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Appendix A: Preliminary Exam

The purpose of the preliminary examination is to provide the PhD student’s examining committee the information it deems necessary to determine whether the student is qualified and ready to undertake or continue the dissertation research that is required for the PhD degree.

The schedule for PhD students in Sociology to take the preliminary examination is not fixed. However, to remain in good standing students must complete the exam successfully by the end of their 5th semester in the PhD program.

The student selects an examining committee, which is normally composed of the same four faculty members who make up the student’s PhD advisory committee. In cases where one of these faculty members is unavailable or unwilling to participate, the preliminary exam may be conducted with an examining committee of only three faculty members. The examining committee is responsible for the exam and any procedures it deems appropriate for evaluating it.

A PhD Plan of Study must be submitted to the Graduate School for approval at least four weeks before the oral portion of the preliminary exam is scheduled. The student must have an approved POS on file with the Graduate School before the oral portion of the preliminary exam is scheduled.

The oral portion of the exam should be scheduled by the major professor after consulting with the members of the examining committee. Either the student or the major professor must notify the graduate program secretary no less than three weeks prior to the proposed oral exam date.

The preliminary examination must be evaluated and passed in its entirety. It consists of three related components: a PhD dissertation proposal, a set of take‐home exam questions to be completed within seven days, and an oral defense of both written portions of the exam (i.e., the proposal and the take‐home). The examining committee prepares the take‐home questions.

The dissertation proposal is similar in format to a proposal prepared for submission to an external funding agency or foundation, such as National Science Foundation, the Lilly Foundation, or the National Institutes of Health. The dissertation proposal includes a statement of the problem, a discussion of the significance of the problem, a literature review, a theory section, and a methods section.

The take‐home exam questions are given to the student approximately two weeks after the dissertation proposal is submitted to the examining committee. The questions may cover (1) the dissertation proposal, and (2) a substantive area of specialization within the discipline of sociology. Questions about the dissertation proposal will require the student to demonstrate a clear understanding of the methods of the proposed project, the theoretical foundation that will guide the inquiry, and how the proposed project is related to an extant body of literature.

Questions on the substantive area will ask the student to demonstrate an understanding of a body of knowledge (including theory, methods, and empirical research) in a particular field. Examples of substantive areas include aging and the life course, family, politics and economy, stratification, race, urban sociology, gender, or social change.

The major professor signs an electronic Request for Appointment of Examining Committee (Graduate School Form 8) to be submitted to the Graduate School. The oral exam cannot be held during the last week of classes. All requests for appointment of an examining committee must be made to the Graduate School at least three weeks before the oral exam is scheduled.

The oral portion of the exam has two goals: (1) to give a student the opportunity to respond to any specific questions about the dissertation proposal or the take‐home portion of the exam that are raised by any or all members of the examining committee; and (2) to give the student’s examining committee an opportunity to evaluate how well the individual responds to questions about the dissertation project or related literatures.

The Report of the Preliminary Examination (GS Form 10) is electronically signed by the examining committee immediately following the oral portion of the exam. The report indicates that the exam was “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” Three members of the examining committee must evaluate the exam, in its entirety, as “satisfactory” for the student to be recommended for PhD candidacy (i.e., only one member of the advisory committee may evaluate the exam as “unsatisfactory” for the student to pass.) If the report is favorable, the Graduate School reclassifies the student as a PhD candidate. If the report is unfavorable, the examining committee may recommend that the student be permitted to request a second examination.  One semester must elapse before student may retake the exam.  A student may not be given a third exam, except upon the recommendation of the examining committee and with special approval of the Graduate Council at the Graduate School.

Approval or decision to exempt from review by the Purdue’s Committee on the Use of Human Research Subjects must be presented to the major professor and Director of Graduate Studies before data collection or analysis begin. If the student will be using data from a project that has already been given IRB approval, no additional IRB submission is required.   Further, the CITI Certification must be current. Complete information about the Purdue Committee on the Use of Human Research Subjects and all forms can be found at Students and/or the major professor should give the graduate program secretary copies of the e-mails sent from the IRB to the major professor indicating approval of the research plan or exemption from review so that these can be kept on file.