Doctoral Qualifying Examination

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

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 at the beginning of the semester. The exam consists of two major components:

  1. Written critique – Each student will select one of three papers chosen by the Committee. The papers represent broad areas of entomology and require broad knowledge to evaluate. The student should briefly summarize the article and describe its general relationship to other work within the field, identify and evaluate the hypothesis(es) being tested, the appropriateness and quality of the methodology including controls and statistical tests used, the soundness of the conclusions based on data presented and the overall scientific merit of the work, and present specific reasons for one’s views including alternative interpretations and recommendations for future experiments. Additional general guidelines for critiquing a journal article are available, e.g., Critically Reading Journal Articles and An Introduction to Critical Analysis of Publications in Experimental Biomedical Sciences. The student should cite relevant papers in the critique and keep it concise. This critique should be completed as an independent effort without outside editorial input, including from the student’s advisor. The written exam is due to the Committee chair within 48 hours. Students should use their PSU ID numbers instead of their names. If the student does not turn in the written exam to the Committee chair by this deadline, or if the student fails the written critique, the student will fail the qualifying exam and will not sit for the oral portion.
  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.

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. The Committee may require a re-assessment of part of the qualifying exam or a retaking of the exam in its entirety. This must be done within one year.

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.