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Second Year Exam Guidelines

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The Second Year Exam consists of two components: a written research proposal, and an oral defense of the research proposal.

Second Year Exam Committee

Important Deadlines:

  • Summer, before Year 2 - Sstudents identify and contact the faculty they would like to have serve on their committee to confirm faculty willingness to serve.
  • Fall - Students receive final Department Exam Committee assignment.

Students begin planning their thesis work during the summer after their first year of graduate school. An important aspect is the choice of thesis committee members. The Second Year Exam Committee forms the basis of the eventual thesis committee and consists of three faculty: two inside the student’s research track and one outside the student’s research track. Students first consult with their advisor(s) on the choice of appropriate committee members and then they contact the potential committee members to request their participation on the committee. Students are urged to discuss their 2nd year exam committee membership with their advisor to make sure the choices are scientifically appropriate. Additionally, students are advised that some faculty members may be overcommitted, in which case an alternate(s) will need to be identified.  Once the three faculty have agreed to serve, the student submits the list of their Second Year Exam Committee, together with a 1-2 sentence justification for the choice of each committee member, to the Graduate Affairs Committee for final approval. In general, advisors will not serve as a member of the 2nd year committee except in exceptional circumstances which must receive prior approval by the Graduate Affairs Committee. Students will receive their Second Year Exam Committee assignments by the start of Year 2 of the PhD program. Second Year Exam Committee members normally continue to serve on the student's Doctoral Committee.

Component 1: Written Research Proposal

Important Deadlines

  • Last Friday of instruction for Fall quarter, Year 2 - Final Research Proposal due to Second Year Exam Committee Members. (Approval from research advisor is required before submitting final proposal to committee. Students are expected to seek approval from their advisor at least 2 weeks in advance of the submission deadline.)

For the first component of the Second Year Exam format, students will prepare a Written Research Proposal. The Research Proposal is a grant-writing exercise that takes place during the Fall of the 2nd year. Students are strongly encouraged to consult with their advisor and Second Year Exam Committee in the preparation of their Research Proposal. The final Research Proposal that is submitted to the committee by the last Friday of Fall instruction deadline, must be approved by the student's advisor. (Students will be notified of the results and formal assessment from their committee by early January.)

The Written Research Proposal is designed to:

  1. Encourage the student and research advisor to work together at an early stage to develop a research project.
  2. Train the student in formulating hypotheses and developing strategies to test their hypotheses.
  3. Have the student become familiar with the background literature relevant to their project and to see how their project fits into the bigger picture.
  4. To have each student and their advisor enlist members of his/her Dissertation Committee early in the graduate career and to begin to solicit help from their committee members.
  5. Develop writing skills of the student, particularly for proposals/fellowships.

Written Research Proposal Format:

The written proposal should be maximum 6 pages in length and must include specific aims, background, approach, expected outcomes, figures/tables, and no more than 50 references. (The references do NOT count towards the 6-page limit.) The font size for the proposal should be 11 points and the margins should be 1 inch on all sides. The document should be single-spaced. Preliminary data are not required for the proposal, but can be included if appropriate. Students do not need to demonstrate the feasibility of the research proposal at this stage.

Written Research Proposal Content:

Students should work with their advisor and Committee members as soon as possible. When reviewing the research proposal, the Second Year Exam Committee members will be looking at whether the research proposal focuses on a significant problem, the methods are appropriate and rigorous, the research has been thoroughly and carefully designed, pitfalls have been considered and alternatives can be accomplished in a reasonable period of time. While students should seek guidance from their research advisor, the Research Proposal should be written independently by the student.

