Doctoral qualifying exam

After successful completion of all required coursework for the Ph.D. and the Designated Emphasis (if applicable), students advance to PhD candidacy by passing a comprehensive doctoral qualifying examination (QE). All PhD students must take this exam. For most students, the examination should be taken no later than the summer of the second year of residence within GGI. The exam follows the guidelines and policies set forth by Graduate Council (

Exam Topics

Examination is on the student's 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 QE, 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. The student should have preparation equivalent to an upper division course in the outside area. The student's dissertation research proposal (described below), will serve as context to initiate the QE. The student should be prepared to demonstrate adequate background knowledge related to the proposed research and its underlying hypothesis, sound familiarity with the proposed experimental design and execution, knowledge of proposed technologies and alternative technologies, familiarity with appropriate statistical analysis of data, and adequate perspective for interpretation of the anticipated data. Examination of the student in general immunology and the three more specialized areas will ensue both in the context of the research proposal, as well as in subsequent questioning by the QE committee.

In consultation with their faculty mentor (major professor), the student will develop a research proposal on the student's dissertation topic and provide the proposal in writing (single spaced, 11 point font, approximately 5 pages (not including references) to all qualifying examination committee members at least ten days prior to the scheduled exam. This written proposal should describe the student's dissertation-specific hypotheses, research aims, experimental approaches, expected outcomes, potential problems, alternative approaches, and progress to date.

Selection of the Qualifying Examination Committee

The QE is administered by a committee of five members appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies on the recommendation of the GGI Executive Committee. Members will be selected to represent general immunology as well as two sub-specialties in immunology identified by the student as their focus areas and one "outside area". 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 identify a timeframe during their second year in the program in which they will take their QE, and provide the name of a faculty member who has agreed to act as Chair of the QE committee. The student will provide the name of at least one faculty member who 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 GGI Executive Committee will identify three additional faculty members to serve on the committee. The GGI Executive Committee will assign one (or more) faculty member to examine the student in general immunology and the sub-specialties in immunology. The faculty mentor (major professor) of a student may not participate in the exam. The student is encouraged to meet with each QE committee member prior to the exam in order to discuss the dissertation research proposal, as well as potential topics for the exam to help the student prepare.

The Qualifying Exam

The QE is approximately 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. Committee members will test the student on his/her preparedness to embark on the proposed research, including depth and breadth of knowledge associated with that proposal. In addition, the student will be tested on their understanding of the soundness of the underlying hypotheses, experimental design and execution, technologies and alternative technologies, statistical analysis of data and interpretation of the anticipated data. 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 of the outcome 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 "fail" 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 QE committee and the GGI graduate adviser to Graduate Studies.