Qualifying & Preliminary Exams


Department Of Physiology Policy ​Regarding the Qualifying Examination​

Physiology graduate students will take the Qualifying Examination within six months of completion of the medical physiology course for PhD students or within six months following entrance into the PhD portion for MD/PhD students. Students will consult with their primary mentor and the Graduate Student Committee to determine their readiness to schedule the Qualifying Examination. Students are encouraged to form their Dissertation Committee (see below) prior to or soon after the completion of the Qualifying Examination.  Students are strongly encouraged to be proactive and meet with individual faculty members to review depth and breadth of content to be covered on the qualifying exam.​

Part 1: Written Qualifying Examination​

Questions from all areas of physiology (neural, cardiovascular, pulmonary, renal, endocrine, gastrointestinal, etc.) will be solicited from the entire Department of Physiology faculty for the Written Qualifying Examination. These questions will be discussed and reformulated by the Physiology Graduate Program Committee (PGPC). The questions may be multi-layered, asking for basic information about physiological processes as well as questions on how experiments could be designed to address physiological questions. The student will answer 8 of 10 questions over a period of 2 days. Answers will be read by all members of the faculty and opinions submitted to the PGPC, which will then determine whether the student’s performance is satisfactory. Grading will be on a Pass/Fail basis. Students must pass Part 1 to progress to Part 2. At the discretion of the committee, a student will be allowed to retake the Written Qualifying Examination within a designated period of time.​

Part 2: Oral Qualifying Examination​

Upon successful completion of Part 1, a student will be given an Oral Qualifying Examination. All Department of Physiology faculty and members of the student’s Dissertation Committee (if formulated) will be invited to attend and ask questions, which may pertain to any area of physiology. Following the question-and-answer period, the PGPC will discuss the student’s performance, determine whether the student passed Part 2, and recommend further coursework if appropriate. Grading for this component will be based on general physiology knowledge, and the ability to respond to questions and integrate answers. Grading will be on a Pass/Fail basis. At the discretion of the committee, a student will be allowed to retake the Oral Qualifying Examination within a designated period of time.​

LSUHSC-NO Graduate Studies Policy Regarding the Dissertation Committee ​

The Dissertation (and Preliminary Examination committee) will ordinarily consist of the student's advisor and at least four other Graduate Faculty members. At least one member must be from another department and one member may be from outside the Health Sciences Center. ​

Department Of Physiology Policy Regarding the Dissertation Committee ​

Additionally, at least one Dissertation committee member must be from the Physiology Graduate Program Committee. Students are encouraged to form the Dissertation Committee prior to or soon after the completion of the Qualifying Examination. The Dissertation Committee will guide a student’s research, conduct the Preliminary Exam, and conduct the Dissertation Defense. The Dissertation Committee should meet with the graduate student regularly (2 times per year) to assess research progress and set benchmarks toward completing the PhD requirements. ​

LSUHSC-NO Graduate Studies Policy Regarding the Dissertation Committee and Conducting the Preliminary Exam​

The applicant becomes eligible for the Preliminary Examination after consulting with their primary mentor and the Graduate Student Committee to determine their readiness to schedule the Preliminary Examination but not less than one academic year (three consecutive semesters) before graduation. The student and their advisor, with the approval of the Department Head and the Dean, will petition to schedule the examination. Examination and defense request forms are available from the Student Affairs Office. ​

The Preliminary Examination committee will ordinarily consist of the student's advisor and at least four other Graduate Faculty members. At least one member must be from another department and one member may be from outside the Health Sciences Center. The Preliminary Examination is the most thorough in the PhD program. It should require the candidate to demonstrate competence in a broad segment of their research fields. Although the examination may be solely oral or written and oral, a written section is strongly recommended. If there is no more than one negative ballot out of a minimum of five, the student becomes a “candidate” after the Dean has been notified by the student's advisor and Department Head of successful completion of the Preliminary Examination.​

Department Of Physiology Policy Regarding the Dissertation Committee and Conducting the Preliminary Examination​

