BME Graduate Program: Ph.D.

Overview   ||   Qualifying exam   ||   Comprehensive exam   ||   Dissertation defense


Ph.D. program overview

Students who have earned a baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate degree in engineering or in a related field such as mathematical, physical, or life sciences are eligible to be considered for admission to the Ph.D. program if they have a minimum grade point average of 3.25 out of 4.00, and have attained an acceptable score on the Graduate Record Examination (typically, a combined score of 310 for Verbal and Quantitative). Students may, under exceptional circumstances, be considered for conditional admission with a lower grade point average and GRE scores.

The doctoral program, including acceptable transfer credits, requires a minimum of 72 semester hours of core courses, elective courses and dissertation research. Of these, at least 42 semester hours must be graduate level courses and at least 12 semester hours must be dissertation research. The core courses required of all graduate students are provided in the Graduate Curriculum and Policies page. The elective courses are expected to conform to the candidate’s chosen research focus and determined at the discretion of his/her examining committee. In addition, doctoral candidates are expected to pass a qualifying exam, a comprehensive exam and a final dissertation defense, all of which are evaluated by his/her examining committee. Admission to the Ph.D. program is conditional until the student successfully completes the qualifying examination.
 
Research advisor/mentor: The research mentor is a faculty member who will guide the candidate in their dissertation research, managing the administration of exams (qualifying exam, comprehensive exam and dissertation defense), often providing financial support and in guiding the candidate toward a chosen career path upon graduation. Identifying a research mentor is one of the most important and indispensable steps for a Ph.D. candidate. Therefore, the earlier a research mentor is identified, the better. Indeed, most Ph.D. candidates identify and have communicated with their research mentor even before starting their doctoral studies. All students seeking a Ph.D. are encouraged to identify their research mentor within the first semester of graduate studies.
 
Academic advisor: The academic advisor is a BME primary faculty member who will guide the candidate on general academic requirements of their graduate studies including the approval of courses for registration. If the research mentor is a BME primary faculty, then he/she will also serve as academic advisor. However, if the research mentor is not a BME primary faculty member, an academic advisor from BME will be assigned to the candidate (or may be chosen by the candidate).
 
Examining committee: The examining committee is a group of faculty members formed specifically to guide and evaluate the candidate on the qualifying exam, comprehensive exam and dissertation defense. The graduate student should form the Ph.D. examining committee in consultation with his/her research mentor (who will chair the examining committee). It should consist of at least five faculty members and satisfy the following:
  • At least four committee members must be members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty;
  • At least one committee member must be a BME faculty member who is eligible to be an academic advisor;
  • At least two committee members must be faculty members who hold any appointment in BME (i.e., primary or affiliated BME faculty); and
  • The chair of the examining committee must hold an appointment in BME (i.e., primary or affiliated) and is a member of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty.

 

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Ph.D. qualifying exam

The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam (QE) is the first of three exams administered by the candidate's examining committee. The examining committee will seek to assess whether the graduate student is prepared to begin research in his/her chosen area of focus toward a Ph.D. degree. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program are expected to take the ‘standard qualifying exam’ at the end of the first year. Students in the University of Iowa BME MS thesis program who intend to pursue Ph.D. in BME may choose to make their ‘MS thesis defense as qualifying examination’.

Standard qualifying exam: The standard QE is for students who have been admitted to the BME Ph.D. program. In this exam, a committee of faculty members will assess the graduate student’s ability to solve an open-ended problem in his/her chosen area of research focus. In a standard QE,

