Fifth semester exam to assess a Ph.D. student’s knowledge of their research area and to specifically evaluate the research proposal.


Version 04/10/2012
During the semester in which a student plans to defend the dissertation prospectus (formerly "Comprehensive Exam"), an Admission to Candidacy application must be completed, sent to the Graduate Coordinator, approved by the faculty advisor and the Graduate Director, and submitted to the Graduate School at least three weeks before the prospectus defense. The Graduate Coordinator will also submit a Doctoral Exam report at this time to inform the Graduate School about the date of the exam and the composition of the committee.

The prospectus defense in ENVS is intended to assess a Ph.D. student’s knowledge of his or her research area and specifically to evaluate a student’s dissertation research proposal. The exam should be taken in a student’s fifth semester, and no later than the sixth semester, of graduate study in ENVS. Any exceptions to this rule will require the permission of the ENVS Graduate Committee. The format consists of a 15-page document that describes the dissertation proposal in detail, a 15-20 minute oral presentation by the student, and an oral examination by the student’s dissertation committee. The combination of the presentation and oral examination will take approximately two hours. The student is responsible for scheduling the meeting and for reserving the room where the exam will be held. The student’s committee should complete the Doctoral Examination report after the meeting and return it to the Graduate Coordinator.

Written Component (15 pages, single-sided and single-spaced):

The student must submit to the dissertation committee a 15-page (NSF-type or NIH-type format) research proposal on the dissertation topic. A copy of this proposal must be submitted to every member of the committee at least two weeks before the scheduled meeting. Students who successfully complete the prospectus defense will be advanced to candidacy in the next semester.  Students are strongly encouraged to consult with committee members and particularly their advisors as they prepare this document. The research proposal should include the following categories:

  1. Abstract of proposed work.
  2. General introduction that puts the proposed project into perspective and reviews the relevant literature in the field.
  3. Rationale for and importance of the research.
  4. Relevant preliminary research already completed or in progress.
  5. Research design, including proposed methods and research plan.
  6. References (not included in page count).

This document must be limited to 15 single-spaced pages, including figures and tables, but excluding references.

Oral Presentation (20 minutes):

The student should prepare a 20-minute formal presentation on his/her research progress and research plan. The presentation should be of a format acceptable at a national professional meeting, should highlight the questions addressed by the student’s research, and include sufficient details on methods to be analyzed by the committee.

Oral Examination:

The oral examination will include a discussion of the research presented by the student, but will also probe the student’s knowledge of the contemporary and historical literature relating to the student’s proposed research. Students are encouraged to seek advice from all Prospectus Defense Committee members about their expectations concerning subject matter and level of knowledge for this exam. No restrictions are placed upon committee members with regard to subject matter relevant to the dissertation topic.

Committee Membership:

The Prospectus Defense Committee is made up of five people, including the student’s primary advisor and four other members who are approved by the ENVS Graduate Committee and who are in a field related to the student’s area of research. Three of the members must be CU-Boulder Graduate Faculty and one must be from outside the ENVS program. The primary advisor and outside member of the committee must have regular or tenured Graduate Faculty appointments. The other committee members must have either regular or special Graduate Faculty appointments. For committee members not on the CU-Boulder faculty roster, students must submit a CV to the graduate school and request a "Special Appointment to the Graduate Faculty." Please consult the Graduate Coordinator for details.

Examination Criteria & Possible Outcomes:

Pass:No additional requirements. Successful candidates must receive affirmative votes from a majority of the members of the committee.

Conditional Pass:A student receiving a conditional pass will be required to take additional requirements as required by the examining committee and will not pass the exam until they complete these requirements. A conditional pass will be assigned if a student 1) fails to demonstrate a sufficient understanding of the literature in their core research area, and/or 2) fails to articulate the motivation and design of their Ph.D. research in either the proposal or during the oral examination.

Fail:A student who fails the prospectus defense will either be asked to leave the program or required to retake the prospectus defense. A student may only re-defend once.