Updated examination policies Post-COVID.

Written by John Tooker; approved by Gary Felton

Rationale: Post-COVID, Penn State Graduate School mandated that all graduate programs define their policies on how benchmark exams (Comprehensive, Defenses) will be administered. During COVID, the Graduate School allowed fully remote exams with notification about how committee members participated after the exam. Prior to COVID, only one committee member could participate remotely (via phone or computer) without an approved exception from the Graduate School.

Research has demonstrated that the exams are best for students and committee members when conducted in-person. In-person qualifying, comprehensive, and final oral exams provide a more complete and engaging experience, demonstrate the best support (intellectual and emotional) and recognition of the work hard on completing their research and program requirements. We should take the time to be present for these milestones. In-person exams also allow for broader conversations, better exploration of knowledge, and for ad-hoc questions.

On 20 April 2023, the Entomology graduate faculty voted in favor of conducting full in-person benchmark exams as described in GCAC-606 and GCAC-608 — that is, exams should have the entire committee, faculty adviser(s) and the student physically in the same room. The policies listed address PhD exams, but the Entomology policy will also apply to final oral defense for M.S. degrees.

Note that exceptions to this policy will be considered on a case-by-case circumstance (sabbatical, special committee members based at other institutions, illness, etc.), but to keep students’ interests in focus, exceptions should not be the norm. The Head of the Graduate Program (i.e., Department Head of Entomology) will work with the Chair of the Qualifying committee, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the student’s advisor(s) to approve or deny exceptions for the qualifying, comprehensive, and final defense exams (M.S. or Ph.D.), respectively. To request an exception, the faculty adviser must send an email stating the request and justification not later than three weeks prior to the scheduled exam.

In the case of remote participation, Grad School policy states:

1. Benchmark exams should occur on campus to ensure the technological reliability, confidentiality, and safety of all participants.

2. Those participating via distance must use University-licensed interactive audio-visual technology. If unable to connect with video, audio-only participation is allowed.

Additional information can be found in GCAC-606 Comprehensive Examination and GCAC-608 Final Oral Examination.