The oral exam will test the student’s ability to reason analytically, develop ideas and defend the scientific premise of the proposal. The emphasis will be on hypothesis testing, scientific reasoning, experimental design, and general knowledge in the field of Immunology. The student should be familiar with the relevant background literature leading to their hypothesis and the important basic concepts of the experimental approaches that will be used. Students should also be familiar with the theoretical basis, appropriateness and limitations of each technique proposed, to address the hypothesis being tested.
Detailed knowledge of protocols, such as buffer ingredients or incubation times are not important, unless they are vital to the interpretation of the results. For example, if ELISPOT technology is proposed to measure cytokine levels, students will be expected to know how the assay works, whether ELISPOT is the best approach to address the question, and the limitations of using ELISPOT measurements. Students are not expected to know details such as compositions of ELISPOT buffers or the incubation time for a particular step (unless it is a critical parameter for the assay in question). In contrast, if one were studying ion channels, one would be expected to know the ion concentrations in the buffers.
2. Exam Format
- ~5 minutes for discussion of the student's record (in the absence of the student)
- ~15 minutes (largely uninterrupted), for the student's presentation of the FULL proposal (including all Aims and the brief description of the methods), using a powerpoint file and screen sharing (if the exam is virtual),
- ~1 hour of questions based on the prelim proposal (verbal only)
- ~25 minutes of general immunology questions
- ~10 minutes of committee deliberation (without the student)
- ~5 minutes of final committee's discussions of results with the student
At the start of the examination the student will be asked to leave the room for a few minutes to allow the exam committee to discuss the student’s record, how the examination will proceed, and any potential concerns. The student will return to the room and present a 15-minute overview of their project. The first part of the exam will center around the proposal and could relate to any element of the proposal-hypothesis, significance, and Aims, including details of the proposed experiments and expected results. Students will have the opportunity to practice their preliminary exam overview presentation during their IMM 815 seminar presentation.
Students can also practice this 15 minute overview with their PIs and labs (getting feedback from them).
The members of the committee may ask for points of clarification during the student’s presentation but should allow the student to complete his/her overview (15 minutes maximum) prior to more in-depth questioning.
Subsequently there will be questions pertaining to general knowledge of the field of Immunology. Hence, the student should have a good grasp of general immunology, based on their classes (640, 641, 850, 541). It is highly recommended that the student be familiar with all topics listed in the Immunology Review Outline, which is provided by the program. Approximately 25 minutes of the 90-minute exam will be devoted toward questioning the student’s understanding of immunologic principles.
3. Evaluation of oral exam
After the oral exam, the student will be asked to leave the room. The chair will solicit comments from everybody on the committee, and make recommendations for a pass, fail, or conditional pass (if the latter, with specific suggestions for remediation). The committee will communicate comments about the exam and the results to the student in a constructive way. The chair will also summarize the committee member comments and provide these in written form to the Immunology office, along with the decision for a pass, fail, or conditional pass (if the latter, with specific suggestions for remediation), and the individual committee member evaluations of the written components (which should be sent to the chair).
Thus, the options for the Committee are:
- Pass - no additional work is needed from the student at this stage; student will be admitted to candidacy
- Conditional Pass - The student will need to perform some work in an additional area that is identified by the committee. The recommended remediation option should first be discussed with the Director(s) before communication to the student, within a few days following the prelim. The student can be admitted to candidacy either before or after completing the remediation, based on the nature of the required remediation. Some remediation requirements that have recently been implemented include rewrites of specific parts of the proposal, auditing of a general immunology class, study of review articles in relevant areas of knowledge deficiencies and answering related questions in a 2nd oral exam within 3-4 weeks, presenting an article at journal club in a relevant area of knowledge deficiency.
- Fail - The committee finds the student's performance unacceptable and this is relayed to the student at the end of the prelim and to the Director(s). The committee will write up a description of the deficiencies identified during the prelim and send this to the Director(s) to decide the next course of action. Actions include retaking the prelim, re-taking a portion of the prelim, taking coursework for remediation with a minimum grade earned, or other options. The general expectation is that the student will not be admitted to candidacy until the deficiency is resolved.
The Chair will submit a written report of the consensus majority opinion. If there are dissenting opinions with the consensus view, the member(s) with the dissent are asked to express their concerns to the Program Directors directly, and these concerns should also be fully discussed with other committee members at the meeting. If the dissenting opinion is the Chair’s, another committee member can summarize the consensus view. It is generally expected that all students will take the exam during the same 2-week period, which will be different for MSTP or dual PhD-MS students (these students will make individual arrangements with the Program for scheduling their prelim exam).
Oral Exam Evaluation: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zA14_N_lliA348wfwgtc1oaiNVXx8Qz5/view?usp=sharing
After the examination, the appointed Chair of the student’s Preliminary Exam Committee will advise the Student Services Coordinator and the Program Director(s) of the results. Upon successful completion of the exam, and assuming all other requirements are met, the Program Director(s) will approve the student’s Advancement to Candidacy form, which will be electronically sent to Rackham.