Graduate Board Oral Exams

Oral Exams

The Graduate Board Oral Examination for candidates for the Ph.D. degree has three major objectives:

  1. To assess a candidate’s proficiency in the discipline.
  2. To give a student the benefit of a critical examination of his or her work by scholars outside the department or program committee
  3. To provide a means for extra-departmental monitoring of the academic quality of departments and committees sponsoring candidates.

Types of Graduate Board Graduate Oral Examinations

There are two types of Graduate Board oral examinations: preliminary exams and final exams. Departments or program committees decide whether students will use a preliminary or a final examination to fulfill their Graduate Board requirement. Preliminary exams are given to students at an early stage in the progress toward the Ph.D.; final exams are given to those who have completed the doctoral dissertation.

Preliminary Examinations

The purpose of a preliminary examination is to test the depth and breadth of the student’s knowledge and reasoning abilities. The scope of such an examination cannot and should not be sharply defined. The Graduate Board Oral Examination Committee can determine the limits of the exam by reviewing the candidate’s formal coursework along with the requirements of the candidate’s school, group, department, or committee requirements (e.g., whether specific minor, as well as major, subjects are to be included). The preliminary exam may cover the student’s proposed dissertation topic; in that case, examiners should have information about the dissertation proposal well ahead of the examination.

Final Examinations

A final examination should concentrate on the student’s doctoral dissertation and its implications. It is reasonable for the Graduate Board Oral Examination Committee to explore the candidate’s breadth of knowledge in areas ruled germane to the thesis by the chair of the committee. The dissertation and the readers’ report must be available to the committee at least two weeks before a final exam.

Schedule the GBO

The chair of the department or program committee  (or their administrative/academic staff designee) sponsoring a candidate for the Ph.D. degree is responsible for scheduling the exam and submitting the form entitled Oral Examination for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Graduate Board Office. Students should be involved in discussions with their advisor around committee membership, and ideally should be in touch with committee members in advance to share drafts and discuss research, but should not coordinate the administrative scheduling and logistics of the exam setup, nor submit the GBO committee form request to the Graduate Board. This form must be completed, signed by the chair, and submitted to the Graduate Board three weeks before to the proposed examination date. Only the original, signed form needs to be submitted to the Board. Exams may be conducted at anytime throughout the year.

Oral Examination Committee Eligibility

To be eligible to serve on a Graduate Board Oral Examination Committee, a faculty member must hold:

  1. A faculty appointment as a Professor, Associate Professor, or Assistant Professor in a University department/program. Such appointments may be regular or visiting, full-time or part-time.
  2. One member of a committee may be from the public health scientist faculty track. Lecturers and visiting scholars may not serve. Exceptions. The Chair of the Graduate Board and one other member of the Board must approve anyone not meeting these criteria. To be considered for approval, the chair of the department/program petitioning for authorization of an examiner outside of the University must submit:
    • The full curriculum vita of the outside examiner, including recent peer-reviewed publications and evidence of scholarly work
    • A one-page summary of the research of the Ph.D. student
    • A one-page letter explaining how the expertise of the examiner meshes with the student’s research and why the department must go outside of the University to have this expertise represented on the committee.

The above request and documentation should accompany the examination form and must be received by the Graduate Board for review a minimum of four weeks before the scheduled Graduate Board Oral Examination.

Faculty members who leave the University may continue to mentor their former students for a period of five years with the approval of the chair of the department/program.

Composition of the Oral Examination Committee

Members of the GBO examination committee are selected by the candidate’s department chair or graduate program director and approved by the Graduate Board Chair. The chair of the committee is selected by the Graduate Board Chair. Only JHU full-time tenure track faculty, holding the rank of Professor, Associate Professor, or Emeritus Professor, from outside the candidate’s department are eligible to serve as Chair of the GBO committee.

Although consultation with candidates and their faculty advisors regarding possible exam committee members is appropriate, selection of the committee is the department/program chair’s responsibility and is not the candidate’s responsibility or prerogative.

Inside and Outside Examiners

Two examination committee members must be inside the department or program sponsoring the candidate, and two committee members must be from outside the department or program sponsoring the candidate. The fifth examination committee member will serve either as inside or outside the department, as determined by your department, program or division. Ordinarily, the primary appointment of faculty members determines whether they are considered inside or outside the department. When determining a faculty member’s primary appointment, the Graduate Board generally disregards appointments in non-Ph.D. degree granting departments. Advisors, however, are considered inside examiners even if their appointment is outside of the department sponsoring the candidate. Generally, the two primary readers/advisors serve as the two inside members of the examination if the final examination is considered as the Graduate Board examination. A department chair may request the Graduate Board to designate certain divisions within very large departments as outside programs.

Remote Participation in GBO Exam by Committee Member

In special circumstances, and with advance preauthorization, members of the GBO committee may participate via a remote video and audio platform. To be considered for approval, the chair of the department/program petitioning for authorization must indicate this request on the GBO form at the time of submission for the Graduate Board approval. There should be at least three in-person committee members present for the GBO.  When possible,  the GBO Chair should be selected from those committee members physically present.

Revised per HGB decision April 2019

Notification of Committee Members

After the Chair of the Graduate Board approves the examination request, the original will be sent to the appointed chair of the committee, a copy will be sent to the department, and the Graduate Board will maintain one copy. After this point, no substitution of examiners other than those named as alternates can be made without the approval of the Graduate Board Office. The chair of the department/program sponsoring the candidate is responsible for notifying the student and examiners of the time and place of the examination. For a final examination, examiners should have copies of the candidate’s dissertation and the readers’ letter at least two weeks before to the examination.

Possible Outcomes of Graduate Board Oral Exams

There are three potential outcomes that can be decided by the Graduate Board Oral Exam Committee: (1) unconditional pass; (2) conditional pass, and (3) fail.

(1) Unconditional Pass means that the student has successfully completed the exam to the satisfaction of the committee.

(2) Conditional Pass means that the committee will require the student to remedy some knowledge gap, weakness, or error exhibited in the exam, e.g. by either having the student take a particular course (0r several) and receiving a certain grade in each, and/or completing a certain piece of research and producing satisfactory results, and/or writing a thesis chapter or submitting a journal article, etc. Conditions will vary by student and program and will be documented on the GBO Exam form or via an attached document. There will be established deadlines by when the student must complete the conditions; and at that point the committee will review progress and submit a letter to the Graduate Board citing if the student has either met the conditions and has effectively now passed the oral exam or if the student has more conditions to complete or has effectively failed the exam.

(3) Fail indicates that the committee has determined there is a serious deficit in the student’s preparation and ability which cannot be remedied by conditions. Students may retake the GBO Exam only one time. If a student fails their GBO Exam twice, they will be dismissed from the PhD program.