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The Graduate School Handbook

Preliminary Written Examination

Typically around April of the first year, BBSP students officially choose the Neuroscience Curriculum as their PhD program when they choose a corresponding thesis lab. Late in the summer at the end of year 1 (~August), Neuroscience PhD students are assigned a publication/reading that is the basis of the preliminary written PhD exam. Students are given a week to read the paper and any other materials they need to write a concise, yet insightful summary critique of the scientific work. After one additional week there is an in person examination of the student with a small committee.  This in person final oral exam date is typically scheduled as early as possible in the Fall Semester of year 2, to have limited overlap with required Year 2 courses. Detailed preliminary exam instructions: NBIO_PreLimexam_format_details

Report of Doctoral Committee Composition

By January 30th of the 2nd year at UNC (~5 months after passing the preliminary written exam) students are expected to form their thesis committees. This is a goal not an absolute deadline! If you need another 60-90 days (or more) just email the student services manager. We agree with the University that students should ideally form committees before their first meeting to ensure the committee composition complies with University rules. Thesis committees can be changed at any time at the discretion of the student and thesis advisor with DGS approval, so even if the student is not completely certain of the committee, it can easily be changed later. The form only requires the DGS signature and names/roles on the committee.  The Chair of the committee cannot be your thesis advisor and should be a member of the Neuroscience Curriculum. If your science changes later, don’t worry you can change your committee at any time. The University rules for a thesis committee are that the “majority” of faculty members must be from the degree granting curriculum with a minimum of 5 total faculty members. Most of the time students do have 5 faculty members on a committee (scheduling becomes more difficult with more members). You must have at least 3 Regular Neuroscience Curriculum faculty from this page:

List of Primary or Affiliate Neuroscience Curriculum Faculty 

“Preliminary” Oral Examination/Approval of Dissertation Project

By the end of the Fall Semester (December) of the third year (approximately 1 year after the preliminary written exam) students are expected to defend their thesis proposal. This exam tests the student’s knowledge and ability to think and defend ideas as much or more than it is evaluating experimental data. Students (and PIs) always want more data, but data is only a small part of the exam; how you think, defend, and formulate experiments and hypotheses, and how you would evaluate results is a larger component than the data you have. If a student can submit a grant/fellowship they should certainly be able to pass the oral exam. In rare cases, if a student cannot schedule a defense by this time, they should schedule a “meet and greet” thesis committee meeting using this deadline.  In this rare case, the student should schedule a defense as soon as possible after the meet and greet meeting occurs.

Ideally the written exam should be given to the committee at least 2 weeks before the meeting. The general form should follow an NRSA fellowship and contain Specific Aims, Background/Significance/Rationale, Preliminary Studies, Research (Experimental) Design, and References. Under no circumstance should the written proposal be longer than 10 single spaced pages, excluding references. Headings, subheadings, strategic spacing, and other formatting elements to increase readability are strongly encouraged. The document should NOT contain budgets, personnel, funding nor resources. However, the committee may ask about feasibility of projects including resources. If for some reason the thesis work deviates extensively from what was successfully defended, the student should schedule a committee meeting as soon as possible to inform the committee about the changes.

In general, students must have thesis committee meetings at least once every 12 months beginning Fall of their 3rd year or whenever they pass their oral exam, whichever is sooner.

Report of Final Oral Examination (“Thesis defense”) and Report of Final Dissertation

The Report of Final Dissertation (the written document) and the Final Oral Exam (oral thesis defense) are two separate events (and separate sections for committee signatures) for the Graduate School. For the Neuroscience Curriculum the Final Oral Exam is itself generally divided into two parts as well: the closed meeting defense and a later open public seminar. The student should give the committee the written thesis at least 2 weeks before their closed private meeting defense. It is in the student’s best interest to get the written thesis to the committee as early as possible, so suggested edits can be incorporated sooner rather than later. At the private committee meeting defense the student will be questioned extensively and judged for mastery of the thesis material. If the committee deliberates and decides the student is meritorious to proceed then the student should schedule the public seminar defense and notify the student services manager to help publicize the event. Between these two meetings the student should edit the written thesis to incorporate suggestions.  The public defense (seminar) is also followed by a brief closed session with additional questions from the committee and any fine tuning suggestions for the written thesis. The earlier the student gets the written thesis to the committee, the more likely that thesis can be accepted as a final document at the public defense. The student services manager should be informed before the public defense also to provide the appropriate signatory forms to the student beforehand. Although the Graduate School is very particular for formatting the thesis, the committee in consultation with the student determine the content and organization.

Graduate School Thesis Components 

Graduate Career Documents

You do not need to have the forms below; the student services manager keeps a hard copy on file during your PhD career and will provide them (with signatures) for each event. Do immediately give newly signed versions to the student services manager to file and record with the graduate school. Do let the student services manager know when you are having a thesis exam event to get the proper form to bring to the meeting.