Degree Advancement

Qualifying Exam Part I

The Part I qualifying exam is intended to assess the general/background knowledge of students and their ability to integrate it to answer biological questions at the end of the first year. It is an ~8-hour written, closed-book exam consisting essay-type questions. Each student chooses 10 of the questions to answer, and must pass overall (≥ 70/100) and pass (≥ 7/10) on at least 7 of the chosen questions.

Those who do not pass are handled on a case-by-case basis by the Executive Committee, but they may be required to do an oral retake or may be terminated from the program.

Any answers to questions on which a student did not pass (< 7/10) must be retained by the student and corrected for the Part II exam in their second year.

Please see Part IV, Section E1 of the BCDB Guidelines for more detailed information.

Qualifying Exam Part II

This examination is designed to assess your ability to integrate different aspects of the first two years of graduate training: including lab work, data interpretation, hypothesis development, research design, presentation of research, and all other course work.

You are responsible for scheduling the exam meeting. See the committee meeting section for scheduling advice. The exam should last no longer than 2.5 hours.

Two weeks prior to the exam, you must prepare and submit to the exam committee revised answers to any questions from the Part I exam on which you didn't pass (≤ 7/10) and your dissertation proposal, which is typically a modified/updated version of the proposal you developed in grants class. These materials do not factor into the exam grade, but may be used as a source of questions.

The exam is conducted by your dissertation committee and consists of a 15-minute presentation of your proposed research project, followed by at least one round of questioning by the members of the committee. Your advisor will not participate in the questioning, and if your committee does not include a member of the Executive Committee, one must be invited to chair the meeting who will not otherwise participate.

Immediately after the exam, the committee will privately discuss and decide whether you have passed. You will called back in and informed of the result. In the case that you do not pass the exam, the Executive Committee may offer a retake or terminate you from the program. If you do not pass the retake exam, you will be terminated from the program but may be offered the opportunity to write a Master's thesis.

Please see Part IV, Section E1 of the BCDB Guidelines for more detailed information.

Advancing to Candidacy

Becoming a Ph.D. candidate is an important step in your graduate career. It means that you have demonstrated your commitment to the field and are poised to complete your dissertation and obtain the degree.

To advance to candidacy, you must have completed all required coursework, spent significant time in research, and passed your qualifying exams. If you are following the typical timeline and don't take any extra courses, you will be able to apply at the end of your third year. If you've taken an extra course, you'll have fewer research credits than you need, but you'll likely have those after the fall semester of your fourth year. See the BCDB Guidelines for details.

You are encouraged to apply for candidacy as soon as you meet the requirements.

Steps to Graduation

You've been conducting research for several years now and published at least one, but preferably two, first-author papers and it's time to wrap it up. Here's how you do it:

  1. Obtain permission from your committee to write your dissertation.
  2. You must have been a Ph.D. candidate for at least one semseter.
  3. Complete the Application for Degree and submit it to the GDBBS office before the deadline for the semester in which you intend to graduate. There is a $25 fee for a late application.
  4. Prepare and defend your dissertation (see below).
  5. Complete the Report of Completion of Requirements for Doctoral Degree and submit it to the GDBBS office (LINK).
  6. Submit your complete and final disseration to the LGS office.

Defending Your Dissertation

Writing and defending your dissertation is a very important process. Please refer to the BCDB Guidelines for more details.


You will schedule your dissertation defense just like a normal committee meeting. At this meeting, the committee must first unanimously approve the dissertation. After approval, the defense officially begins. Any deficiencies in the dissertation must be corrected in time for the public seminar.

Public Seminar

The public seminar is considered your first public debut and is a formal scientific presentation at which you are to publicly demonstrate your expertise and ability to communicate your research. After the presentation, the committee will meet briefly to evaluate the seminar and provide feedback. Finally, the committee will provide final approval that all the degree requirements have been completed.

The seminar must be held at least two weeks after the private defense. If you would like to hold the seminar in a School of Medicine auditorium (Whitehead, WHSCAB), talk to your departmental secretary to help you reserve the room. The Rollins School of Public Health also has several nice larger rooms, including the Rita Anne Rollins Room and the Rollins Auditorium.

As this is your public debut, the seminar must also be publicly advertised to the Emory University community. This includes preparing a flyer and sending it to the Program Administrator in electronic format at least 2 weeks prior to the seminar.