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The qualifying examination is one of the steps that must be completed before a graduate student is admitted to candidacy. THIS EXAM SHOULD BE TAKEN DURING OR AT THE END OF YOUR FOURTH SEMESTER IN GRADUATE SCHOOL. Taking the exam during the summer after the end of the second year is also acceptable, but note that it is difficult to convene a committee during the summer.

Qualifying Exam Content

The exam itself consists of TWO parts. Part 1 is a General Knowledge Exam and Part 2 is a Review of the Dissertation Proposal. Part 1 and Part 2 are generally taken separately, with Part 1 completed by the end of the fourth semester and Part 2 by the end of the fifth semester at the latest. In some cases with the approval of your Supervising Professor, the two parts of the Qualifying Exam may be taken at the same time. Part 1 and Part 2 are described in more detail below.

General Knowledge Exam

The first part of the exam will consist of an oral evaluation of your general knowledge and shall precede Part 2. IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE EXAMINING COMMITTEE TO ENSURE THAT YOU HAVE A SOUND UNDERSTANDING OF PLANT BIOLOGY. All voting members of the committee have the opportunity to ask questions until satisfied. Voting members will then decide the outcome of the Part 1 exam from the following options:


  • Unconditional Pass: pass with no provisions; continue to Part 2 of the exam
  • Conditional Pass: pass with provisions; the student may continue to Part 2 of the exam in advance of satisfying the conditions of the committee if the committee so approves (e.g., passing additional coursework with a letter grade of B or better). However, the student will not be advanced to candidacy until the conditions of the committee have been met.
  • Conditional Fail: the student must complete specified conditions and then retake the Part 1 exam
  • Termination with MA Option: the student is dismissed from the pre-doctoral program, with the option to pursue a MA degree
  • Unconditional Fail: termination of work towards the PhD; student may not continue in the Plant Biology graduate program.


All committee members should sign the Part 1 Examination Results Form on which the Supervising Professor records the decision. If any additional coursework is required, it should be added to the student’s Program of Work for the Doctoral Degree.


In some cases, Part 1 and Part 2 can be taken consecutively on the same day. Otherwise, the committee adjourns until a date can be scheduled for Part 2. All signed forms must be returned to the Graduate Coordinator.

Qualifying Examination Committee

 The student and his/her Supervising Professor should discuss which faculty members should serve on the examination committee. The committee must have at least 5 members including:


  • The Supervising Professor. The supervisor runs the exam, but does NOT VOTE or discuss the student’s performance, unless information is requested by the other committee members.
  • Three other faculty members from the Plant Biology Graduate Program. The members should be chosen to provide a breadth of examination on general topics, but with some relevance to the student’s research. One person should be outside of the student’s area of specialization. For example, a student with molecular or physiological interests would have one organismal faculty member on the committee.
  • An outside member. This person can be either a faculty member from another GSC or from another university. NOTE: If a member is from another university, you must provide a curriculum vitae from the person and have a written statement that the person will not request any funds from the University of Texas. Many opportunities exist to have outside members from within UT’s other GSCs, including Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior, Cellular & Molecular Biology, Geological Sciences, and Chemistry.
  • You must ask potential committee members if they are willing to serve on your committee in advance. Then set up a date, time and place for the exam when all of the members can meet. You must schedule a three-hour period and a room with the Graduate Coordinator.
  • The members of your Part 1 committees must be approved by the Graduate Advisor prior to your exam.
  • Note that between Part 1 and Part 2 or when you advance to candidacy, you may change the members of your committee with approval of your Supervising Professor and the Graduate Advisor. For example, the dissertation committee sometimes includes more members with greater specific knowledge about your area of specialization. Note that once you advance to candidacy, committee changes are restricted to those necessitated by deaths, faculty departures from the university, or similar compelling reasons and must be approved by the Dean.

Program of Work for Doctoral Degree

Prior to Part 1 of the qualifying exam, you must fill out your Program of Work form, listing the courses that you have taken or will take toward fulfilling your degree requirements. For each course, provide the course number, course title, professor, institution, semester taken, and grade. The Graduate Coordinator will provide you with this form as a Word document; use Word to fill out the form – do not hand-write.

Note that coursework is to be divided into MAJOR and SUPPORTING WORK. Your Supervising Professor or the Graduate Advisor can help you classify your coursework. Research courses such as BIO 382 should not be included, nor should courses with a grade of C. However, do include BIO 999R and 999W and indicate that they are to be taken. The Program of Work should only include courses that count for credit in Graduate School at UT Austin.


On a separate page, list advanced biology courses you have taken at other universities, noting the course, year, and grade as required for the program of work. The Graduate Advisor has to sign the Program of Work prior to the Qualifying Exam.


A copy of the Program of Work and of courses taken elsewhere is to be turned in to the Graduate Coordinator who will circulate it to all faculty at least one week before the Qualifying Exam.


Qualifying Exam Application

Program of Work

Qualifying Exam Results