University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering
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BME Phd Qualifying Examination requirements

NOTE: The Qualifying Exam rules have been updated for students entering the program in FALL 2015. Please see the handbook for the latest rules:

All students wishing to be a Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering must successfully pass the Biomedical Engineering Qualifying Examination. The purpose for the examination is to determine the student's potential for success in the Ph.D. program and if a student has attained the necessary knowledge, skills, and research ability for a successful career in BME research. Under consultation with their academic advisor, students are encouraged to take the examination as soon as possible.

Students must satisfy the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination requirements, no later than the fourth semester in residence as a full-time graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. A student must complete at least one semester of full-time graduate course work to be eligible to take the examination.

The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination will be offered twice annually, approximately the first and second week in November, and the first and second week in April. An announcement will be issued by the biomedical engineering office six weeks prior to the date of the examination. Students wishing to take the examination shall register for the exam online using the link above which will be available at least four weeks prior to the first date of the exam. For help you can contact student services, located in 3182 Mechanical Engineering Building, in the Student Services office.

Exam format

  • The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is a general examination that places emphasis on a student's ability to reason, formulate and solve problems, and apply basic engineering and analytical skills. Special emphasis is placed on problem solving relative to the student's Fundamental Track.
  • The qualifier exam consists of five oral examinations, each of which is approximately thirty minutes in duration.
  • The PhD Qualifying Exam is unlike other exams, the goal is not to test regurgitation of course work, but rather to test the student's ability to synthesize and apply knowledge from first principles.
  • The exams test the student's ability to formulate and test hypotheses. They place an emphasis on reasoning rather than just the solution.
  • The exam is intended to evaluate depth of knowledge in the student's chosen area of specialization in BME, breadth of knowledge in two other BME areas, and general knowledge in biological science. In all areas the student should also be able to explain their research and its relation to the exam area.
  • All students are evaluated in their choice of Physiology and/or Cellular Biology to assess their familiarity with basic bio-sciences at either a system or cellular level.
  • The remaining four oral exams (three if you choose Physiology and Cellular Biology) must be chosen from at least two of the Fundamental Tracks listed below.
    • Two of those Fundamental Track exams are termed Advanced Exams.
    • The remaining are known as Breadth Exams.
    • Any of the Exams below can be chosen as either an Advanced Exam or a Breadth Exam. The total number of exams that can be currently taken in each sub-category is listed in parentheses along with the possible examiners (examiners may vary depending on availability) for each area:

    Fundamental Tracks

    1. Biomaterials (2 - Kao, Gong, Ashton or Murphy)
    2. Cellular and Tissue Engineering
    • Tissue engineering (1 - Kreeger, Li, Masters, Murphy, or Saha)
    • Stem cell bioengineering (1 - Ashton, Li, Murphy, or Saha)
    • Internal cell focus (1 - Kreeger or Reed)
    • External cell focus (1 - Li, Campagnola, or Masters)
    • BioMEMS and microfluidics (1 - Beebe or Williams)
    3. Biomedical Imaging
    • Biomedical optics (1 - Campagnola or Rogers)
    • Multi-dimensional bio-signal processing (2 - Block or Fain)
    • Clinical imaging modalities (1 - Meyerand, Block or Varghese)
    4. Biomechanics
    • Musculoskeletal/orthopedic biomechanics (2 - Vanderby or Thelen)
    • Vascular biomechanics (1 - Chesler)
    • Ergonomics (1 - Radwin or Vanderheiden)
    5. Bioinstrumentation
    • Clinical bioinstrumentation (1 - Beebe or Brace)
    • Biosignal processing (1 - Beebe, Block or Brace)¹
  • Students must show competence with basic principles in both the Breadth and Advanced Exams. However, there are higher expectations for performance in an Advanced Exam. A student in an Advanced Exam is expected to demonstrate greater depth and expertise and show more skill at connecting concepts from different Tracks of the field. Both Advanced Exams do not need to be taken in the same Fundamental Track, but may be.
  • The topics discussed in an Advanced Exam are similar if not equivalent to a Breadth Exam. Students must show competence in basic principles in both the Breadth and Advanced Exams. However, there are higher expectations for performance in an Advanced Exam. A student in an Advanced Exam is expected to demonstrate greater depth and expertise and show more skill at connecting concepts from different areas of the field.
  • Faculty members in each of the Fundamental Tracks are responsible for keeping the qualifier exams in the Track current. The faculty will preferably work to keep the scope of a specific qualifier consistent semester to semester. If two exams are provided from one Fundamental Track, the examining faculty are responsible for developing unique qualifiers which emphasize different topics within the Track.
  • The primary advisor may not examine his or her own student, though every attempt will be made to assure that students can be examined in the Exams they request. The Graduate Committee (not the students advisor) selects the faculty to examine each student.
  • Selections for the five Qualifying Exams should be discussed with the student's primary adviser first and approved by the student's committee when appropriate. Doing so as early as possible will provide the student with the guidance to select any classes that may be helpful for passing the student's Qualifier Exam.

Honor code

  • No discussion of examiner's questions with anyone during two week examination period. Please respect the process and other students.
  • Any violation of this code will result in failure of qualifying exams and violators will be referred to Dean's Office of College of Engineering.

Exam preparation

  • While general concepts and fundamentals are important, practice synthesizing knowledge, the exams test more than rote memorization.
  • Cramming the last few days is not advised.
  • Practice under the exam conditions (i.e. train with a partner or group offering each other questions and answering them verbally, work your problems out on a white board, explain what you are thinking about, can you articulate your ideas?, can you think on your feet?, do you exhibit confidence - the test measures your oral communications skills and composure under pressure?)

Evaluation and outcomes

  • Individual exam score - Pass, marginal Pass, or fail
  • An Exam Committee meeting is held with the examiners and advisors the week following the exams. The student's performance on each exam is discussed and the committee recommendation for each student is presented to entire BME faculty at next faculty meeting (in Dec. or May). The students are officially notified immediately thereafter from the BME Chair. The advisor is able to performance feedback to student after the committee meeting.
  • Overall possible outcomes for the combined scores - Pass, conditional pass (e.g. pass with successful completion of course in weak area), or fail.
  • Student failing the first attempt at Qualifying Exams will be allowed to retake the exams once at next offering. The student must retake five exams, but the student is not required to sign up for the same exam topics. Recommendations will be provided by the Committee.
  • Two Qualifying Exam failures will disqualify the student from continuing in the BME PhD program.

    ¹ Can't be taken if multi-dimensional signal processing in Bio-imaging is also taken.