Admission-to-Candidacy (ACE) Exam
Students MUST take the Admission-to-Candidacy Exam (ACE) by March 1st of their second year. The ACE Examining Committee consists of five individuals: a chairperson, the student's three-person Special Committee, and one additional examiner to be selected by the student and approved by the Program Director.
The objective of the Admission-to-Candidacy examination is to affirm that the student has attained the breadth of knowledge commensurate with the high standards of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy; and that the student is ready to undertake full-time thesis research.
The Admission to Candidacy Examination (ACE) consists of two parts: written and oral. For the written part, the student crafts a research proposal that poses and tests a novel hypothesis, in a subject area that can be the topic of the student's intended thesis research (effective July 1, 2009). Alternatively, the student can elect a research topic unrelated to his or her thesis research. The selected hypothesis is expected to be creative, insightful, and testable by an experimental plan devised by the student. The proposed experiments should be of a magnitude and scope suitable for a fellowship application, i.e. realistic for completion by one graduate student in a 2-3 year time frame. Once the ACE topic is approved, the student is free of all responsibility to the thesis lab and given one month to write the written proposal. Once the written component of the ACE has been prepared by the candidate, and before the remainder of the ACE committee receives the written portion, the PI must sign off on it, indicating that it is the candidate's own work, and that he/she has not read the proposal. An email to this effect to the Program Director (firstname.lastname@example.org), cc'ed to the Program Coordinator, will suffice. The text of the written proposal is limited to eight single-spaced, typewritten pages (including figures and tables but excluding references) in a 12 point font. The student distributes the written proposal to each member of their ACE Committee. The faculty members of the ACE Committee must approve the written ACE and provide details of any necessary corrections before the oral exam can proceed. The student then incorporates any necessary corrections to their written proposal and distributes it to the entire ACE committee. At this time, the student schedules the oral exam approximately two weeks later. The oral exam is intended to test the student's factual knowledge as well as his/her ability to process, organize, and evaluate scientific data.
Some important points about the ACE exam:
A. Format of the written proposal: one page of Specific Aims; one page of Background/Significance; six pages of Experimental Plan that should include, for each aim, Hypothesis, Rationale, Research Plan, Anticipated Results, and Potential Problems and Alternative Approaches.
B. The student's thesis advisor should not read the ACE proposal until just before the exam, when other ACE Committee members have the proposal as well; should not share any grants or other types of proposals on the ACE topic with the student prior to the ACE exam; and should not answer any questions for the student or defend the student's answers during the oral exam.
C. The ACE proposal must be the student's own writing. The definition of plagiarism is:
- to steal and pass off the ideas or words of another as one's own
- to use another's production without crediting the source
- to commit literary theft
- to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
Students should not copy or paraphrase any writing from their thesis advisor or other students and fellows in the thesis lab. Students should also not copy or paraphrase any writing from published research articles or reviews related to the topic of the ACE proposal. (Plagiarism can lead to a student's dismissal from the program). If any lab or published paper "Powerpoint" slides are used in the written or oral presentation for the ACE, the student must attribute the slide to the source. If any experiments or other data/tests, etc. are use in the written or oral presentation, the student must indicate if he/she actually generated the data and if not, must attribute the data to the proper source.
D. Students must submit a Predoctoral Fellowship application to NIH or another government source or a private foundation within one year of completing and passing their ACE exam.
E. Each student must have a thesis committee meeting within six months of passing the ACE exam.
The student is required to complete the following form and deliver it to the Graduate Program Coordinator (who will deliever it to the Graduate School office) at least two weeks prior to the due date of the written portion of the exam (and at least four weeks prior to the date of the oral portion of the exam).
[Updated by Dr. Lorraine Gudas, Dr. Yueming Li, and Dr. David Scheinberg 7/23/12]