There are some questions that commonly come up regarding certain aspects of the candidacy exam. Although many of these are formally addressed in the Candidacy Exam section of the MPB Graduate Student Guidelines, it may be helpful for students going through the Candidacy Exam process to review these questions to help prevent some misunderstandings. Of course, students are always welcome and encouraged to consult with the DGS and/or the AED to clarify any aspect of the Candidacy Exam.
1. Can I use transgenic mice in my Candidacy Exam proposal?
It depends on the intended use, and the available literature on the line. One common use of transgenic lines is as a tool in promoter analysis. In this case, transgenics are generated with pieces of the promotor driving expression of a reporter gene. The mice are then sacrificed and the pattern of reporter expression assessed. A proposal to generate mice for this purpose to test a hypothesis is fine.
In another type of experiment, an individual wishes to generate a new transgenic line to study a cellular of behavioral process in a postnatal animal. This is more problematic. Since the animal has not yet been generated, two major concerns exist. First, if a new targeting construct or transgenic construct needs to be generated and used, how practical is the construct for the specific genetic insertion or locus? This is largely an unknown. Second, will the genetic manipulation produce unanticipated consequences that will produce lethality or other effects that would prohibit the needed experiments from being performed? Again, this is an unknown. Thus, just as in study section with a new grant application, this approach is frowned upon in our qualifying exam.
2. Can I consult one of my lab/department colleagues?
Contrary to what your PI might have you believe, it is rare that someone writes a grant in complete isolation. We ENCOURAGE you to talk with ANYONE to learn about the strengths and weakness of approaches, and to ask GENERAL questions about a field of research. Here’s a list of hypothetical appropriate and inappropriate questions as examples.
Can you help me understand the strengths and weaknesses of this technique?
Can you explain this concept in the field to me?
What is the best way to determine the level of my protein of interest in a tissue?
What is the next big and important question in this field?
Will you give me a hypothesis?
3. Can I ask someone to read my proposal for English usage, grammar and/or clarity?
NO. It is imperative that the document be completely in your own words. Obviously, the better the grammar and clarity, the better the document will be received by the committee. However, this is not an exercise in grammar. Just do your best and use the grammar and spell-checkers in Word before you turn it in.
4. Who will serve on my examination committee and when will I find out?
Once you have turned in your abstract, the DGS and AED, in consultation with the GEC, will assign an examination committee for you. You will be informed of the 4 MPB members of your committee during your first abstract review. You will be informed of the external member of your committee shortly after your second abstract review.
5. What are the consequences of deferring my initial attempt at the Candidacy Examination?
The one negative consequence is a longer period of time before you have your first meeting with your thesis committee to give you feedback on your research. However, because deferred students are encouraged to work actively in their labs during the period of deferral, there is no net loss of research time. The advantage in the deferral is that it allows you more time to develop your scientific thinking skills and practice answering questions in front of a group (presenting at lab group meetings is a valuable tool for developing these skills).
6. Is my proposed project for my qualifying exam too similar to my research project?
This is undeniably a gray area. You are free to bring your abstract to the DGS and/or AED for advice on this, though in the end this is a decision made by your entire examination committee at the time of the abstract review. As a general rule of thumb, as long as no one in YOUR lab is actively working or talking about working on the project and you have no knowledge of that specific project being done in another lab, it is a reasonable one for you to propose.