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The preliminary examination for the BME and BIOI PhD degrees allows the student’s thesis committee (composed of faculty members and the student’s research advisor) to evaluate the ability of the student to a) write a thesis research proposal, b) defend the proposal with knowledge of the pertinent background literature, and c) present compelling evidence (e.g., with collected data and/or computational analysis) that the proposed research is innovative for a PhD degree and can be executed within the proposed time frame using the resources/infrastructure available to the student.
The timing of the preliminary examination is determined in close collaboration with the faculty research advisor and the proposed committee members as needed. Only students in good academic standing are permitted to take the preliminary examination. A minimum of one year has to elapse before the defense of the dissertation (i.e., final thesis defense before graduation) after passing the preliminary examination.
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Preliminary Examination Format
The preliminary examination includes a written component and an in-person (oral) component.
The written component is designed to replicate the format of a NIH fellowship grant application. It includes:
- Specific aims (firm 1-page limit)
- Significance (about 1 page)
- Innovation (about a half page)
- Approach (about 4.5 pages)
In the written component, the student is expected to provide preliminary results and, more importantly, outline a research plan. The document is limited to 7 pages, excluding references. Students must provide the preliminary examination committee with copies of this document at least one week prior to the oral examination.
The Executive Committee of the Graduate College has endorsed a return to in-person defense of preliminary/qualifying examinations, theses and dissertations as of Spring 2022. A limited use of Zoom and similar technologies for hybrid defenses will be permitted in cases where (1) members of the committees have a documented excused absence from the UIC campus, (2) the student is currently remote and unable to return to campus, or (3) where external committee members are employed more than 50 miles from UIC – making travel to campus problematic or expensive.
Building a Preliminary Examination Committee
PhD students will work with their faculty advisors to develop a preliminary examination committee. At least three weeks before the scheduled date of the preliminary exam, the student is responsible for completing and submitting the committee recommendation form to the graduate program coordinator for the director of graduate studies’ approval. When filling out the form, the program code for the PhD in bioengineering is 20FS0408PHD, the program code for the PhD in biomedical engineering is 20FS5971PHD, and the program code for the PhD in bioinformatics is 20FS1909PHD.
The preliminary exam committee consists of at least five people. Specific requirements for the committee include:
- at least two members must be core UIC biomedical engineering faculty (defined as tenured or tenure-track faculty with a 50 percent or greater appointment in BME)
- at least one additional member must be UIC College of Engineering faculty (can be BME)
- at least one member must come from outside the UIC biomedical engineering department
- at least three members must be full members of the UIC Graduate College
- at least two members must be tenured faculty
- the chairperson of the committee must have full membership in the UIC Graduate College (but does not necessarily need to be tenured)
Students should note that any committee members who are not members of the UIC Graduate College faculty must have their CV included with the committee recommendation form.
The preliminary exam committee ideally will become the final dissertation defense committee, so students and their advisors should think ahead about an appropriate committee to judge the eventual dissertation.
If students need to make changes to their committee after submitting the committee recommendation form, those changes must be requested before the oral examination takes place. Students must use the Request for Change in Thesis Title/Committee Member(s) Form.
Preliminary Examination Timeline
At least two months prior to oral exam
- Work with your research advisor to identify and invite potential committee members.
- Consult with your research advisor to set a date for your anticipated oral examination and ensure that the date, time, and location works for all of your committee members.
- Confirm your registration in coursework and/or thesis research for the term when you will take the preliminary exam. (See the “Registration Requirements” section below for more information.)
At least three weeks prior to oral exam
- Complete the committee recommendation form and submit it to the graduate program coordinator for the director of graduate studies’ approval.
- Reserve a room for your oral examination. (Use the Room Reservation site when requesting a biomedical engineering classroom.)
One week prior to the oral exam
- Provide copies of your completed research proposal to each committee member.
- Confirm that you received the examination report form from the graduate program coordinator (the department and research advisor will be notified when it is ready and then the department will forward it to the student).
Immediately following the oral exam
- Confirm that every committee member has signed the examination report form and marked their grade (“Pass” or “Fail”) on the form.
- Make sure the chairperson indicates the examination date and any post-examination conditions that may have been made by the committee.
- Submit the signed examination report form to the graduate program coordinator within two business days of the exam.
A few weeks after the oral exam
- The UIC Graduate College will confirm your passing of preliminary exam and send a doctoral candidacy letter to the biomedical engineering department.
- The graduate program coordinator will notify you that your candidacy letter has been received.
Note: After students pass the preliminary examination, they are not intended to defend their dissertation until at least a year has elapsed, to allow appropriate time for research and writing a paper of the expected quality level. Students who plan to defend their dissertation before a year has elapsed must submit an online Graduate Student Petition requesting an exemption from the one-year minimum requirement.
Students must be in good academic standing to take the preliminary exam.
Students must be registered for academic credit during the term when they take the preliminary exam. This includes the summer term, if students are taking the preliminary exam during the summer. Following the preliminary exam, students must register each semester (excluding summer) until successfully defending the dissertation.
If all coursework and research hours are complete after the preliminary exam, and no assistantship, fellowship, or tuition waiver is applied, students can petition for zero-hour registration using the online Graduate Student Petition.