Hort & Agronomy Graduate Group

PhD Qualifying Exam

The primary objective of the PhD qualifying examination is to evaluate the student's ability to think independently, creatively, and critically, and to evaluate the student's mastery of breadth and depth in a range of subject areas in and related to horticulture and agronomy, including the ability to synthesize broad concepts and detailed information. This level of knowledge must be sufficient to demonstrate competency for professional work.

Selection of the QE Committee

Determination of the membership of the Qualifying Examination committee is a shared responsibility of the Guidance Committee, the student, and the Chair of the GGHA, and requires the approval of Graduate Studies. The QE Committee will consist of a Chair, who will be responsible for keeping the exam on track and asking questions in general horticulture and agronomy or areas he/she feels were inadequately covered, plus four members who will represent the four areas that the student will be examined on, one of which should be a cropping system. These four areas should have been determined during the first quarter meeting with the Guidance Committee and should be listed on the Guidance Committee Report.

One member of the QE Committee must be from outside the Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate Group. If this is not possible, an exception can be requested, but only if the proposed QE members come from at least three different departments. However, there is no guarantee that Graduate Studies will approve the exception request, so it is best to try to identify an outside member.

The Guidance Committee and the student work together to select potential QE Committee members, as well as alternates for each member. This information should be included on the student's Guidance Committee Report during the fifth quarter meeting, and should be forwarded to Lisa Brown no later than 60 days prior to the anticipated date of examination (earlier is better); the student should also indicate which month he/she plans to take the QE. Lisa will then notify the GGHA Chair, who will e-mail the potential committee members, asking if they are willing to serve on the committee.

Students are encouraged to contact the potential committee members themselves, before the official e-mail request is sent by the Chair of the graduate group. If a student wants to do this, he/she should ask Lisa to delay sending the notification to the graduate group Chair.

The student will be notified once the committee members have accepted and have been approved by Graduate Studies. The student should then meet with each member of the examination committee to discuss expectations for the exam.

It is the student's responsibility to find an examination date and time suitable for everyone, reserve a room, and send notice of the exam's location, date, and time to the Graduate Program Coordinator, Lisa Brown (lfbrown@ucdavis.edu). An electronic poll, either WhenIsGood (whenisgood.net) or Doodle (www.doodle.com), is useful for establishing a date and time, and Lisa can direct the student to the best person to help with finding a location. (It varies by department.) The GGHA Chair will send formal notification to the members of the QE Committee once the date and location are set.

Preparation for the Qualifying Exam

The QE Proposal

The student must prepare a written research proposal and submit it to the QE committee at least two weeks prior to the exam. Concepts within the research proposal can (and probably should) be discussed with others, such as the student's major professor and peers, but the writing of the proposal should be solely the student's work (i.e., no editorial assistance is allowed).

The purpose of the dissertation proposal is to concisely introduce, describe and justify the proposed research. The scope and format of the proposal should be similar to that of a formal application for funding (e.g., application for a doctoral fellowship). The student is expected to show mastery in scientific writing, in the critical analysis of preliminary data, and in the synthesis of information derived from the relevant literature. The dissertation research proposal (single-spaced, 12 or 11 pt font size, 1 in. margins) should be organized into five sections and should not exceed 6-7 pages for sections 1-4, excluding figures.

1) General objective and specific aims. State briefly the overall objective of your dissertation research in its broad context and list the specific aims to achieve this goal. (less than half a page)

2) Background and significance. Describe the background and rationale for your thesis research. Critically evaluate the existing knowledge relevant to your research and identify an important question or unsolved problem that your thesis research will address in order to advance the field. State concisely the significance of the proposed research and relate the specific aims to the long-term objective. (approx. two pages)

3) Preliminary data. Briefly describe research that has been conducted and that is relevant to the proposal. Clearly state your contributions to this research. (approx. one page)

4) Experimental plan and research methods. Outline the experimental design and the procedures to be used to accomplish the specific aims of your thesis research. Include the means by which data will be collected, analyzed and interpreted. Discuss the potential difficulties and limitations of the proposed procedures as well as alternative approaches to achieve the major objective. Provide a tentative timetable of your research. (two to three pages)

5) References. Consult a major journal in your field and follow its style of citation. Each citation must include the names of all authors, title of the article, name of the journal or book, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication. (no more than two pages or 25 references)

Practice Exams

It is strongly recommended that the student arrange to have several mock Qualifying Exams, to allow him/her to practice answering questions in an oral exam format. He/she should enlist the help of fellow graduate students, especially those who have already taken a Qualifying Exam. It is helpful to send them a draft of the research proposal ahead of time, and let them know the topic areas that will be covered on the test, so they can formulate some questions beforehand. During the mock exam, the student should present the research proposal to the mock QE committee; one of them should keep time, so the student will know if he/she needs to adjust the length of the presentation. The student should also ask them for critiques on his/her speech, volume and body language -- anything that he/she could work on before the QE. If possible, the mock exams should be held in the same room in which the Qualifying Exam will be.

The Qualifying Exam

The exam begins with the presentation of the research proposal, which should be timed to last approximately 25 minutes if there were no interruptions. However, during the QE, the presentation will likely take about an hour, as the QE committee will ask questions related to the objectives and methodology. The questions during the presentation will often times also include some related to the areas of the QE that the student's project addresses.

Following the presentation, the QE committee members will each question the student about his/her topic area for 20-30 minutes each.

The qualifying examination is not a proposal defense, but while it is important to note that while the outcome of qualifying examination should not be determined solely by the quality of the candidate's research proposal or dissertation research, the candidate should be well prepared to explain and defend the proposed hypotheses and objectives, the methodology, and the underlying scientific concepts.

Graduate Studies has a webpage with helpful tips on preparing for your qualifying exam at http://gradstudies.ucdavis.edu/students/qualifying_exam.html.