Constitution of qualifying examination committee

The qualifying examination committee consists of a chair and three other faculty members.

  • At least two members of the committee must be members of the program faculty.
  • A student may petition to include one non-UCSF faculty member as a member of the committee.
  • We recommend that the Chair of the Committee be a member of the BMI Program.
  • The choice of committee members is the responsibility of the student, in consultation with their research advisor.
  • Neither the research advisor nor other faculty members who have significantly contributed to the supervision of the proposed research may be members of the oral qualifying examination committee.

Preparation of written proposal

Preparation for the examination should allow sufficient time for the candidate’s research proposal to be reviewed by the research advisor, the committee chair, and each committee member. While the format of the written proposal is not specified, it is useful to follow the outline used in grants and papers:

  • Introduction to the problem with discussion of prior work in the field
  • Specific aims or research goals
  • Methods of reaching the goals
  • Possible conclusions or future work
  • The CCB program requires a section of your proposal that discusses the rigor, ethics, and reproducibility of your project.


Students should allow enough time for reading and reviewing materials that supports their research project while writing their proposal. It is not necessary for students to learn everything. Rather, preparation should be aimed at gathering the material and concepts needed for a serious technical discussion of the merits of the proposal, the anticipated problems to be solved, and the overall importance of the project. A firm understanding of basic concepts is often as important as the details of the research proposal.

Preliminary data

Students often ask how much preliminary data they must generate before taking the oral examination. An assessment of the readiness of each student is a matter for discussion among the student, the research advisor, and the chair of the committee, with input from other committee members when appropriate. However, the student and committee members should remember that this is a qualifying examination, not a report on a substantially completed thesis project.

Practice orals

Most candidates find it helpful to have practice oral examinations, with the participation of fellow students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members who are not members of the examination committee. Proposals and presentations are frequently modified based on the practice orals.

Oral examination protocol

Once all program requirements are fulfilled and the student is ready to take the oral examination, the student finalizes selection of the qualifying examination committee and sets a date for the examination. By the end of Winter quarter of year 2, the program manager should be notified of the committee composition and fields for examination. At that time, the Application for Qualifying Exam form should be submitted to the graduate program manager.


2-6 months before the oral examination, students must:

  • Consult with the research advisor and potential committee members.
  • Select fields for examination.
  • Set the date and time for examination and request a room for the examination.
  • Begin preparation of the written proposal. Share copy of proposal with committee 2 weeks prior to exam. Allow a few days and then request feedback.
  • Begin practice examinations.