Written Research Proposal Feedback:

By the last Friday of instruction for Fall quarter of the 2nd year, students must submit a copy of their final research proposal to their Committee, with advance approval from their Research Advisor. The Research Advisor should include additional comments about the Written Research Proposal in their 2nd Year Research Evaluation of the student. Committee members will then provide a formal assessment of the project according to the exam rubric by early January. Committee members will provide individual grading on Written Research Proposal criteria. If a student receives two or more "No Pass" grades from committee members in a given criterion, they will receive a "No Pass" for that criterion. To earn a "Pass" on the Written Exam overall, a student must receive a "Pass" in at least four out of six criteria. In the event that a student does NOT pass the Written Research Proposal component, the student will need to provide a revised Written Research Proposal to their Committee as least 2 weeks before their scheduled Oral Presentation Exam. The student must then pass both the Written and Oral Presentations in Winter Quarter in order to pass the 2nd Year Exam.

Access to results and feedback for Chemistry (CH75) students will be accessible online via a personal link shared by the Student Affairs Office.

Component 2: Oral Research Proposal Defense

Important Deadlines:

  • Winter Quarter, Year 2 - Confirm Oral Defense date/time with Committee
  • End of Winter Quarter, Year 2 - Successfully pass the Oral Research Proposal Defense

The second component of the new Second Year Exam format will consist of an Oral Defense of the Research Proposal. The student will orally defend the Research Proposal in front of the same 3-member Committee who approved the Research Proposal.

The purposes of the Oral Defense of the Research Proposal are:

  1. To develop the student's oral presentation skills.
  2. To test the student’s understanding of core material from the first year track curriculum, particularly that relevant to their research area.
  3. To test the student’s understanding of topics relating to the student’s research project including (but not limited to) the background literature, the “big picture” into which their research fits, the methods that the student plans to use and their appropriate choice for the questions being asked.

Research Evaluation from Research Advisor:

Prior to the Oral Exam, the student’s Research Advisor will complete a research evaluation that will be shared with the Second Year Exam Committee and the student. The evaluation should be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator at least one week prior to the exam date for inclusion in the student’s exam folder, for the Committee’s review.

Exam Format and Feedback:

The Oral Exam should take approximately 60 min, of which no more than 30 minutes should consist of the student’s presentation, and 30 minutes for questioning. Questions posed by the Committee will cover the area of the student’s presentation as well as fundamental principles of all relevant disciplines of Chemistry and Biochemistry, especially as they relate to the proposal.

At the end of the oral presentation and examination, the Committee will deliberate under direction of the Chair of the 2nd year exam committee and deliver a critique of oral presentation of the proposal according to the rubric. The results shall be conveyed to the student immediately and to the Chem/Biochem Student Affairs office via email.

Satisfactory performance on the oral exam will permit the student to proceed with full time research as well as earn the MS coursework degree for qualified Ph.D. students. Unsatisfactory performance may necessitate re-writing or re-presenting the oral defense, or result in a recommendation that the student withdraw from the program.

Scheduling the Exam

Confirm your exam date and time, then submit a Room Reservation request by week 5 of Winter Quarter!


First, students contact their committee chair to discuss the exam and possible dates and times. Next, students contact the other committee members about possible dates and times. Schedule two hours for the exam. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. Start scheduling early enough to assure the time limit of end of Winter Quarter is met. By week 5 of Winter Quarter, ALL students must confirm with their committee the date of the exam.

Dates to Avoid

Exams should never be scheduled on Weekends or Holidays.

Dates that might be problematic and should be avoided:

(a) Martin Luther King Holiday

(b) Presidents Day Holiday

(c) The large graduate recruitment days (February 2, 2024 and March 8, 2024)

Reserving a Room and Audiovisual Needs

At least three weeks before the exam and *AFTER* you have coordinated the date and time with all members of the committee, students submit a room reservation request. A room confirmation will be sent from Student Affairs via email. Student affairs will take care of emailing exam notices.

Room Reservation ‐ Conference room details can be found here. To reserve a room, please use the following form.

Coursework MS Degree

PhD students have the option to earn the coursework MS degree along the way to the PhD, if eligible. 

This process is three-fold: In addition to successfully passing both the Written Research Proposal and Oral Research Proposal Defense, students must complete a minimum of 36-units of eligible coursework to apply for the MS degree. Please email to go over coursework and eligibility. (Students with a prior MS degree are ineligible.)

See Coursework Map for Plan II MS along the way.