Qualifying Exam & Prospectus Defense

Policy in Catalog:

MS Degree Requirements in the School of Marine Science Graduate Catalog
PhD Degree Requirements in the School of Marine Science Graduate Catalog


Roles and Responsibilities of Students, Advisors and Committees
Select a Moderator


Qualifying Exam Scheduling Form
Qualifying Exam Grade Form
Prospectus Pre-Approval Form
Prospectus Acceptance Form

Interim Guidelines for Qualifying Exams
Interim guidelines for qualifying exams are in effect until further notice, due to COVID-19 continuity planning. View the interim guidelines, approved on 3/18/2020.
General Information:
General Info on Qualifying Exam and Prospectus Acceptance Milestones
Scheduling Your Exam
  • Advisor approval is required before the qualifying exam can be scheduled. The student should arrange the date and time for the qualifying exam with all members of the advisory committee as well as select a moderator and reserve rooms in EMS for the examination.
  • Determine if any committee members need to participate from a remote location. Committee members are expected to attend the qualifying exam in person. Should a committee member need to participate remotely, however, the advisor should alert the moderator and confirm the availability of adequate means of communications, both at VIMS and at the remote location. The approval of the Associate Dean of Academic Studies is required in the event that more than one committee member participate remotely. Indicate remote participation on the exam scheduling form.
  • Contact [[bob, Bob Polley]] in ITNS to request special AV setup requirements at least 30 days in advance of your exam. ITNS needs to know how many committee members will participate remotely.
  • Once the above steps are completed, submit a qualifying exam scheduling form to the [[registrar, SMS Registrar]] at least 3 weeks prior to the exam date. Announcements will be distributed via the Academic Studies Digest on Tuesdays.
Qualifying Exam Guidelines

The qualifying exam is an oral exam designed to test a student's scientific competence and ability to pursue the research project. The examination allows a student's advisory committee to identify any deficiencies in a student's preparation to successfully conduct and complete the degree program. The student begins with a 20-minute discussion or presentation of the proposed research which is followed by two rounds of questioning from the committee. Each committee member is given the floor for 5-10 minutes during each round. Questioning often starts with a committee member from the SMS, with the outside committee member and major advisor ending the questioning in each round.

The questioning round consists of two components:

  1. Questions that address knowledge specific to the proposed research project.
  2. Questions that are broader in scope, including general knowledge or marine science, particularly as it relates to the student's area of speciality.

Additional guidelines for the qualifying exam can be found here.

The qualifying exam will be administered by the student's advisory committee and chaired by a moderator who is not a member of the student's advisory committee. The moderator must be identified at least 3 weeks prior to the examination. Committee members participating remotely, who are unable to sign the Qualifying Exam Grade Form electronically, can provide signatory authority via email which grants permission to the qualifying exam moderator to sign this form. 

The SMS Registrar will compile the milestone forms to be signed at the qualifying exam at least one business day prior to the defense date. Hard copies of the forms will be printed and made available for pickup by the moderator or faculty advisor from the SMS Registrar's office. Electronic files will be shared with the moderator and faculty advisor via Box if electronic files are needed for external committee members.

Consistent with SMS procedures, the examination will be advertised in the Academic Studies Digest and is open to all faculty members.  

The qualifying examination milestone occurs at 18 months for an M.S. student and 30 months for a Ph.D. student. The exam must be completed within 6 or 12 months of the milestone date for M.S. and Ph.D. students, respectively. A student who fails to meet the milestone in the timeframe specified will be placed on academic probation.

Keep in mind, the minimum elapsed time between successful completion of the qualifying examination and the final defense must be no less than six months for M.S. students and no less than one year for Ph.D. students.

Prospectus Guidelines & Defense

The prospectus is a formal written presentation of the proposed research. The prospectus is reviewed by the student's advisory committee for the appropriateness to degree sought, scientific merit, and soundness of research approach. The typical length of a prospectus is fifteen (15) pages.

If the prospectus is properly written, it should be useable (with minor modifications) as the corresponding sections of the final thesis or dissertation. Attention and care in the preparation of the prospectus should significantly reduce the effort required for the final thesis or dissertation.

The prospectus must include:

  • A problem statement
  • A review of current literature in the area of study
  • A detailed plan of study
  • A summary of preliminary research conducted by the student
  • A detailed rationale for the proposed work
  • Clearly stated objectives
  • A testable hypothesis(es) when appropriate, consistent with the problem statement
  • A description of research design, field and laboratory studies, methods, and data analysis

At least 3 weeks prior to the qualifying exam, the student is required to submit a draft of the approved prospectus to each member of the student's committee and to the faculty member who has agreed to serve as moderator of the qualifying exam. The student's Major and/or Co-Major Advisor must review and approve a draft of the student's prospectus before it is distributed to other members of the student's advisory committee, via signing the Prospectus Pre-Approval Form.

Committee members participating remotely, who are unable to sign the Prospectus Acceptance form electronically, can provide signatory authority via email which grants permission to the qualifying exam moderator to sign this form.

Last Updated: 10-May-2021 by J. Hay