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Section 10: Candidacy Examination


The Candidacy Examination is a single examination consisting of two portions, written and oral, administered by the student’s Advisory Committee under the auspices of the NGP committee in conjunction with the Graduate School.  The purpose of the Candidacy Examination is to determine whether the student has i) an integrated and advanced understanding of key concepts in neuroscience, ii) an ability to think logically and critically about problems in neuroscience, and iii) potential to become an independent investigator in basic neuroscience research.  Candidacy signifies that a student is prepared to undertake work on their dissertation and formally marks the start of the research phase of her/his training.


The Candidacy Examination may not be taken until the student has successfully completed all the courses in the core course sequence.  Students are also strongly encouraged to complete the one semester teaching requirement in their second year prior to taking their candidacy examination.  It is expected that all students will complete the candidacy exam by the end of autumn semester of their third year.  If more time is required, permission of the NGP committee must be obtained.  The student must be in good standing during the semester in which the Candidacy Examination is administered. (Refer to the Candidacy Exam Flowchart in Appendix A)


Responsibility for conducting the Candidacy Examination (both written and oral portions) rests with the student’s Advisory Committee (see section 9).  A Graduate Faculty Representative is not required, but may be assigned at the request of the student and advisor for an initial candidacy examination; however, a Graduate Faculty Representative must be assigned for a second candidacy examination (see Section 10.4).

The Advisory Committee does not need to be formally approved by the Graduate School during the preparation and approval process of the written portion of the Candidacy Examination.  Once the written portion has been approved by the Committee and the oral portion has been scheduled, the student must log onto GRADFORMS.OSU.EDU to submit an Application for Candidacy Exam*.  This must be done no fewer than two weeks prior to the date of the examination.  Once the program administrator and the Graduate School has approved the application, and (if applicable) a Graduate School Representative has been appointed, the Report on Candidacy is generated.  The results of the exam should be electronically recorded in GRADFORMS.OSU.EDU by the committee immediately after completion of the oral examination (see sections 10.6 and 10.7).  The Candidacy Examination must take place during announced University business hours, Monday through Friday.

*Students must submit their committee member names to the program administrator two weeks prior to submitting their notification of candidacy examination form to the Graduate School (if the members have changed from what was originally approved by the NGP director/co-directors).


If requested by the student and the advisor on an initial candidacy exam, a Graduate Faculty Representative will be appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School upon receipt of the Application for Candidacy Exam.  If the candidacy exam is being taken for the second time, a Graduate Faculty Representative is mandatory and will be assigned in the same manner.  The Graduate Faculty Representative will be a Category P graduate faculty member who is not a member of the NGP.  For purposes of student evaluation during the Candidacy Exam the Graduate Faculty Representative is an equal voting member along with the Advisory Committee.  The Graduate Faculty Representative will also submit a report to the Graduate School judging the quality of the examination and the student’s performance.  If the outcome of the examination is subsequently challenged, the Graduate Faculty Representative also reports to the Graduate Council on the fairness of the conduct of the examination and its conformity to the rules of the NGP and Graduate School.  If a Graduate Faculty Representative is appointed, a typed copy of the student’s written portion of the Candidacy Examination must be presented to the Graduate Faculty Representative, together with a statement of the NGP’s examination format, policies, and procedures, no less than one week before the oral portion of the exam.


Students will prepare a grant proposal using an NIH-F31 predoctoral fellowship format with a Research Strategy section of 6 single-spaced pages (the NIH guidelines are to be used, with Significance and Approach sections only, including Preliminary Studies if applicable). Three other sections are also required, but are not included in the six-page limit:

  • Project Summary/Abstract (30 line maximum)
  • Specific Aims (1 page maximum)
  • References Cited section (no page limit)

The proposal subject matter should be determined through discussions with the mentor and it is strongly encouraged that it be related to the student’s planned area of research, potentially part of her/his proposed dissertation project. The key goal of the written exam is to ascertain independence of thought, creativity, critical thinking, fluency in hypotheses development and testing through rigorous experimental design, and writing ability. The proposal may not be identical to a proposal previously prepared or submitted by the student’s mentor, but can be tangential.

Prior to writing the full proposal, the student will prepare the Specific Aims page and submit it to the student’s Advisory Committee (including their mentor). At the time of submission, the student is expected to schedule a time to discuss the Specific Aims page with the members of their Advisory Committee, preferably in a joint meeting but at least in individual meetings, to be completed within about 2 weeks. Based on the discussions, the student will be allowed to submit one revision of the Specific Aims page to their Advisory Committee for any additional feedback. The student should plan and arrange for the entire Specific Aims page review process to take up to 1 month. This process allows the student to receive feedback on the content and direction of the full proposal before the complete written exam is due.

Once the Specific Aims period is over, the student will have up to 2 months to write the full proposal and submit it to their Advisory Committee for review.  The mentor or other members of the student’s Advisory Committee will have no direct input on the text of the proposal, though they may discuss general aspects of the research plan, methodologies, and grant writing strategies. The mentor may also provide sample proposals for teaching purposes providing that they are not directly related to the student’s proposal (also see NIH F31 examples on NIAID website https://www.niaid.nih.gov/grants-contracts/three-new-f31-sample-applications).

