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Examinations and Program Planning Meeting

  1. Candidacy Examination

    1. Objective: to determine if the student is qualified in terms of basic communication skills, deductive or scientific reasoning, and previous training to successfully pursue a Ph.D. program.

    2.  Timing: The candidacy examination may be administered after at least 18 credits have been earned in graduate courses beyond the baccalaureate (includes M.S. coursework). The examination must be taken within three semesters (summer sessions do not count) of entry into the doctoral program. The student must be registered as a full-time or part-time degree student for the semester in which the candidacy examination is taken. The Graduate School is notified after the student passes the exam, but not in advance (unlike the other exams). The student is responsible for arranging the exam at a time and place agreeable to all committee members.

    3. Procedures for the examination: A Candidacy Exam Committee is selected by the student and adviser, usually consisting of the faculty who will be asked to serve on the Doctoral Advisory Committee. The student should arrange times for the written and oral exams, and inform the graduate program assistant (Darlene Berry) of the time. The exam does not have to be scheduled in advance with the Graduate School, but the advisor should inform the graduate program assistant of the outcome immediately after the exam.
      In the Horticulture program at Penn State, the evaluation of English competency is done during the candidacy exam. However, the committee decides separately whether the student passes the candidacy exam and demonstrates English competency.

    4.  Written critique: Ph.D. students (domestic and international) in the Horticulture graduate program will be evaluated on their English writing competency approximately one week before the oral candidacy. The adviser will provide a journal article for the student to critique. This critique is the basis for the committee evaluation of written English competency. (See “English Competency Policy” in this handbook). The student should circulate the article and critique to the whole committee as soon as the critique is complete.

    5. Oral exam: The oral examination will be administered by the Candidacy Examination Committee. During the candidacy exam, the student will present an oral report on the paper critiqued for the writing competency evaluation. The Candidacy Examination Committee will determine whether the student is qualified to become a candidate for the Ph.D. in Horticulture, and (separately) whether he/she has satisfied the English Competency Policy requirements in both written and verbal skills (See “English Competency Policy”). Each committee member will rate the candidate's performance and recommend one of the following:

      1. Pass

      2. Fail, with an opportunity to retake the examination at a later date. The second examination, which may be written and/or oral (at the option of the committee), must be completed within 90 days, but no sooner than 30 days, after the first examination.

      3. Fail without reservation resulting in termination of the student's graduate program.

        A favorable vote of two-thirds of the committee members is required for passing. If the student passes the candidacy examination, recommendation will be made to the associate dean of the Graduate School by the department head that the student be accepted as a Ph.D. candidate in Horticulture.

  2. Program Planning Meeting

    The program planning meeting will be held within one semester after passing the candidacy examination.

    1. Objectives:

      1. To discuss the student's strengths and weaknesses in pertinent subject matter areas.

      2. To guide the student in developing a plan of study.

      3. To review and discuss the proposed thesis research.

    2. Procedure:
      At least one week prior to the program planning meeting, the student, in consultation with the adviser, should prepare and distribute to the committee a preliminary plan of study and thesis research proposal. During the meeting the committee will discuss the student's proposed plan of study, considering the student's background, interests, and proposed research. At the end of the discussion, the committee will review, modify if necessary, and approve the student's plan of study. Most of the discussion usually centers around the thesis proposal. This meeting provides an opportunity for all committee members to discuss the proposed research and plan of experiments, and to make suggestions for improvement. The student, the adviser, and the remainder of the Doctoral Advisory Committee should come to an agreement on the research plan. If major changes in the research become necessary during the course of the research, the student should discuss these with the committee members. Following the program planning meeting, the committee chairman should report the results of the meeting to the head of the Department of Plant Science and file a copy of the approved plan to study and thesis proposal in the departmental office.