  • The chair of the graduate student's examining committee will develop the question(s) for the qualifying exam in consultation with the student’s examining committee. The questions should seek to evaluate the student’s ability to address open-ended problems in his/her area of intended thesis research. Sample question(s) from earlier QEs may be used as a guide.
  • The examining committee chair will provide the approved question(s) to the student by email with a copy to all other examining committee members and to the department office at bme@engineering.uiowa.edu.
  • The student is expected to respond to the question(s) with a report and an oral presentation within a period of approximately three months or as specified by the examining committee. In preparing the response, the student may not consult with or obtain input from the members of his/her examining committee.
  • The student should schedule a date and time for the oral examination. The response report should be provided to the examining committee members at least one week prior to the oral exam.
  • A typical oral exam will involve a 20-30 minute presentation by the student followed by questions and answers session (Q&A) with the examining committee and ending with a vote by committee members to pass or fail.
  • The student will be considered to have passed the QE if a majority of the members vote to pass. If the student fails the QE, he/she can take the exam one more time at a suitable date determined by the committee.
  • Graduate students should seek to take their QE by the end of their first year or beginning of their second year after admission to the Ph.D. program. Typically, the question(s) should be provided to the student by the end of the Spring Semester or beginning of summer semester of the first year of study. Students will typically schedule their oral examination for the end-summer or early-fall semester. It is important that the time taken between receiving the question(s) and the date of oral examination be approximately three months. The committee will consider timeliness of the student’s response in its evaluation.

MS thesis defense as qualifying exam: Students enrolled in the MS thesis program who seek to pursue Ph.D. degree in BME may choose to make their MS thesis defense as the qualifying examination. In a combined MS thesis defense/qualifying exam,

  • The thesis/examining committee composition should satisfy all requirements of the standard QE examining committee.
  • The five-member examining committee will evaluate the student’s MS thesis effort and performance in voting on both the MS thesis defense and QE as well.
  • Passing of both the MS thesis defense and the QE will require a majority of the five-member committee to vote to pass.
  • The vote on the MS thesis defense is independent of the vote on the QE exam. Therefore, the examining committee has the right to vote to fail one while passing the other.
Required documentation: Before taking the qualifying exam (both standard and MS thesis defense), the graduate student should complete the QE report form. Upon completion of the QE, the student must have the necessary form signed by the faculty committee members and submit it to the department office. Relevant forms may be downloaded from the BME Graduate Program Forms and Documents page.

 

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Ph.D. comprehensive exam

The Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam (CE) is the second of three exams that graduate students in Biomedical Engineering will have to pass toward obtaining their Ph.D. degree. The CE exam, administered by the candidate’s examining committee will evaluate the candidate’s proposed Ph.D. dissertation project plan. Ph.D. candidates who have passed their qualifying exam typically take their CE at the end of the year three or early during year four of their graduate studies. The CE includes the submission of a report and an oral examination. According to Graduate College policy, the comprehensive exam must be satisfactorily completed not later than the session prior to the session of graduation.
 
Role of research mentor: The candidate’s research mentor will chair the examining committee. Unlike in the qualifying exam, it is expected that the candidate’s research mentor will work with and assist in preparing him/her for the comprehensive exam.
 
Examining committee: The Ph.D. candidate is expected to retain the same examining committee as the one that evaluated and passed him/her for qualifying examination. Changes to committee composition are permitted where justified by the dissertation project goals. In either case, the CE examining committee should conform to the requirements above.
 
Comprehensive exam report: The candidate is expected to prepare a CE report in the format of a research proposal laying out the proposed dissertation project plan. The proposal should include the following:
  • Title page: Student name; Committee members and their academic departments; Committee chairman (research adviser).
  • Research proposal: Specific Aims; Background and Significance; Preliminary Studies (optional, but recommended); Research Plan (include expected results and their significance, and a discussion of potential pitfalls / workarounds).
  • Timeline: Give a specific schedule for the completion of the proposed studies, with explicit reference to the work proposed in the Research Plan.
  • Bibliography: A complete list of cited references.
There are no space limitations, but typical proposals do not exceed 25 pages (11-point font; single-spaced; including all figures and tables, but not including references). The examining committee may provide the candidate with additional format instructions. Alternatively, with the candidate's examining committee chair's approval, the comprehensive report may also follow the National Institutes of Health R01 proposal format (specifically NIH SF424 R&R Application – Research Strategy section). The CE report should be submitted to the examining committee at least 10 days prior to the scheduled oral examination date.
 
Comprehensive exam administration: During the oral comprehensive examination, the candidate will present his/her research plan to the examining committee followed by a question and answer session. At the discretion of the committee, a closed Q&A session (i.e., only the candidate and the committee members) may also be conducted. Upon completion, the committee will convene in private and vote to pass or fail the candidate based on the merits of the proposed dissertation project plan. The committee may also recommend changes to the candidate’s dissertation project plan.
 
