The comprehensive exam is intended "to evaluate the candidate's mastery of entomology to determine whether the candidate is prepared to embark on their dissertation research" (adapted from PSU GCAC 606). Within our department, there are two foci. The first is to evaluate whether the student has developed a comprehensive and integrated knowledge of entomology (and relevant related fields), particularly as it relates to their chosen area of research. The second is to ensure that the student has developed a sound plan for doctoral thesis research and has made reasonable progress toward the research goals. Students should sit for the comprehensive exam after completing coursework requirements and passing their qualifying exam, typically in the fifth semester of their graduate work. It is also desirable to take the exam before their research is too far along to take full advantage of feedback from the committee at all stages of the project.

Because the exam is intended to be comprehensive, preparation for the exam begins when students start their graduate work. The exam should draw on the student's full knowledge of the subject area and will likely require details that students learned from courses, primary literature, review papers, books, seminars, research, etc. The student's full program and all the related activities--whether or not they are directly relevant to a student's research interests--form the foundation for the exam. To build a solid foundation for the exam, students should expose themselves to different views, competing hypotheses, research methods, and various analyses, and be able to synthesize information from various fields. Months before the exam, students should have conversations with each committee member to learn their expectations and obtain some guidance on what knowledge areas about which they are likely to ask questions. If students had deficiencies identified during the Qualifying Exam, they should be prepared during their Comprehensive Exam for questions in those areas so faculty can assess whether the deficiencies have been rectified.

The student must be registered as a full-time or part-time student for the semester in which the comprehensive examination is taken. In our department, the exam comprises a written proposal and an oral exam. The written proposal, which should be shared with the committee at least two weeks prior to the exam, should identify and address a theme (or themes) that unifies (unify) the thesis while providing sufficient background in context of related work to establish the importance of the work and justify the goals of the research. The proposal should identify discrete topics (i.e., eventual thesis chapters) that envision specific research questions/hypotheses, and are packaged with appropriate methods, results, and discussion of actual or expected results. This proposal should be of sufficient detail to provide committee members with a clear vision of the thesis, individual projects with experiments/protocols, results (or expected results), and their potential significance, but should be short enough to be digestible by committee members. Students should consult their committee members to find the balance between big picture/broad concepts and details/fine points, but recognize that both matter. The written proposal should primarily be the student's work and they should not seek input on the document. There is, however, an expectation that discussions with the advisor and/or dissertation committee will help develop the framing, objectives, methods, expected results, and possible conclusion. The writing and editing of the proposal should be left to the student. (It is worth noting that some students have included published work [e.g., a review or research paper] in their proposal. This is acceptable because we want to encourage that sort of student productivity. The advisor, of course, may have contributed to the published portion, but the rest of the proposal is expected to be left to the student.)

The oral exam provides committee members opportunities to ask questions about entomology and appropriate related fields of study, and the proposal, ranging from big picture/context issues down to experimental details, statistical analyses, and data interpretation. Whatever areas of knowledge that committee members determine students should know are fair game, which is why meeting with committee members well in advance of the exam is prudent. The oral exam tends to be accompanied by a slide presentation that the student prepares and that parallels the proposal, though students should check with committee members for their expectations. The slides and proposal together provide inspiration for questions from the committee.

Expectations and Evaluation
During the exam, the student is expected to demonstrate mastery of entomology, relevant coursework, the literature associated with their research area, the details of their system, methodological details, statistical analyses and interpretation. Beyond these technical details, students must communicate their ideas clearly, both orally and in writing; their ability to communicate effectively will also be evaluated. Students that have all the technical knowledge but struggle to clearly explain themselves to their committee members or who have not edited their proposal well risk doing poorly. The written portion of the exam should be treated as a formal writing assignment. The proposal should be written in grammatically correct English with attention to details, meaning that it is punctuated properly, free from typos, proofread, and formatted adequately.

The written and oral performances will be evaluated qualitatively; students will pass or fail, but they will not receive a grade. Passing efforts will be assessed as excellent, very good, above average, average, or below average, and students will receive feedback on their performance immediately following the exam. Students that do not pass the exam often can sit for the exam again, but this second chance is up to the committee. Failing the exam twice can result in the student leaving the program.

For more details on the exam, please see PSU GCAC 606.