Doctoral Written Qualifying Examination (WQE)

The Written Qualifying Examination (WQE) must take place in the summer following the first year of doctoral study. In order to be eligible to take the WQE, students must have achieved at least two passing lab rotation evaluations, as well as at least a B average in all course work. Students are expected to formulate a testable research question and answer it, by carrying out a small, well-defined and focused project over a fixed one-month period. It must include the development of novel bioinformatic methodology. The topic and methodologies are to be selected by the student. The topic requires advance approval by the faculty committee, and may not be a project from a previous course, a rotation project, a project related to the student’s prior research experience, an anticipated dissertation research topic, or an active or anticipated research project in the laboratory of the student’s mentor. The WQE must be the student’s own ideas and work exclusively. Students are expected to complete a WQE paper of publication quality (except for originality), with a maximum length of 10 pages, single-spaced, excluding figures and references. This paper is submitted to the Student Affairs Office and graded by a faculty committee on a pass or no-pass basis. Students who do not pass the examination are permitted one additional opportunity to pass, which can take place no later than the end of the summer of the first year.  Some samples of previous WQEs are: Sample1, Sample2, and Sample3.


Doctoral Oral Qualifying Examination (OQE)

The doctoral Oral Qualifying Examination must be passed before the student can be advanced to candidacy. To be eligible to take the OQE, the student must have completed all coursework, have a formally constituted Doctoral Committee, and have completed and passed the WQE requirement. Students are expected to take and pass the OQE by the end of the Fall Quarter of their third year.

The OQE consists of two components:

  1. A written description of the scientific background of the dissertation research project, the specific aims of the project, a description of preliminary findings and a research plan for addressing the specific aims. The proposal should be 6 pages, excluding references and figures, and should follow the format of an NIH R21, or NSF grant proposal.  The dissertation proposal is then submitted to the student’s doctoral committee at least 10 days in advance of the scheduled Oral Qualifying Examination. A hard copy of the proposal is also to be submitted to the Bioinformatics Graduate Student Affairs Office.
  2. An oral presentation of the proposal by the student to the committee. The student’s oral presentation and examination are expected to demonstrate all of the following:
    1. A scholarly understanding of the background of the dissertation proposal
    2. At least three major specific aims that are well-designed and testable, and which reflect the development of a systematic approach to the posed research question(s) and its (their) solution(s).  The specific aims can include work already in progress.
    3. That the student can interpret the results of the planned approach concisely and rigorously
    4. An understanding of potential outcomes and their interpretation, framed both within the context of the system in question and of other related biological systems
    5. If the proposed research involves the development of an application or methodology, why the results would be important for any expert in that area of bioinformatics.

The OQE is chaired by the student’s thesis advisor, and conducted by their Doctoral Committee. Only one committee member (never the Chair or Co-Chair) may participate remotely in an oral qualifying examination or final oral examination (defense of the dissertation). Remote participation must be a matter of necessity rather than convenience.

The oral exam should be scheduled for two hours or more. The student leaves at the beginning of the exam to allow the faculty advisor to summarize the student’s progress, and again at the end to allow the committee to decide whether the student has successfully completed the exam.

The Doctoral Committee determines whether or not the student has passed the Oral Qualifying Examination.  In the event of failure, the Oral Qualifying Examination may be repeated only once.

At the time of the doctoral Oral Qualifying Examination, all members of the Doctoral Committee must indicate their willingness to serve as Certifying Members (i.e. agree to read and approve the student’s final thesis before it is filed).

Basic Steps for Students are as Follows:

  1. Meet with your PI to confirm that you are ready to complete your Oral Qualifying Exam
  2. Ask each faculty member to serve on your doctoral committee and receive oral or emailed confirmation that they each agree
  3. Complete the Nomination of Doctoral Committee Form from the UCLA Graduate Division’s website
  4. Return the completed form to the Student Affairs Officer at least 3 weeks prior to the date you plan to take your OQE
  5. Confirm a common date and time that you and your committee can meet for your OQE
  6. Reserve a room
  7. Notify the Student Affairs Officer of the date, time, and location of your OQE
  8. At least 10 days prior to your scheduled date, provide your committee with your written dissertation proposal
  9. Turn in a copy of your dissertation proposal to the Student Affairs Officer
  10. On the day of the OQE, your committee chair should come to the Student Affairs Office to collect your file
  11. Immediately after your OQE, your committee will sign the OQE form in your file to indicate if you have passed or not passed your OQE
  12. Once your OQE is completed, one of your committee members must return your file & OQE form to the Student Affairs Office
  13. The necessary paperwork will be submitted to the UCLA Graduate Division the next business day
  14. If you have passed your OQE, the UCLA Graduate Division will Advance you to Candidacy.  This will classify you as a PhD Candidate and will waive your Non-Resident Tuition for 9 quarters (if applicable).

Doctoral Committee Meetings

After completion of the OQE and advancement to candidacy, students are expected to meet with their Doctoral Committee each year. These yearly meetings provide additional interactions between the Doctoral Committee and the student; they serve as an important barometer for the progress of the student’s research, as an avenue for advice regarding new approaches or directions re possible an impasses, or regarding how much work remains for the dissertation to be considered complete. Should schedule coordination prove difficult, students may accomplish these yearly doctoral committee meetings via individual meetings with their committee members.

Each yearly meeting requires the signatures of the Doctoral Committee members on the appropriate form, in order to monitor and track the student’s progress in their dissertation research and time-to-degree.

Other Requirements

After joining a lab (starting in the second year of graduate study), each student is required to present a poster at the annual Program Retreat during the Winter Quarter.