Graduate Study in Neurosciences - Doctoral Candidacy and Dissertation Defense

Details concerning the comprehensive examination are given below and should be reviewed by the student and mentor in preparation for the comprehensive examination. After taking most of your academic courses, and usually by the end of your second year, you will choose a five-member committee to oversee your comprehensive examination.

  1. Students are eligible for the comprehensive examination when they have met the following requirements:
    1. Completed all Year 1 and 2 courses except for the teaching requirement.
    2. The student's grade point average must be 3.00 or better
  2. Your faculty mentor serves as Chair of this five-member committee and will help with the selection of the committee. In general, the committee should be comprised of faculty whose expertise will be complementary to and aid your research. The committee should contain at least two members of the Neuroscience faculty and up to two additional members from any department who hold appropriate status to serve on a graduate committee. This committee may also constitute all or part of your doctoral thesis committee.
  3. With your mentor and committee, you will propose, outline and write a six-page grant application in the NIH pre-doctoral fellowship format. The preparation of this application will provide you with the opportunity to apply concepts learned in your first years of graduate school to research-oriented problem solving. It will provide your mentor and committee an opportunity to observe your intellectual creativity, critical thinking and writing skills needed to accomplish research goals and function as a Ph.D.
    1. Specific Aims: With input from your faculty mentor, the student will develop an outline of the NIH-style proposal including a one-page specific aims page that provides the background, rationale and goals of your project. The student should work with the faculty mentor in refining this one-page specific aims document. Once your specific aims are approved by your mentor, provide a copy to the other members of your committee for comments.
    2. Full Proposal: Once the committee approves your specific aims, then the rest of the six-page proposal should be completed with input from your mentor. Follow the NIH instructions closely so that all relevant areas are addressed, i.e. Significance, Innovation/Impact, Scientific Premise, Approach, etc. If Vertebrate Animals or Human subjects are to be used, please include appropriate sections.
  4. Once your mentor approves, then the proposal should be sent to the remainder of the committee. The committee has two weeks to provide additional comments that you may consider and incorporate into your final proposal. Once your proposal is revised, contact your committee and department to arrange a date for your comprehensive examination and provide each member a copy of the final proposal at least two weeks in advance of this date.
  5. The comprehensive examination is a test of the breadth and depth of the student's understanding of:
    1. The program’s core courses
    2. The student's elective courses
    3. Their research area (as reflected by the student's NIH proposal)
    It is designed to be a rigorous evaluation of the student's knowledge base in the neurological sciences and should be treated as such. Students are expected to have acquired a sufficient understanding of the fundamentals and details of the neurological sciences to function as a doctoral candidate after the examination and to carry out their research project. The student will present their proposal to the examination committee, who are free to ask questions throughout the presentation. The student should be prepared to answer fundamental questions relevant to any aspect of their presentation as well as questions about the background, preliminary data, approach and interpretations presented in the proposal.
  6. After the examination is completed (they are usually scheduled for two hours), a discussion of the student's performance and any deficiencies will be carried out by the committee. After discussion, the committee will make a final decision by simple majority vote to:
    1. Unconditionally pass the student to doctoral degree candidate.
    2. Conditionally pass a student to doctoral degree candidate, but require that the student make up deficiencies through further course work or special study. Any further study by the student as recommended by the exam committee will be directed and overseen by the mentor to ensure completion.  This can be in the form of additional course work or in advanced readings courses. Failure to complete this work in a timely manner (typically the following semester) will result in the student being terminated from the program (see C.1)
    3. Fail the student based on a deficiency in any core course area, their elective course areas or their research area. In this case the committee may:
      1. Allow repeating the exam, the earliest being 90 days after the failure. The student will be counseled as to what areas need to be strengthened before the exam is rescheduled. University policy states that under no circumstances can the exam be taken more than 3 times, but please be aware that a third opportunity to take the exam would be very rare.
      2. Decide to not allow the student to repeat the examination and to terminate the student from the program. The committee may recommend to the director of the neuroscience program that the student may qualify for a master's degree after completion of the requirements for that degree.
  7. The Dissertation Research Committee will be selected at some point shortly after the student has passed the comprehensive examination. The Dissertation Research Committee can be the same or different than the Comprehensive Committee. The Dissertation Research Committee is chaired by the student's mentor and must have at least four other members. The mentor (chairperson of the committee) and student will select the members and submit them for approval by the neuroscience program chair. University policy requires that one member must be from outside the program but must have his/her primary appointment at KU-L or KUMC. This "outside" person is the Graduate School's representative and sees to it that all University policies are followed. The committee will meet with the student soon after the comprehensive examination to approve the dissertation research project. The student should schedule at least annual meetings with the committee to report research progress.
  8. Upon agreement by the Dissertation Committee, the student may then begin to write the final dissertation that describes the work. It is acceptable to use published papers as chapters for the dissertation and the student should consult the committee and Graduate School guidelines on specific guidelines for incorporating published work into the final dissertation.
  9. The faculty mentor will read, offer editing advice and approve the dissertation prior to its dissemination to the Dissertation Committee. The candidate should consult the committee to arrange a date for a public presentation and defense of the dissertation. The final dissertation should be provided to the Dissertation Committee no later than two weeks before the scheduled examination date. The Dissertation Seminar will be advertised and is open to the public. Upon completion of the presentation, the candidate will answer questions from the general audience who will be dismissed afterward. The candidate will then enter a closed session with the Dissertation Committee for further questions.