Once the written proposal is submitted, the student’s Advisory Committee will have 2 weeks to approve or disapprove of the document, and the decision must be unanimous. The decision is to be based on:

  1. inclusion of all sections (see above), logical flow, organization, and formatting of the writing
  2. significance and overall impact of the proposed research
  3. sound hypotheses and rationale
  4. experimental designs that test the hypotheses

If the student's Advisory Committee approves the grant proposal, then the oral portion of the exam can be scheduled. The oral portion normally must be completed within one month of the written portion. If the student's Advisory Committee does not unanimously approve, they must include written feedback within this 2-week decision period. Then, the student will have 2 weeks to revise and resubmit the proposal based on the feedback. The student will be given only one chance to revise the proposal. If upon resubmission, the proposal is again disapproved, then the student may waive the right to the oral exam following guidelines described in section 7.4 of the Graduate School Handbook.

Note: NGP encourages all students to submit a federal or private foundation pre-doctoral grant proposal early in their tenure (for example, an NIH NRSA-F31 grant, if the student is eligible).  The written portion of the candidacy examination may form the basis of such a submission.


After approval of the grant proposal, students will defend their proposal in an oral examination before the full Candidacy Examination Committee, which consists of the student’s Advisory Committee plus a Graduate School Representative if applicable.  This examination should be scheduled two to four (2-4) weeks after approval of the grant proposal.

In accordance with Graduate School rules the examination, defined as time spent answering questions posed by the Candidacy Examination Committee, should last approximately two hours.  However, at the discretion of the Advisory Committee, the student may present a brief (~10 min) summary of the aims of her/his research proposal, providing background, hypotheses, and research strategies to achieve the stated goals. NGP does not consider the time spent on the presentation as part of the formal examination.  Attendance at the oral examination is limited to the student and members of the Advisory Committee, all of whom must be present during the entire duration of the oral examination.  During the examination, all members of the Advisory Committee will ask questions related to the grant proposal, but tangential lines of questioning can and should be pursued as well as questions of a general neuroscience nature that may include, but are not limited to, any material covered in the core courses of the curriculum.  However, there are no specific mandated areas of questioning, and this is left to the discretion of the Advisory Committee members.  Questioning of the student should occupy the entire period of the examination.  All committee members are expected to participate fully in the questioning during the course of the examination and in the discussion of and decision on the result of the Candidacy Examination.

Postponement: The oral portion of the Candidacy Examination is expected to be held as scheduled. Circumstances however may force postponement.  Before taking this action, the advisor must consult the student and members of the Candidacy Examination Committee and must then notify the NGP committee of the new date, time, and location of the examination.  Once formal questioning has begun, the examination must proceed to a voting conclusion.


At the conclusion of the oral portion of the examination, the student will be excused and the Candidacy Examination Committee will decide the outcome of the exam (including both written and oral portions).  After discussion, the satisfactory/unsatisfactory decision is made by vote.  All members of the Candidacy Examination Committee, including the advisor, and also (if applicable) the Graduate School Representative, must be present for the entire oral examination and must have evaluated the written portion of the examination, and all must vote.

  • Satisfactory: The student is considered to have completed the Candidacy Examination successfully only when the decision of the Candidacy Examination Committee is unanimously affirmative. Successful completion of the Candidacy Examination admits a student as a candidate for the doctoral degree.  A doctoral candidate has five (5) years to complete the doctoral program following passage of the Candidacy Examination.  If a student fails to meet this time limit, she/he will be required to reschedule the Candidacy Examination.  Successful completion of the second examination will permit the student to complete the doctoral program within a two (2) year period. If a student fails to complete the program during this two (2) year period, she/he will be dismissed from the NGP.

  • Unsatisfactory: If there are one or more negative votes, the student’s performance will be judged unsatisfactory.  In such cases, the Advisory Committee must decide if the student will be permitted to take a second examination.  This decision must be recorded on the Report on Candidacy.  The nature of the second Candidacy Examination is determined by the Advisory Committee, but it must include an oral portion with the written portion being optional.  If a second examination is held, the Advisory Committee must be the same as the original one, unless a substitution is approved by the Dean of the Graduate School.  The second Candidacy Examination Committee will be composed of the Advisory Committee plus a mandatory Graduate Faculty Representative.  The second examination must be completed by the end of the semester following the one in which the first examination was taken.  A student who fails the Candidacy Examination twice is not allowed an additional examination.  After two unsatisfactory attempts at the Candidacy Examination a student is no longer in good standing and is automatically dismissed from the Graduate School and is not eligible to use the Transfer of Graduate Program procedure to enroll in another doctoral program at The Ohio State University.

Members of the Candidacy Examination Committee will log onto GRADFORMS.OSU.EDU to record their satisfactory or unsatisfactory decision.  The Candidacy Examination Committee must electronically submit descisions prior to leaving the examination room.  The advisor should provide feedback to the student regarding their performance in the examination.


On written appeal by the student or a member of the Advisory Committee, the Dean of the Graduate School will ask the Graduate Council to review the Candidacy Examination to ensure it was conducted fairly and without prejudice to the student and according to the rules of the NGP and the Graduate School.  The Council has established review procedures, which are available in the Graduate School.


If the student is in good standing at the end of the semester in which the Candidacy Examination is completed, satisfactory completion of that examination admits the student to Candidacy for the doctoral degree. Admission to candidacy signifies that the student is judged to be properly prepared to undertake work on the dissertation and formally marks the start of the research phase of training.