Preliminary Examination

After completing their coursework, students take the preliminary exam during their second year. The preliminary examination tests the student’s ability to reason analytically and to develop scientific questions and experimental approaches. Students are expected to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the research problem, and the ability to design experiments to address the questions. The emphasis is on hypothesis testing and experimental design, as well as general knowledge in the field of cancer biology.

The exam consists of a written proposal and oral exam. 

Written Proposal

The student will prepare a “Commentary” or "News & Views" type document of roughly 750 words on an assigned paper recently published in the cancer research field. In the piece, the student will prepare an introduction to the paper and particularly the major topic/topics covered in the paper in question, so that others not intimately familiar with the specifics of the paper can understand the necessary background for the work and will have a big picture sense of the field from reading this portion of your "News & Views" piece. 

The student will then critically comment on how the studies and findings in the paper have advanced knowledge in the specific research field in question and the cancer research field generally, emphasizing the major new conclusions and impact of the paper.  

Finally, in the last third of the piece, the student will discuss some potential new directions and experimental studies that would be likely and promising avenues to extend the findings and conclusions offered in the paper in question.

The student’s written document will be submitted one week in advance of the Oral Presentation.

The Preliminary Exam Committee may vote to reject a poorly written proposal prior to the oral exam, providing a clear rationale for the rejection. If the written proposal is rejected, the student has one week to revise the proposal, address concerns and provide a revised proposal to the Exam Committee.

Oral Examination

The student will have a 120 min oral examination focusing on the paper in question and their News and Views piece. They should prepare a well-focused PowerPoint presentation that provides an overview of the topic and assigned paper and the written piece submitted. Much of the examination will include in-depth questions from the review team about their general knowledge of the topic and the studies and data in the research paper in question, and especially their research plan, including the relevant experimental approaches and the likely results and potential pitfalls of their plans to extend on the published work.