Required documentation: At least two weeks before the scheduled oral comprehensve exam, the candidate should submit the 'Doctoral plan of study' and 'Request and Report for comprehensive examination' form to the BME office. The report of comprehensive examination form will be available in the candidate's file at the BME office while the request form and plan of study will be forwarded to the Graduate College. Prior to the oral CE, the chair of the examining committee (or another committee member) should pick up the candidate's file from the dept. office and bring it to the exam. Upon completion of the comprehensive exam, the committee chair should have the report of comprehensive examination form signed by all the members and return it to the department office. Relevant forms may be downloaded from the BME Graduate Program Forms and Documents page.
 
After passing the comprehensive exam:
  • Doctoral candidates should strive to conform to the approved project goals and timeline for their dissertation project and communicate with their research mentor and examining committee when substantive changes are anticipated.
  • Post-comp students should register for seminar each semester, but may request an attendance waiver for the graduate seminar (obtain the waiver form from BME Graduate Program Forms and Documents page) for up to two semesters, although they are strongly recommended to keep themselves informed of seminar activities and attend as needed.
  • Post-comp students who have completed 72 credit hours, may do ‘continuous registration’ for 2 semester hours and maintain full-time status. Obtain the necessary waiver form from the Dept. office or refer to graduate college policies on continuous registration.
 
 

Ph.D. dissertation defense (final exam)

The dissertation defense is the final examination for the awarding of a doctoral degree and defines the culmination of years of dissertation research by the candidate. As with the QE and CE, the dissertation defense will also be administered by the candidate's examining committee. In the typical case, graduate students have their dissertation defense about 4 to 5 years after starting graduate studies.
 
Role of research mentor: The candidate’s research mentor will chair the examining committee. As with the comprehensive exam, it is expected that the candidate’s research mentor will work with and assist in preparing him/her for the dissertation defense.
 
Examining committee: The Ph.D. candidate is expected to retain the same examining committee as the one that evaluated and passed him/her for the comprehensive examination. Changes to committee composition are only permitted when strongly justified such as when one of the members has moved from the University. Irrespective, the examining committee should conform to the requirements above.
 
Dissertation report: The dissertation report must conform to the instructions in the graduate college thesis manual. The report must be submitted to the examining committee members at least 10 days before the date of the dissertation defense.
 
Dissertation defense (oral): An oral defense in front of the examining committee must be scheduled. It is expected to be an open event. In typical cases, the candidate will present his/her dissertation project effort and findings followed by a Q&A session. At the discretion of the examining committee, a private Q&A session (i.e., only the candidate and the committee members) may be conducted. The examining committee will then convene in private, discuss and vote to pass or fail the candidate. The student will be considered to have passed the dissertation defense if a majority of the members vote to pass. If the student fails the defense, he/she may retake it at the discretion of the examining committee.
 
Required documentation: At least two weeks before the dissertation defense date, or by the Graduate College deadline (whichever falls earlier), the candidate should submit the 'Request and Report for final examination forms' to the BME main office. The report of final examination form will be available in the candidate's file at the BME office while the request for final examination will be forwarded to the Graduate College. Prior to the oral exam, the chair of the examining committee (or another committee member) should pick up the candidate's file from the dept. office and bring it to the defense. Upon completion of the defense, the committee chair should have the report of final examination form signed by all the members and return it to the department office. Relevant forms may be downloaded from the BME Graduate Program Forms and Documents page.
 
After passing the dissertation defense: Congrats! You've earned a rare honor. Now just a few more things to take care of:
  • Submit the dissertation report to the graduate college after making any final edits recommended by your examining committee.
  • All committee members have the right to examine corrected drafts as well as earlier drafts to assure that recommended changes have been made before the thesis is submitted to the Graduate College. 
  • Speak to the BME graduate program assistant in the department office regarding any additional loose ends with your graduation.
  • Update your information on BME-GETS - The BME Graduate Education Tracking System (login to ICON and look under the semester, "Ongoing").