The applicant becomes eligible for the Preliminary Examination Students are encouraged to form the Dissertation Committee prior to or soon after the completion of the Qualifying Examination. It is recommended that the student begin the Preliminary Examination 12-18 months following the completion of the Qualifying Examination. The student will obtain a signature from the advisor and each member of the Dissertation Committee confirming the date of the scheduled Preliminary Exam prior to submitting the Request for Preliminary Examination form to the Department Head. At least two weeks prior to taking the written component of the Preliminary Exam, a “Request for Preliminary Examination” form should be submitted to the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. The Preliminary Exam will be conducted by the student’s Dissertation Committee and will consist of written and oral components.​

Preliminary Examination​

The Preliminary Exam is an opportunity to assess overall competence in physiology as it relates to the PhD candidate’s area of research. Rather than focusing on a general knowledge of physiology as tested in the Qualifying Exam, at this stage it is expected that the PhD candidate can demonstrate critical thinking and a substantial integration of their research topic and preliminary findings with broad physiological principles and mechanisms, as well as experimental design and alternative research approaches. The preliminary exam consists of two parts (written and oral), and its final evaluation is the sole responsibility of the student’s inter-departmental Dissertation Committee.​

Part 1: Written Preliminary Examination​

It is the student’s obligation and responsibility to be proactive and work very closely with each member of the Dissertation Committee in preparation for the Preliminary Exam. Each committee member will be provided exam guidelines and will be asked by the Physiology Graduate Program Coordinator to submit one essay-type question for the written portion. The Written Preliminary Examination will occur over two consecutive days beginning at 9:00 AM and ending at 5:00 PM. On the first day, students will be presented with half of the questions and will receive the other half of the question on the morning of the second day.  Students are expected to discuss their written exam performance with Dissertation Committee members prior to the oral examination.​

Part 2: Oral Preliminary Examination​

The oral portion of the exam will be conducted approximately two weeks after the written exam and is scheduled according to the availability of the Dissertation Committee and Physiology Department Chair.  A member of the Physiology Graduate Committee that does not serve on the student’s Research Committee will facilitate the oral exam. The oral portion of the exam will be open to the Physiology Graduate Faculty (Assistant to Full Professors), to which a one-page research topic summary will be provided before the oral exam. The oral exam will primarily consist of questions from Dissertation Committee members for a total duration of no more than ninety minutes. Following this period, non-Dissertation Committee faculty members in attendance will be allowed no more than thirty minutes to ask pertinent questions that allow for further demonstration of the student’s critical thinking skills and ability to integrate their physiology knowledge with major themes of the research topic, including experimental design and alternative research approaches.​

Evaluation of the Preliminary Examination

Research Committee members will vote pass or fail at the completion of the oral exam.  If there is no more than one negative ballot out of a minimum of five, the student becomes a PhD candidate after the student’s major professor and Physiology Department Chair have notified the Dean of successful completion of the Preliminary Exam.​

Department Of Physiology Policy ​Regarding the Dissertation and Dissertation Defense​

The dissertation must represent a significant contribution to the field, with its contents suitable for publication in refereed journals of international repute. The dissertation work should reflect the scientific input from the student, advisor, Dissertation Committee, and other departmental and institutional faculty. Between passing the Preliminary Exam and the Dissertation Defense, members of the Dissertation Committee should meet regularly with the student to assess progress, encourage publishing completed work, determine when research becomes a “significant contribution to the field”, help guide the general format of the dissertation, and establish an appropriate timeline for graduation.​

The dissertation should be submitted to the Dissertation Committee members at least 4 weeks prior to the desired defense date. The Committee members will then submit comments and suggestions to the student within 2 weeks, along with a recommendation for a final defense date to the student and Mentor. The student must also petition the Dean for permission to take the final examination at least 2 weeks prior to the scheduled date of the examination by submitting a “Request for Dissertation/Thesis Defense and Final Examination” form that is signed by all members of the Dissertation Committee prior to receiving the signature of the Department Head.  ​

An open seminar of the student’s dissertation research will precede the final examination. Traditionally, this examination is a test of the student’s intimate knowledge of the area of the research field in which the student is working. Voting is by secret ballot with no more than one negative vote permitted. If not more than one member of the examining committee dissents and if the dissertation is accepted, the candidate will be certified to the Graduate Faculty and Chancellor as having met all requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.