sub-specialties in immunology. The major professor of a student must not be participating in the exam.

The student is encouraged to meet with each faculty member prior to the exam in order to discuss the project as well as potential topics of the exam that the student should be preparing for.

The Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam is 2 - 3 hours in length. All committee members must be present for the entire duration of the exam. In the first part of the exam the student will be asked to briefly outline the dissertation research proposal. Faculty will test the student on his/her depth and breadth of knowledge associated with that proposal, including but not limited to, the knowledge base from which this work is conducted, the soundness of the hypothesis, experimental design and execution, technologies and alternative technologies, statistical analysis of data and any interpretation of the data that might be obtained.

During the second part of the exam the student will be tested on the depth and breadth of knowledge in general immunology and chosen sub-specialties in immunology as well as the identified outside area of research.

Exam Results

Students will be informed immediately after the exam is concluded and the committee had a chance for brief deliberations. The outcome of the exam either is a pass, no pass or a fail. A failure to pass the exam terminates the Ph.D. program for the student. A "no pass" requires remediation of areas found to be deficient in the exam. This can either mean a re-examination of all or select topics by a repeat qualifying exam, or execution of other work specified by the examination committee. Successful passing of the exam means that the student can advance to candidacy. For advancement to candidacy the student must submit the required forms (Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Plan C) signed by the Chair of the examination committee and the graduate adviser to Graduate Studies.