  3. Comprehensive Examination

    1. Objectives: The examination will determine if the candidate has attained a level of training in the specific area of horticulture with sufficient depth and breadth to be worthy of the Ph.D. degree upon submitting an acceptable thesis.
    2. Timing: The comprehensive shall be given when, in the student opinion and the adviser's, the student is ready for the examination, and when the communications requirements, English competency, and essentially all of the course work have been completed. The comprehensive exam must be given at least three months before the final exam. The student must be registered as a full-time or part-time student at the time the comprehensive exam is administered and must maintain continuous registration (spring and fall semesters) from that time until the dissertation is accepted. The department head will notify the Graduate School at least three weeks in advance of the comprehensive exam, and will report the results to the Graduate School afterwards.
    3. Procedures: The comprehensive examination includes written and oral exams.The oral exam date and time should be arranged by the student and scheduled via the Graduate School by submitting the request to the Plant Science office at least three weeks before the oral exam date.
      1. The written exam: The committee members will prepare a written list of questions to be completed by the student. Not more than three hours will be allowed for each member's set of questions and not more than two sets may be completed per day. Each committee member shall be responsible for supervision of their written examination session. Each committee member shall correct their part and return it with an evaluation to the student within one week after the examination, and provide a copy to the committee chairman. The written examination and evaluation shall be completed at least one week but not more than four weeks prior to the date of the oral examination. All committee members having an appointment in the Department of Horticulture must give both written and oral examinations. Members of the committee not having an appointment in the Department of Plant Science may at their discretion omit the written examination and defer all questions to the oral examination.
      2. The oral exam: An oral examination shall be administered by the Doctoral Advisory Committee with the committee chairman in charge. Each committee member will have approximately 30 minutes to question the student. At the end of the examination each committee member will be asked to rate the candidate's performance on both the written and oral portions of the exam. The Doctoral Advisory Committee will make one of the following decisions:

            (a) Pass without reservation.

        (b) Pass with reservation (to be defined by the committee). A favorable vote of two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing.
        (c) Fail with the option to retake the examination once, at a date no later than 90 days following the first examination.
        (d) Failure without option for re-examination.  This decision results in the termination of the student's graduate program in the Department of Plant Science.

      3. Decision of the committee will be reported by the adviser to the head of the Department of Plant Science and to the Graduate School within ten working days on the forms provided by the Graduate School.
  4. Final Oral Examination  
    1. Objectives: The main objective of the final oral examination is to determine if the student demonstrates the degree of scholarship worthy of the Ph.D. in Horticulture. Since the major evidence of scholarship is the dissertation, the major part of the examination is a thesis defense. The following points are used as guidelines for evaluation:
      1. Has the candidate demonstrated originality, creativity, and resourcefulness in the conduct of research?
      2. Does the research utilize proper experimental designs, appropriate techniques, and are these adequately described?
      3. Is the candidate able to satisfactorily defend the methods, findings, and conclusions of the research as embodied in the thesis?
      4. Does the candidate demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the relevant literature, and can the candidate place his or her contribution in proper context with the literature?
      5. Is the thesis research worthy of publication in a refereed scientific journal?
    2. Timing: After the doctoral candidate has satisfied all other requirements for the degree and upon recommendation of the thesis adviser, the head of the Department of Plant Science will ask the associate dean of the Graduate School to schedule the final examination. The final oral examination may not be scheduled until at least three months have elapsed after the comprehensive examination was passed. Be sure to schedule the examination before the deadline set by the Graduate School for the semester the student intends to graduate (see Graduate School calendar ). Note that the exam must not only occur by a certain date, but also must be scheduled by a certain date.
    3. Procedures: Early drafts of the thesis should be reviewed by the adviser and be revised by the student until the adviser determines that the thesis is ready for review by the whole Doctoral Advisory Committee. Copies of the complete thesis, including the abstract and vita in approved Graduate School format, should then be submitted to all committee members. This must occur by two weeks before the final exam. Committee members must return the thesis with comments and corrections to the students at the defense.


      At the final exam, the student will make a presentation summarizing the thesis, followed by a period of questions and responses. The questions will relate primarily to the thesis, but may cover the student's whole program of study, since one purpose of the exam is to assess the scholarly attainments of the candidate. The committee members evaluate the student's performance during the exam and the quality of the thesis on forms provided by the graduate school, and determine whether the student passes the final exam. A favorable vote by two-thirds of the committee members is required for passing.; In the event of failure, the committee may determine whether another examination may be taken.

    4. Thesis acceptance: During the final exam, the committee may decide that changes to the thesis are required. In this case, the student must revise the thesis to the committee's satisfaction and obtain the signatures before the final due date at the Graduate School. Doctoral Advisory Committee members will indicate their acceptance of the thesis in its final form by signing the signatory page either immediately after the final exam or after satisfactory revisions have been made.

      The decision of the committee will be reported to the head of the Department of Plant Science and to the Graduate School within ten working days on the forms provided by the Graduate School.