Ph.D. Program Overview
Students who have earned a baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate degree in engineering or in a related field such as mathematical, physical, or life sciences are eligible to be considered for admission to the Ph.D. program if they have a minimum grade point average of 3.25 out of 4.00. Students may, under exceptional circumstances, be considered for conditional admission with a lower grade point average.
The doctoral program, including acceptable transfer credits, requires a minimum of 72 semester hours of core courses, elective courses, and dissertation research. Of these, at least 42 semester hours must be graduate level courses and at least 12 semester hours must be dissertation research. The core courses required of all graduate students are provided on the Graduate Curriculum and Policies page. The elective courses are expected to conform to the candidate’s chosen research focus and are determined at the discretion of his/her examining committee. In addition, doctoral candidates are expected to pass a qualifying exam, a comprehensive exam, and a final dissertation defense, all of which are evaluated by his/her examining committee. Admission to the Ph.D. program is conditional until the student successfully completes the qualifying examination.
Research advisor/mentor: The research mentor is a faculty member who will guide the candidate in their dissertation research, managing the administration of exams (qualifying exam, comprehensive exam, and dissertation defense), often providing financial support and in guiding the candidate toward a chosen career path upon graduation. Identifying a research mentor is one of the most important and indispensable steps for a Ph.D. candidate. Therefore, the earlier a research mentor is identified, the better. Indeed, most Ph.D. candidates identify and have communicated with their research mentor even before starting their doctoral studies. All students seeking a Ph.D. are encouraged to identify their research mentor within the first semester of graduate studies.
Academic advisor: The academic advisor is a BME primary faculty member who will guide the candidate on general academic requirements of their graduate studies including the approval of courses for registration. If the research mentor is a BME primary faculty, then he/she will also serve as an academic advisor. However, if the research mentor is not a BME primary faculty member, an academic advisor from BME will be assigned to the candidate (or may be chosen by the candidate).
Examining committee: The examining committee is a group of faculty members formed specifically to guide and evaluate the candidate on the comprehensive exam and dissertation defense. The graduate student should form the Ph.D. examining committee in consultation with his/her research mentor (who will chair the examining committee). It should consist of at least five faculty members and satisfy the following:
• At least four committee members should be members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty;
• At least two committee members should be BME primary faculty members; and
• The chair of the examining committee should be the candidate’s research mentor, hold an appointment in
BME (primary or affiliated) and be a member of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty.
Ph.D. Qualifying Exam
The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam (QE) is the first of three exams administered during a student's studies. An evaluation committee will seek to assess whether the graduate student is prepared to begin research in his/her chosen area of focus toward a Ph.D. degree. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program are expected to take the ‘standard qualifying exam’ at the end of the first year. Students in the University of Iowa BME M.S. thesis program who intend to pursue a Ph.D. in BME may choose to have their M.S. thesis defense serve as their qualifying examination.
Standard qualifying exam: The standard QE is for students who have been admitted to the BME Ph.D. program. The evaluation committee is comprised of three members from the BME graduate committee with expertise relevant to the student's research area. The evaluation committee will not include the student's research mentor. Ad-hoc member(s) from outside the BME graduate committee may be included if the student’s research area requires additional expertise than available within the BME graduate committee.
- Near the end of the spring semester or the beginning of the summer semester, the candidate will work with her/his research mentor to draft QE questions relevant to their research area and consistent with existing policies. The evaluation committee will refine it as appropriate and assign it to the candidate. An oral QE exam will be scheduled roughly 60-90 days after the committee approves the question. Sample question(s) from earlier QEs may be used as a guide.
- The QE response report is required to be submitted to the evaluation committee by each candidate. This response report will be no longer than 6 pages, single-spaced, 11-point font, not including references. In preparing the response, the student may not consult with his/her research mentor. The report is due to the committee at least one week in advance.
- The candidate should present their oral response to the evaluation committee. This presentation is expected to be about 20 minutes followed by about 20 minutes of Q&A. QE oral presentations will be scheduled by the graduate program office.
- The QE evaluation committee will discuss the candidate's performance and vote to pass or fail. The candidate will pass the QE if there is no more than 1 failing vote. Additionally,
- The evaluation committee may vote to pass a candidate with additional conditions if needed.
- The candidate’s research mentor may be consulted by the graduate committee and his/her views considered during deliberations as per its discretion. A written letter may be requested if needed.
- If a candidate fails the QE, a second opportunity may be provided to retake the QE as per the evaluation committee’s discretion.
MS thesis defense as qualifying exam: Students enrolled in the M.S. thesis program who seek to pursue a Ph.D. degree in BME may choose to make their MS thesis defense as the qualifying examination. In a combined MS thesis defense/qualifying exam,
- The thesis/examining committee composition should satisfy all requirements of the standard QE examining committee.
- The five-member examining committee will evaluate the student’s MS thesis effort and performance in voting on both the MS thesis defense and QE as well.
- Passing of both the MS thesis defense and the QE will require a majority of the five-member committee to vote to pass.
- The vote on the MS thesis defense is independent of the vote on the QE exam. Therefore, the examining committee has the right to vote to fail one while passing the other.
Required documentation: The Qualifying Exam Form will be completed on the student's behalf. The committee chair will obtain the student folder from the main BME office prior to the exam. Upon completion of the QE, the committee chair will obtain signatures from faculty committee members and submit it to the department office.
Please ensure you submit your report to your committee at least one week in advance.
Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam
The Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam (CE) is the second of three exams that graduate students in Biomedical Engineering will have to pass toward obtaining their Ph.D. degree. The CE exam, administered by the candidate’s examining committee will evaluate the candidate’s proposed Ph.D. dissertation project plan. Ph.D. candidates should take the comprehensive exam within two years of completing the qualifying examination. The CE includes the submission of a report and an oral examination. According to Graduate College policy, the comprehensive exam must be satisfactorily completed not later than the session prior to the session of graduation.
Role of research mentor: The candidate’s research mentor will chair the examining committee. Unlike in the qualifying exam, it is expected that the candidate’s research mentor will work with and assist in preparing him/her for the comprehensive exam.
Examining committee: The examining committee for the comprehensive exam should conform to the requirements above and be formed under the guidance of the research mentor.
Required documentation: Three weeks before the scheduled oral comprehensive exam, the candidate should submit the BME request for the exam to the Graduate Program Coordinator. The 'Doctoral plan of study' and 'Request and Report for comprehensive examination' will be completed on behalf of the student and submitted to the Graduate College. The report of the comprehensive examination form will be available in the candidate's file at the BME office while the request form and plan of study will be forwarded to the Graduate College. Prior to the oral CE, the chair of the examining committee (or another committee member) should pick up the candidate's file from the dept. office and bring it to the exam. Upon completion of the comprehensive exam, the committee chair should have the report of the comprehensive examination form signed by all the members and return it to the department office. Relevant forms may be downloaded from the BME Graduate Program Forms and Documents page.
Please ensure you submit your research plans/report to your committee two weeks in advance.
Comprehensive exam report: The candidate is expected to prepare a CE report in the format of a research proposal laying out the proposed dissertation project plan. The proposal should include the following:
- Title page: Student name; Committee members and their academic departments; Committee chairman (research adviser).
- Research proposal: Specific Aims, Significance, Innovation, and Approach
- Timeline: Give a specific schedule for the completion of the proposed studies, with explicit reference to the work proposed in the Research Plan.
- Bibliography: A complete list of cited references.
The comprehensive report should follow the National Institutes of Health R01 proposal format (NIH SF424 R&R Application – Research Strategy section). The CE report should be submitted to the examining committee at least 2 weeks prior to the scheduled oral examination date.
Comprehensive exam administration: During the oral comprehensive examination, the candidate will present his/her research plan to the examining committee followed by a question and answer session. At the discretion of the committee, a closed Q&A session (i.e., only the candidate and the committee members) may also be conducted. Upon completion, the committee will convene in private and vote to pass or fail the candidate based on the merits of the proposed dissertation project plan. The committee may also recommend changes to the candidate’s dissertation project plan.
After passing the comprehensive exam:
- Doctoral candidates should strive to conform to the approved project goals and timeline for their dissertation project and communicate with their research mentor and examining committee when substantive changes are anticipated.
- Post-comp students should register for seminar each semester but may request an attendance waiver for the graduate seminar (obtain the waiver form from BME Graduate Program Forms and Documents page) for up to two semesters, although they are strongly recommended to keep themselves informed of seminar activities and attend as needed.
- Post-comp students who have completed 72 credit hours, need to maintain ‘continuous registration by registering for a minimum of 1 semester hour (please note that BME Graduate Seminar, BME:5010, does not fulfill the continuous registration requirement.) Refer to the Graduate College policies on continuous registration. To maintain full-time status please obtain the necessary "short hours" form from the department office.
Ph.D. Dissertation Defense
The dissertation defense is the final examination for the awarding of a doctoral degree and defines the culmination of years of dissertation research by the candidate. As with the CE, the dissertation defense will also be administered by the candidate's examining committee. In the typical case, graduate students have their dissertation defense about 4 to 5 years after starting graduate studies.
Role of research mentor: The candidate’s research mentor will chair the examining committee. As with the comprehensive exam, it is expected that the candidate’s research mentor will work with and assist in preparing him/her for the dissertation defense.
Examining committee: The Ph.D. candidate is expected to retain the same examining committee as the one that evaluated and passed him/her for the comprehensive examination. Changes to committee composition are only permitted when strongly justified such as when one of the members has moved from the University. Irrespective, the examining committee should conform to the requirements above.
Required documentation: Three weeks before the dissertation defense date, or by the Graduate College deadline (whichever falls earlier), the candidate should submit the BME request for exam form to the Graduate Program Coordinator. The 'Request and Report for Doctoral Final Exam' will be completed on behalf of the student and submitted to the Graduate College. The report of final examination form will be available in the candidate's file at the BME office while the request form will be forwarded to the Graduate College. Prior to the final defense, the chair of the examining committee (or another committee member) should pick up the candidate's file from the dept. office and bring it to the defense. Upon completion of the defense, the committee chair should have the report of final examination form signed by all the members and return it to the department office. Relevant forms may be downloaded from the BME Graduate Program Forms and Documents page.
Dissertation report: The dissertation report must conform to the instructions in the graduate college thesis manual. The report must be submitted to the examining committee members at least 2 weeks before the date of the dissertation defense.
Dissertation defense (oral): An oral defense in front of the examining committee must be scheduled. It is expected to be an open event. In typical cases, the candidate will present his/her dissertation project effort and findings followed by a Q&A session. At the discretion of the examining committee, a private Q&A session (i.e., only the candidate and the committee members) may be conducted. The examining committee will then convene in private, discuss and vote to pass or fail the candidate. The student will be considered to have passed the dissertation defense if a majority of the members vote to pass. If the student fails the defense, he/she may retake it at the discretion of the examining committee.
After passing the dissertation defense: Congrats! You've earned a rare honor. Now just a few more things to take care of:
- Submit the dissertation report to the graduate college after making any final edits recommended by your examining committee.
- All committee members have the right to examine corrected drafts as well as earlier drafts to assure that recommended changes have been made before the thesis is submitted to the Graduate College.
- Speak to the BME graduate program assistant in the department office regarding any additional loose ends with your graduation.
- Update your information on BME-GETS - The BME Graduate Education Tracking System (login to ICON and look under the semester, "Ongoing").
- Get signatures from your committee on your thesis Certificate of Approval page and ensure you meet Graduate College deadlines for first deposit and final deposit.