All students are required to have an oral comprehensive exam*. Exceptions to use other formats (written, conference call) must be approved by the student's three-member exam committee, and only if warranted by special circumstances. Thesis students are also required to have a thesis defense, which is separate from the comprehensive oral exam.
The format of the comprehensive exam is oral responses (and blackboard demonstrations) to questions from content areas including cells/biochemistry, genetics, evolution, metabolism/homeostasis, energy/ecosystem level processes, and systematics. Questions will also be asked from an "open" topical area, which might include an area of specialty for the student, scientific process, experimental design, or the student's specific research area.
A three-person exam committee will comprise the student's academic advisor and two other biology graduate faculty, preferably with whom graduate courses have been taken. The student and advisor work together to select committee members. For thesis students, the exam committee is the same as the Graduate Advisory Committee.
Thesis students should schedule the exam in their second semester (assuming full-time enrollment). Second year graduate assistantships are contingent on successful completion of the oral comprehensive exam. Non-thesis students should schedule the exam after completing 18-24 hours of coursework. Students must schedule an exam no later than the twelfth week of either the Fall or Spring semesters. The exam must be passed no later than the semester before the semester of graduation.
Scheduling of exams during summer months is discouraged, but allowable, provided the exam committee members are willing and able to assemble in the summer.
For students who cannot travel to campus, a distance learning facility or Skype conference arrangement is acceptable. The student and advisor will work out details about the student's location and environment (e.g., have a paper and sharpie, have a whiteboard, or have some other medium for drawing a diagram or figure).
* Students should not confuse the oral comprehensive exam policy of the Masters of Science in Biology Program with the general policy for comprehensive exams through the Graduate School. The Graduate School stipulates that all graduate degree programs require either a written or oral exam, or an approved capstone course. For example, the oral defense of a thesis satisfies this requirement. However, departments can have additional requirements for their own programs. The policy above does not conflict with the Graduate School policy, but provides additional requirements. Students should also complete and submit Form D, "Admission to Candidacy", at the time of scheduling the comprehensive exam.