Doctoral Comps:

Biomedical Informatics Doctoral Comprehensive Guidelines

The comprehensive evaluation will challenge the trainee to demonstrate their depth of knowledge in biomedical informatics, while making concrete steps relevant to their dissertation research.  This examination will have two components: 1) a written document and 2) an oral examination. The written document will consist of:

  1. A brief description of the proposed dissertation work, in a maximum of two pages that consists of specific aims, significance and innovation. This description will outline, at a high level, the questions and goals of the proposed work, as informed by the content of the literature review (see next section). The aims should be prepared without direct involvement from the research mentor, and should contain a statement of the research hypotheses.  Specifically, although discussion of the questions and content with the mentor is allowed, the mentor should not review any written text that might be included in this section.
  2. A narrative literature review providing background sufficient for motivating subsequent dissertation research.  This review should focus on the topic of the proposed dissertation research and should involve both discussion of prior work and synthesis of that work as needed to identify and frame research questions to be addressed in the dissertation work.  Ideally, the literature review would provide a conceptual model of the proposed work, including contextualization in previous work. The methods that will be used should be covered in the literture review. This review should show that the trainee has sufficient breadth and depth to complete the proposed work. The literature review should be detailed, but not overly verbose and should be between 2500-5000 words. The literature review should be entirely the trainee’s own work.

Although focusing the aims and literature review on the trainee’s planned dissertation work will usually be the best way to expedite progress, this linkage is not required, and it is expected that aims will evolve, or in some cases be completely reworked after the comprehensive examination.

As the goal of this examination is to demonstrate the trainee’s fitness for completing doctoral work, input from others should be relatively minimal. As discussed above, the research mentor should not provide any comments on written text that might be submitted in the brief proposal (item #1 above). Trainees are welcome to discuss the aims and the literature review with their peers, but such discussions should be limited to oral conversations, with no peer review of drafts of either of the proposed work or the literature review.


Comprehensive examinations will be conducted by a standing committee of three Training Program Faculty Core members. Participants will serve for 3 years of staggered terms, with one person rotating off and another on each academic year. Initial members starting in fall of 2020 will start with terms of 1, 2, and 3 years.

The research mentor can be present for the comprehensive examination, but they will not participate in the voting. For examinations where the trainee’s mentor is a member of the comprehensive committee, an alternate will be identified.


When the trainee is ready to complete the comprehensive examination, they will work with the chair of the Comprehensive Examination committee to schedule a date. The examination should be timed so as to guarantee that the review and description of the proposed dissertation work can be provided to the comprehensive examination committee members at least two weeks in advance of the examination. Trainees should be aware that Comprehensive Examination members can delay the examination if materials are not provided at least two weeks in advance.

The comprehensive exam will be 1.5 hours long, consisting of a (maximally) 30 minute presentation of their literature review and proposed work, followed by up to 45 minutes of questions and discussion from the committee, and up to 15 minutes for closed committee discussion.

The student will submit a literature review providing background and a specific aims page summarizing their research direction to the committee two weeks prior to the exam date.  The exam will evaluate the trainee’s knowledge about biomedical informatics based on the curriculum in the first two years of the training program.  Trainees are expected to have a strong grasp of biomedical informatics as a whole and a clear understanding of how their proposed research fits within, and adds to, existing scientific literature.

The research mentor can be in the room during the examination, and can participate in the discussion, but the results of the examination will be determined solely by the members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee.


Potential outcomes of the examination are pass or fail, as determined by a vote of the members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee.  As the comprehensive examination is the last general evaluation of the trainee, the comprehensive examination committee will also consider any remedial efforts that may have been required in response to the preliminary or interim evaluations. If any deficiencies remain unaddressed, they may be considered, at least in part, as reason for failure in the comprehensive examination.

If the trainee fails, they are allowed to take the Comprehensive Examination one more time. Consistent with School of Medicine guidelines the second exam must occur within 90 days of the first Comprehensive Examination. If the trainee does not complete the second examination within the 90-day limit due to inaction on the part of the trainee, then the trainee will be dismissed from the Ph.D. program at the end of the academic term in which the 90-day limit is reached. In unusual circumstances, exceptions to this policy can only be approved by the Training Program Director.

If the second Comprehensive Examination is failed, then the trainee is dismissed from the Ph.D. program, effective at the end of the academic term in which the second failed attempt occurred. They will be eligible for a MS degree if they have completed all relevant requirements.

The comprehensive examination should be completed before the end of the second year. Under unusual circumstances, the Training Program Director may relax this requirement, but trainees should alert the TP Director as soon as possible if they will require a delay.