Thesis Committee and Preliminary Exam

Thesis Committee

Typically, students select their dissertation advisor before the start of their second year academic year. This decision must be approved by the Program Director. The Thesis Advisor is the first member of the student’s Thesis Committee. The student and Thesis Advisor then select two additional faculty members to serve as the Thesis Committee. These additional faculty members must be approved faculty trainers in the Neuroscience Graduate Program, and at least one of the additional committee members must be an Associate or Full Professor. The chair of the Thesis Committee must be someone other than the Advisor. Students and advisors may invite faculty who are not trainers in the Neuroscience Graduate Program to participate in committee meetings. These faculty members can add to the scientific discussion, but are not voting members of the committee.  The Program Director may serve as an ad hoc, ex officio committee member for any student’s Advisory Committee.

In the student’s second year, the Committee focuses primarily on helping the student prepare for the Preliminary Exam, which should occur before the start of the third year of study. After the Preliminary Exam, the Thesis Committee primarily guides the dissertation plan.  After the Preliminary Exam or at a later date, the student may opt to change their Thesis Committee, as long as the new committee follows Program guidelines.

The Thesis Committee must meet with the student annually to evaluate the progression of the thesis research. After each meeting, the Thesis Committee chair must complete and submit a Committee Meeting form.  This form can be found in the respective student's folder, located on the NSGP shared Google drive.

  Report of Graduate Student Committee Meeting

  Virtual Committee Meeting Form


Preliminary Examination and PhD Candidacy 

The Preliminary Examination is administered by the Thesis Committee. Before the beginning of the fifth semester, students must present a written research proposal to the Thesis Committee. This written research proposal should be formatted as an NIH R01 grant application. The  proposal should include the following:

  • Specific Aims
  • Background and Significance (a critical review of the relevant literature),
  • Innovation
  • Approach (with this last section including experimental or analytical design, any preliminary data and detailed methods of the proposed research)
  • Literature Cited

The program strongly recommends that students schedule a “Pre-Preliminary Exam” meeting with their Thesis Committee to discuss the oral and written examination. This meeting should take place at least 8 weeks before the examination date.

The student must arrange a mutually-convenient time for the Preliminary Exam. The examination should be held before August 15th of the second year, unless the Program Director approves a later date. The written document must be submitted to all Committee members two weeks before the exam date. The Thesis Committee chair is responsible for notifying the student if the written proposal is not acceptable, at which time the Preliminary Exam is postponed.

At the Preliminary Exam, the student will present a 20-30 minute talk to the Thesis Committee that summarizes their proposal and experimental plan. Students should be prepared to answer questions from their Thesis Committee and defend their experimental plan. A successful project defense constitutes passage of the Preliminary Examination.

When students complete all required courses and pass the Comprehensive and Preliminary Examinations, they advance to candidacy for the PhD degree. Students who have not completed the Preliminary Examination by the end of Fall semester of their 3rd year will be placed on academic warning. The Dissertation Defense cannot take place within one year of the Preliminary Examination.

  Preliminary Exam Report

  Virtual Exam Form