Departmental Written Examinations

Some departments require the doctoral students to take written or laboratory examinations prior to taking the Oral Qualifying Examination. Students should consult their department(s) to determine if such an exam is required.

Oral Qualifying Examination

Students should schedule the Oral Qualifying Examination after the CAD approves the student’s Final Program and has appointed a chair for the examining committee. Students must complete all course work listed on their Final Program prior to taking the examination. All course work listed should be completed with a grade of B- or better.

The Oral Qualifying Examination should be scheduled to take place no later than the end of the sixth semester. Students who have received a Master’s degree and have submitted a Prospective/Final Program, are encouraged to schedule their Oral Examination as early as their second semester.

Petitions to the CAD to delay the Oral Qualifying Examination will be considered only in extreme circumstances.

Failure to take the exam by the end of the sixth semester will result in the student’s administrative withdrawal from degree candidacy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Procedure for Scheduling the Oral Qualifying Examination

  1. Obtain CAD approval of the Final Program.
  2. Obtain the Oral Examination Scheduling Form from the Registrar’s Office.
  3. Schedule a room for the Oral Qualifying Examination with the assistance of your academic coordinator.
  4.  Obtain the signatures of the advisor and the department chair(s). These signatures indicate the approval of the student’s scheduling of the exam.
  5.  Submit the form to the Registrar’s Office. It is important that the Oral Scheduling Form include the name of the Chair of the exam. Notification must be done at least three weeks prior to the Examination. Arrangements then will be made by the Registrar’s Office for the announcement of the examination to be placed on the school’s event calendar.
Students who miss the deadline for publication must post notices outlining the date, time and place of the exam in departmental offices and on the first and ground floors of Kresge, making certain that the Registrar’s Office receives a copy of the posting. Notices must be posted at least one week prior to the exam. The examination is not valid unless this announcement has been made.
  1. Outline a proposed plan of research and distribute the plan to the Oral Examination Committee and the Registrar’s Office approximately three weeks prior to the exam. The usual format of the research proposal should be similar to that submitted to a granting agency or foundation and should include the following:
    • research objectives
    • methods of procedure
    • anticipated problems and results
    • the overall significance of the research
  2. Meet with members of the Examination Committee prior to the examination. The student is encouraged to meet with each examiner to discuss the general nature of the questions to be asked during the Examination.
  3. Distribute copies of the “Procedure for Oral Qualifying Examination” to each examiner well in advance of the examination. These procedures are located on the back of the Oral Examination Scheduling Form.
  4. A member of the Examination Committee or the student’s advisor picks up (and returns) the student’s Report of the Oral Qualifying Committee Form from the Registrar’s Office on the day of the examination. The Report of Oral Qualifying Committee Form must be completed by the examiners and returned to the Registrar’s Office immediately following the exam.

Students, at the conclusion of the exam, may wish to nominate their Research Committee since, in some instances, the Research Committee is comprised of the same people who served on their Oral Qualifying Exam Committee.

Faculty members other than the examiners may attend the student’s examination only if prior permission is given by the advisor and the student. These other faculty members may question the student only with the consent of the Chair of the examination committee. No one else may attend.

Students usually open the exam with a short presentation outlining the dissertation topic. Students may choose not to give a formal presentation. Examiners may question the student on the proposed dissertation research, with emphasis on the field they represent. General questions may be asked to explore the student’s understanding of the major and minor fields declared.

All members of the student’s committee must be physically present for the oral exam. If a member cannot be present, the student is expected to reschedule the exam. In extenuating circumstances, the student may petition via a general petition to have a member participate in absentia.

Oral Examination Results
At the end of the examination, the Committee must report the result of the examination on The Report of Oral Qualifying Committee Form. This form must be returned to the Registrar’s Office immediately after the exam by the advisor or committee member. The Results of the exam may be the following:

  1. Passed Examination: Students receiving a “Pass” on the examination and CAD approval of their Research Committee may begin to take research credit (350-level). Students may also apply for non-resident status after passing this examination.
  2. Qualified Pass: Under the terms of a qualified pass, the Committee must outline the specific conditions which the student ultimately must meet in order to pass the examination. For example, the Committee may require the student to complete additional course work (specifying course and semester to be taken), to complete an oral or written examination in a specified field, or to submit a revised research proposal by a designated date as conditions that must be satisfied. The Committee must specify the date by which the student must meet the conditions. The chair of the Examination Committee and/or the academic advisor must submit written confirmation to the Registrar’s Office once the student has met all of the specified conditions. Students will not be allowed to select their Research Committee until conditions are met.
  3. Failure of the Examination: If the student fails the exam, the Committee may allow one re-examination within a reasonable time (ordinarily within that semester, but no later than six months after the first exam).

Delay in Scheduling the Oral Qualifying Examination
Students who delay scheduling the Oral Qualifying Examination due to the departmental written exam must notify the CAD and the Registrar’s Office of the date when the written exam is scheduled and subsequently, the proposed date of the Oral Qualifying Examination via a General Petition Form.