Qualifying Examination

Qualifying Examination

Overview and Purpose of the Qualifying Examination

The primary purpose of the Qualifying Examination (QE) is to evaluate that the student is academically qualified to conceptualize a research topic, undertake scholarly research, and successfully produce the dissertation required for a doctoral degree. The QE must evaluate the student’s command of the field, ensuring that the student has both breadth and depth of knowledge, and must not focus solely on the proposed dissertation research. In addition, the QE provides an opportunity for the committee to provide important guidance to the student regarding his or her chosen research topic.

The Qualifying Exam should be completed before the end of the 3rd year of graduate study.  The QE is typically scheduled at the end of the 2nd year or early in the 3rd year, after all required Ph.D. coursework and program requirements have been completed (except completion of the dissertation and Examination 2).  Eligible students will have a minimum 3.5 GPA and be registered for the quarter they plan to complete the exam.


  • 10-12 weeks prior – Start writing QE research proposal document (13 pages - Specific Aims page, next 12 allocated to research proposal including figures but excluding references, 11-point Arial font, single spaced, 0.5” margin all around.) Discuss potential committee members with Major Professor and Graduate Program Advisor. Update and submit final Ph.D. Degree Requirements Checklist to Graduate Program Advisor for approval.
  • 6-8 weeks prior – Invite potential committee members to serve. Set date of exam and reserve room
  • 5-6 weeks prior – Initiate the UCD Qualifying Exam Application in GradSphere (committee requirements and emergency plan options below). Once initiated, the application will route for program approval (Graduate Advisor; DE Chair (if applicable); Graduate Program Coordinator).  Once approved by the Graduate Program, the QE Application will route to Graduate Studies for approval.  The application must be submitted 30 days prior to the scheduled exam date. The QE cannot proceed until Graduate Studies has approved the committee.
  • 2-4 weeks prior – Meet with Committee Members
  • 2-4 weeks prior – Share QE Proposal with Committee Members
  • Exam
  • 1 week post – Upon successful result, initiate the UCD Advancement to Candidacy Application in GradSphere to establish the Dissertation Committee.

Committee Requirements:

  • Five members (6 maximum, if needed to satisfy a Designated Emphasis requirement)
  • At least 3 committee members must be members of the BMEGG
  • At least 1 committee member must be external to the BMEGG
  • Representation from both engineering and biology/medicine
  • The Chair of the QE Committee must be a member of the BMEGG (not the Major Professor)
  • All potential committee members must meet the Graduate Council Policy on Doctoral Qualifying Examinations
  • Individuals from outside the University of California are considered External Members and may be approved with additional review. External members include faculty, researchers, or other professionals who are not employed by the University of California, and who possess special expertise and/or experience not matched by eligible UC committee members. Please be prepared to upload their current CV/Resume and justification of expertise not available within the UC System.

Emergency Plan Options:

  • Pre-approved emergency plans are not required- rescheduling the QE in the event of an emergency that prevents all members from being present is always allowed.
  • The student must discuss the Emergency Plan section of the application with their proposed QE chair, prior to submission of the application.
    • Changing to a Fully Remote Exam if an Emergency Occurs
    • Moving the Exam to a Pre-Scheduled Backup Date/Time
    • Reconstituting the Committee with a Pre-Determined Alternate Program

Resources for preparing for your QE: