Saint Louis University

PhD Program: Comprehensive Exams

PhD Comprehensive Examinations

After all courses and practica are complete, each student must pass the comprehensive examinations with an Examination Board (hereafter "Board") comprised of faculty. The Dean of the Graduate School appoints the Board in consultation with the Department Chair or delegate.* These examinations will be written and oral and they will be scheduled as required by the Department Chair or delegate. Ordinarily, comprehensive exams (written and oral) should be completed within one academic semester (excluding summer) of completing course work.

Written Exam

The purpose of the written exam is to assess the student's ability to write a doctoral dissertation in Health Care Ethics. The following process will be followed for the written exam. The student will present two essay questions to the appointed Board. Because the purpose of the written exam is to demonstrate the ability to conduct independent research, both essay questions must propose to develop arguments not previously developed by the student in coursework. Upon the recommendation of the Chair, the Board will assign one of the two essay questions to the student. Within a period of five working days at home, the student will write an essay of 25 pages addressing the question. The essay must display above all the ability to develop an ethics argument and to integrate the relevant interdisciplinary literature. The student may not receive mentoring of any kind from faculty or peers in writing the assigned essay. The comprehensive written exam will be graded on a pass/fail basis. A passing grade will be assessed on four criteria: development of the argument; integration of the literature; problem and significance; writing style and form. The passing grade requires an assessment of good in all criteria with at least an assessment of very good in either the argument or the literature.

In the event that the written exam is failed the student may present a new list of two essay questions (at least one of which is new), and may re-write the exam following the same procedure. In the event that the exam is failed a second time, the student will be ineligible to progress further in the PhD program.

Oral Exam

After the student has passed the written examination, an oral examination with the Board will take place, lasting 90 minutes. Ordinarily, no more than one month should elapse between completing the written exam and taking the oral exam.

The purpose of the oral examination is to assess the student's "integration of knowledge across the discipline." In particular, students are expected to demonstrate mastery of the PhD curriculum. To this end, as part of his or her application to the oral examination, the student must provide the Board with a comprehensive exam reading list comprised of all required readings indicated in the syllabus of each course completed in the PhD program.

After the oral exam, the Board will provide a grade of "Pass with Distinction" or "Pass" or "Fail". If the student passes the written exam but fails the oral exam, the oral exam may be taken again according to specifications of the Graduate School. Ordinarily students may take the oral exam twice with the permission of the Dean of the Graduate School. Once a student has successfully passed both the written and the oral comprehensive examinations, he or she is eligible to submit a dissertation proposal following departmental policies.

* Note that the comprehensive exam committee for MD/PhD students must include at least one person who is a member of the MD/PhD program Steering Committee.

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