Purpose
Every student who wishes to pursue a PhD in Entomology must take a qualifying examination administered by the Graduate Faculty in Entomology (Graduate School Policy GCAC-604). The purpose of this exam is to:

  1. Assess the student's core knowledge of entomology, biology, and science more generally
  2. Assess early in the student's program whether the student is capable of conducting doctoral-level research based on evidence of critical thinking and other skills that the Graduate Faculty of the program view as necessary to a successful researcher
  3. Assess student's communication skills and English proficiency (Graduate School Policy GCAC-605)


Timing and Eligibility
The graduate school requires that the examination be taken within three semesters (excluding summer sessions) of entry into the doctoral program. To be eligible for this exam a student must:

  1. Have a GPA of 3.0 or higher for coursework done at the University and may not have deferred or missing grades at the time the qualifying examination is given
  2. Be in good academic standing and must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester in which the qualifying examination is taken
  3. Have earned at least 18 credits in graduate courses beyond the baccalaureate
  4. Have completed the core Entomology courses


Format
The exam is administered by the Qualifying Exam Committee, comprised of graduate faculty, who will designate a period of time each semester for the exam. Best practices state that the student's Dissertation Adviser not be a part of the Qualifying Examination Committee. If the student's advisor is on the Qualifying Exam Committee a substitute must be chosen by the Committee. Students intending to take the exam must contact Erika Stover at the beginning of the semester. The exam consists of two major components:

Qualifying exam for the Department of Entomology, as of Fall 2020
PhD students should be able to do more than recall, define and understand by going beyond rote learning. They should be able to solve problems and use their knowledge and critical thinking skills to synthesize, analyze and integrate information, generate hypotheses, and design experiments to test those hypotheses in a creative and logical way. As such, we will test these skills with our qualifying exam to ensure that a students is prepared to advance to candidacy. Because entomology is highly multi-disciplinary, multiple topics below (1-4) may be interwoven into a given question to reflect the integrated nature of entomological research and thinking processes.

  1. Written Exam - The written exam will comprise entomological scenarios to make sense of real or imagined data, including figure(s) as appropriate. Using multipart, analysis/synthesis questions that require integrating information, the exam will address these 4 core topics:
    1. Structure and function
    2. Taxonomy/systematics, evolution
    3. General biology, ecology and behavior
    4. Basic statistics and experimental design

    For example, questions presented as problem sets could cover something like plant/insect coevolution, or the physiological aspects of pesticides such as resistance and/or detoxification, which could incorporate evolution, behavior, ecology, and basic stats.

    Students will receive 3-5 (depending on complexity) problem sets to explore their knowledge/synthesis/analysis abilities adequately. Students will need to score an average of 80% (average of the scores from 3 separate graders) to pass. If a student fails the exam, they can retake it the following semester. If the student fails a second time and scored an average of at least 70% on their first two attempts, they may petition the Qualifying Exam Committee to request an oral exam, which must be approved by two-thirds of the faculty on the committee and the Department Head. The oral exam will consist of follow up questions from the written exams.

    Students will be allotted 5 hours to complete the written exam in a quiet room with access to a laptop computer for writing. It is our expectation that most students won’t need the full allotted time. Students who are registered with Disability Services and are allowed extra time on exams in their courses will be given the same amount of extra time on the written Qualifying Exam. Accessing the internet during the exam will not be permitted.

    Scoring the exam. Each exam question will be scored by three faculty, including members of the Qualifying Exam Committee and potentially outside faculty members that contributed the exam questions. Exams will be submitted to the Chair of the Qualification Exam Committee anonymously by using the student’s PSU ID number on the exam. Students must obtain an average of  80% on the exam. Scoring will be based on each grader’s judgment, however, the faculty member who wrote the question will provide guidelines on expected answers.

  2. Oral exam - Oral exams will be scheduled at a time determined by the Committee, immediately after the written critiques are evaluated. The student should be prepared to discuss how the article relates broadly to the field of entomology and to defend the arguments presented in the written critique. Questions pertaining to core knowledge of entomology, biology, and science more generally will be asked.


Assessment
The Committee will provide a copy of the assessment to the student and mentor, including details regarding the results of the exam, strengths and areas in need of improvement.

A student who fails to qualify for the doctoral program after taking the exam again can petition to retake it, but the administration of a third exam will only be approved if the Qualifying Exam Committee, the Graduate Council (Graduate School), and major adviser (a combined committee) feel the student has potential and the exam has not been a fair test of the student’s abilities.

A student is admitted to the doctoral program only after he/she has successfully passed the doctoral qualifying exam. A student who does not pass the qualifying exam may be allowed to switch to the MS track if appropriate or will be dismissed from the program.