Qualifying Exam

Oral Qualifying Exam

The purpose of this examination is to assess the student’s ability to conduct independent research in health services and policy analysis that will make a significant academic contribution to the field.  A significant contribution is one that would be published in a major journal in the field.

Preparation by Student

Students are responsible for ensuring that they have completed all program requirements by reviewing core and specialty field courses completed with his/her advisor, including grades received. There is a checklist and pre-qualifying assessment that must be signed by the student’s advisor and the Program Director. The completed and approved research methods paper must be on file in the Program Office prior to scheduling the exam.


Part of this assessment will be the evaluation of a twenty-five page prospectus on the student’s dissertation research.  The dissertation prospectus will include:

  • the research questions
  • their significance to the field
  • the research methodology to be used

The prospectus should be distributed to the committee no later than two weeks prior to the examination date.

Committee Membership

The four-member qualifying examination committee will examine the student’s knowledge in health policy, the specialty field, and the proposed area of dissertation research. The Chair must be a member of the Health Policy Faculty Group.  Two faculty members must be from within the Health Policy Faculty Group, and one faculty member is selected from outside the Group and serves as an Academic Senate Representative.  At least half of the committee must be made up of UCB faculty senate members. The QE Chair cannot also serve as the Chair of the student’s dissertation committee. It is the student’s responsibility to request a faculty member to chair the examination committee and to select committee members.

A non-member of the UC Berkeley Academic Senate may serve on the committee if the individual’s expertise plays an important role in the development of the dissertation research. This committee member must hold a Ph.D. or equivalent and would be considered an additional inside member. A memo explaining this request must be prepared for the Associate Dean of Graduate Division by the PhD in Health Policy Program Director, accompanied by a curriculum vita.

Changes to the committee membership must also be approved by the Dean and will require a memo of explanation, in addition to the form, Request for Change of Higher Degree Committee.

Scheduling the Exam

Students must contact their committee members in order to schedule their exam. Once he/she has a firm day and time, the Graduate Assistant will reserve a conference room and the equipment needed (LCD projector, laptop). The QE date is indicated on the application, but there is some flexibility in rescheduling the exam after the application has been approved.

QE Application

The student should complete Graduate Division’s Qualifying Exam application and, with the exam Chair’s assistance, indicate the subject areas to be tested in. These subjects cannot be too broad or two narrow in focus. Upon completion by the student, the form is signed by the Program Director  and forwarded to Graduate Division for approval.

Graduate Division requires the QE application to be filed three weeks before the scheduled exam date. Changes to the exam date (within the same semester) are generally not an issue other than scheduling a time and place for the exam.


Graduate Division permits only a pass or fail grade.  A passing grade means that the student has advanced to candidacy. A grade of pass with distinction may be given in rare cases but it is only for internal purposes and will be registered in the Graduate Division as a passing grade.

A student who does not pass can be re-examined after one month’s time.  A second failure will lead to dismissal from the Program. A petition for a third examination can be filed in special circumstances with the Graduate Division.

Criterion for Evaluation

The committee should consider three criteria in making its grading recommendation.

  • Is the student prepared to conduct independent research that will make significant contributions to the field?
  • Has the student prepared a set of research questions that are of real significance to the field and have the potential for publication in high quality journals in the field of health services and policy analysis or related disciplines?
  • Has the dissertation prospectus and student’s response to the issues raised by the committee provided clear evidence that, without major revisions, the student should proceed and advance to candidacy?

If the committee’s judgment is affirmative to these questions, then the committee should recommend a passing grade.  In cases where the committee is not unanimous in its recommendation, the Graduate Division requires each member of the committee write a report.

In cases where the student does not pass, the committee may recommend additional course work, independent readings and/or a revised dissertation research prospectus. If possible their recommendation should be in writing by the committee chair and discussed with the student at the examination or shortly afterward.  Again, if there is not a unanimous vote, a written report from each member and a chair report must be filed with the Graduate Division.

Copies of all recommendations should be sent to the Health Policy Ph.D. Program Director. Official forms required by the Graduate Division also need to be filed by the student with the Graduate Division.

Examination Procedure:

The QE Chair is responsible for conducting the examination.  A brief meeting is usually held before the examination begins so that the ground rules can be discussed and agreed to by all members. The examination is usually three hours in length.

Many exams begin with the student’s giving a brief overall view of their research proposal with emphasis on the research questions, their significance, and most importantly the contribution that the work will make to the field of health services and policy analysis.  The examination usually involves a discussion of the research methodology to be used, its appropriateness and limitation.  The student’s ability to discuss these issues is a focus of the examination.  Students may be asked to respond to any question in the field of health services and policy analysis as deemed appropriate by the examination committee.

The committee must vote unanimously for a pass.  For detailed information on partial failures, conditional passes, split votes or adjourned exams, please see the current Graduate Adviser’s Handbook (Section on Degrees).

Responsiblilties in QE Process

Students are advised to make sure that their committee members are reminded of the date, time and location of the exam at least one week before the exam, and at least one or two days before the exam. An extra copy of the prospectus should be brought to the exam in the event a member needs it.

Refreshments for the committee members should be arranged for ahead of time by another Ph.D. student (not the examinee). Set up for the refreshments and equipment should be done half an hour ahead of the scheduled exam time.

The Program Manager is responsible for: assembling the student’s file for the Committee Chair, reserving the room and equipment, securing the Director’s signature on forms and forwarding those forms to the Graduate Division Degrees office.

Human Subjects Approval

If you are conducting research involving human subjects, you are obligated to request review and approval for your study protocol from the Committee for Protection of Human Subjects (CPHS) which serves as the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for UC Berkeley. Federal law and University policy require that all research you conduct that involves human subjects in any way must be reviewed and approved or determined to be exempt by the CPHS before the research is initiated. If your research is ongoing, you must request the project be reviewed and approved again prior to the expiration date of the current approval, and at least once a year.

As of September 1, 2005, before approval is granted for a research protocol, any graduate student listed as Lead Investigator or Key Personnel on an application to CPHS must complete training in human subjects research by taking and passing the online CITI Program, a basic course in the Protection of Human Research Subjects. Students should take either the Social-Behavioral or Biomedical sequence of modules as is most appropriate for the type of research they are conducting.

Graduate students who plan to use human subjects in their research must complete the CITI course and print out the certificate of completion prior to applying for advancement to candidacy. This certificate must be submitted with the advancement form (see Advancement to Candidacy section).