Qualifying Exam


Official entry into Ph.D. Candidacy does not occur until the student successfully completes the qualifying exam. In food science, this exam consists of an oral presentation of the student's proposed dissertation project, response to questions from the qualifying exam committee on the project, and a series of questions from the committee testing the student's general knowledge of food science. The exam is designed to accomplish three goals:

  • provide the student with the experience of preparing and communicating an in-depth understanding of a scientific topic 
  • provide the student with the experience of responding to challenging questions from a scientifically knowledgable group 
  • obtain input from scientists other than their research advisor which can help them to successfully complete their proposed dissertation topic to synthesize and present a broad understanding of food science.

Although this exam process can seem intimidating, preparation for and completion of the exam is also a rich learning period for the student, when there is time to sit down and think through the deeper issues that can impact your research. Students should also remember that admission to the Ph.D. program was itself a very competitive process, and they were all selected for their strong potential to do research. Consequently, the vast majority of students pass their qualifying exam the first time through.

Planning your Qualifying Exam

If you, in agreement with your Major professor, feel ready to plan your qualifying exam, start by preparing a brief, one-page proposal for your project. In collaboration with your Major Professor, identify seven proposed members for your QE committee, using the Qualifying Exam Proposal form below to guide your choices. This form should be provided to the Graduate Staff Adviser to communicate it to the Executive Committee of the Food Science Graduate Group. The Executive Committee will jointly determine the appropriateness of the members you propose, and name five members for your QE committee. Once that step is complete, please submit a Qualifying Examination Application (http://gradstudies.ucdavis.edu/sites/default/files/upload/files/current-students/gs319-qualifying-exam-app-phd.pdf) to the Office of Graduate Studies. You may then meet with your committee members individually to help guide your preparation for the exam, prepare your proposal and schedule the exam.

Format of exam

ExamThe qualifying examination is taken soon after completion of the course plan, which would normally be at the end of the second year in residence. The actual examination will consist of two parts. For the first part, students are required to present and defend their thesis research proposal, including results and plans. For the second part, students will be tested on their breadth of knowledge in the three core areas of food science. In preparation for the exam, students should:

  • Prepare a brief (5-7 single-spaced pages) description of their proposed research. This proposal should be distributed to the exam committee at least one week prior to the exam, but may need to be distributed earlier than that, at the discretion of the exam chair. This proposal should serve to acquaint the committee with the dimensions of the research project being proposed.
  • Prepare an approximately 20-30 minute presentation describing the proposed research. Consult with the exam chair for the specific length of the presentation. The nature of the scientific question(s) to be addressed by the research should be clear in both the written and oral presentations. The presentation should be clearly organized, making sure to spend more time discussing more central aspects of the project. For example, a student spending 10 minutes of a 30 minute talk describing practical applications of the research is not making good use of their time. Remember that this presentation differs from others in that it is not simply a reporting of results; instead, the committee is more interested in how the student thinks about scientific questions, than in the quantity of results they have generated at this point.
  • Anticipate questions from the committee regarding the nature of the hypotheses or questions being addressed, the strategies proposed and their ability to answer the scientific questions at hand, and underlying assumptions or potential pitfalls of the proposed research. The number and depth of questions from the committee will stretch the 20-30 minute presentation into a discussion that lasts much longer (typically 1-2 hours).
  • Review graduate core course material, with the goal of displaying a general understanding of important principles and issues in food science.

Except for the proposal, the student cannot bring any materials to the examination without approval by the examination chair. The objective of the Qualifying Examination is to assess the student’s general knowledge in the core areas of food science, and their ability to apply critical reasoning to issues and problems in food science, particularly in their area of emphasis. However, the committee is charged to explore beyond the student’s area of specific knowledge in order to ascertain ability to solve problems. Passing this examination advances a student to Ph.D. candidacy, assuming the student has met the course and other requirements. Rules for grading this examination are governed by Davis Graduate Studies rules.

Committee membership and exam administration

The Qualifying Examination is an oral examination that will be administered by a committee of 5 members, recommended by the Executive Committee and appointed by Graduate Studies. In consultation with their academic adviser and major professor, students must submit an application for examination. With that application, students are encouraged to suggest a committee which would include their anticipated Dissertation Committee members. This list cannot include their major professor, who shall not be a member of the qualifying examination. The committee chair must be an Academic Senate faculty member of the Food Science Graduate Group. At least one member will be an Academic Senate member who is not a member of the group, but has expertise in the student's area of emphasis. The committee cannot have more than one member who is not an active member of the Academic Senate, i.e., Emeriti or C.E. Specialists. The committee will also consist of at least one member each from the core areas of food chemistry, food microbiology and food processing.

The executive committee will consider the student's suggestions and make changes as appropriate. The final composition of the qualifying examination committee is determined by the executive committee, and may differ siginificantly from the student's suggested list. If the membership changes within one month of the examination date, the student can have the examination rescheduled. Scheduling will be handled by the graduate group secretary.