Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations

After completion of course work, Ph.D. students will ordinarily take no more than one semester to prepare for written and oral qualifying examinations. Qualifying examinations will cover three areas:  1) humanism, the humanities, and medical humanities; 2) a major area of specialization; and 3) a minor area of specialization. Students not declaring major and minor areas formally will still be tested in these areas.  The latter two test areas will address the principal focus of the student’s scholarly interests and, respectively, the secondary focus of interest.  The specifics of these test areas will be determined by the student’s qualifying examination committee.  Preparation for the examinations will involve constructing (with supervision of the advisor, area-of-specialization coordinators, and medical humanities faculty) and mastering bibliographies of relevant readings. The written examination will consist of five questions to be answered in five days:  two questions from course work and reading in the major area of specialization; one question from course work and reading in the minor area; one question covering humanism, the humanities, and the medical humanities; and one question covering a specific area of interest, practice, or research, possibly related to the student’s dissertation topic.   

Within three weeks of a student’s completing his or her written examination, the examination committee will review it and determine whether the answers are satisfactory. If so, the advisor will then schedule the oral qualifying examination. The oral examination, which will be announced and open to all members of the IMH faculty, will test the student's skills in dealing with concrete practical issues in medical humanities, research, education, or clinical ethics. It will also probe the student's perceived areas of strength and weakness, while engaging issues of major interest to the student.

After the oral examination, the student will receive one of four possible grades: Pass with Distinction, Pass, Conditional Pass, Fail.  A conditional pass means that the answer to one question is not yet adequate; at the discretion of the faculty member who asked it, in consultation with the entire committee, the student may be required to rewrite the answer to that question or to undertake specific remedial work. Unsatisfactory performance on two questions constitutes a failure of the qualifying examinations. A student who has failed the examinations does not have the option of rewriting either of the answers.

Beginning in July 2008, each committee member must submit a completed evaluation form for the written qualifying examination and also for the oral qualifying examination.  These completed forms should be turned in to the graduate program coordinator immediately after the oral examination.  They are a requirement of the SACS accreditation review of UTMB in 2008.

Revised Guidelines for PhD Qualifying Written Examinations in the Medical Humanities Graduate Program--Effective March 2015

  1. The required five questions will be written in five consecutive days, Monday through Friday, from 8 am-5 pm.
  2. Faculty must not allow students to have knowledge of the question(s) before the exam process begins.
  3. Each morning of the five-day examination period, a question will be e-mailed to the student by the Graduate Program Coordinator at 8 am; the answer must be returned by e-mail to the Graduate Program Coordinator and members of the Qualifying Examination Committee by 5 pm that same day.
  4. The student may decide in advance, by category or professor, the order in which the questions will be sent and is responsible for communicating that decision to the Graduate Program Coordinator no later than 3 pm on the Thursday before the Monday morning on which the exam begins.
  5. Each answer should be between 10-12 double-spaced pages in length (size 12 font, standard 1" margins), plus the bibliography.
  6. The bibliography should be prepared in advance in Chicago style to reduce time spent on citations while writing the exam answers.  Citations may be given parenthetically in the text (last name of author, date, and page number) rather than in notes.
  7. Any concerns regarding clarification of the exam or the procedures must be directed to the Chair of the Qualifying Examination Committee, the Graduate Program Director, or the Graduate Program Coordinator.
  8. We invite students to write their exams in an IMH office at the PCP should they wish to do so.  If so, we will provide coffee and lunch each day. If students prefer, they may work at home or in a location of their choice.
  9. In taking this examination, each student is expected to comply with UTMB’s honor code ( and academic integrity policy (available via the second link on the Honor Pledge page). The student must neither seek nor receive help from anyone on any aspect of answering the questions or writing the exam. Use of electronic word-processing programs such as Spelling and Grammar or Grammarly is permitted. 
  10. At the end of the answer for each question, students must write and sign (typed name or e-signature) the honor pledge.
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