Candidacy Examination

Assessment of English Competency

The Food Science Department defines the level of speaking competency as the ability to convey scientific and general information in an understandable manner, and the level of writing competency as the ability to relate scientific information in clear and easy-to-understand language that uses correct English grammar, syntax, spelling and punctuation. All Ph.D. candidates must take this exam—domestic students included.

The Director of Graduate Studies will conduct the assessment of speaking and writing competency at the beginning of Fall and Spring semesters. Within the first month of their first semester in residence in the Food Science program, all new Ph.D. candidates will be asked to:

  1. Write a one-page summary on a subject in one hour to test writing competency. The Director of Graduate Studies will determine the topic and supervise the administration of the writing exercise. This will be evaluated by the Director of Graduate Studies.
  2. Complete a half-hour oral interview with the Director of Graduate Studies to test speaking competency.

The Director of Graduate Studies will evaluate each candidate's performance within two weeks and report the outcome to the candidate. A candidate must successfully complete both aspects of the English competency examination. Those successfully completing only one part will be required to take an appropriate remedial course(s) in the other area.

Improvement of English Competency by Students with Deficiencies

Those students whose speaking is judged below acceptable standards based on the initial assessment by the Director of Graduate Studies will be required to take SPCOM 114G, 116G, or other appropriate courses. Those students whose writing is judged below acceptable standards based on the initial assessment by the Director of Graduate Studies will be required to take one or more appropriate courses as determined by their graduate committee.

Attainment of Competency

For candidates with below-standard English based on their initial exam, assurance of acceptable speaking and writing competency will be based on evaluation of his/her performance on the oral and written portions of the

Comprehensive Examination.

Request for Exemption from English Competency Examination
In order to request exemption, the student must submit a one page petition justifying the exemption to the Candidacy Examination Committee along with evidence for speaking competency and writing competency. For example, the student may have published a research paper (in English) as primary author, and the student may have recently presented an oral presentation (in English) at a scientific meeting. A copy of the manuscript and presentation abstract should be attached to the petition. Furthermore, the student's major advisor will also be required to sign the petition. By signing the petition, the advisor is attesting to the fact that the student has attained a level of speaking and writing competency in English as defined in the section above.

Assessment of Science Competency

The Candidacy Examination must be taken within three semesters of entry into the doctoral program (Penn State 2004-2006 Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin). All Ph.D. students must have a M.S. degree or have completed at least 18 credits of graduate coursework beyond a Baccalaureate degree, prior to taking the Candidacy Examination (Pg. 48, Penn State 2004-2006 Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin). Approximately two months before the Written Candidacy Examination, the Chair of the Candidacy Examination Committee will ask all Food Science graduate students to inform the Chair of their intent to take the Candidacy Examination. Approximately one month prior to the Written Candidacy Examination the Chair of the Candidacy Examination Committee will meet collectively with those students scheduled to take the Candidacy Examination to clarify the protocol and evaluation criteria.

Examination Protocol:

The Candidacy Examination will consist of a Written Examination and an Oral Examination. The written examination will be administered through a 6-hour examination held during the first week of January and the second week of May. The Oral Candidacy Examination will be administered during the second and/or third weeks of January and the third and/or fourth weeks of May (1-2 weeks following the written examination). The chair of the Candidacy Committee will meet with the students in December and April to explain the procedures and expectations for the written and oral exam.

Evaluation Criteria:

The candidacy examination is given consistent with the policy of the Graduate School, as developed specifically by the Graduate Faculty of the Food Science Graduate Program. The general guidelines of the Graduate School are described in the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin ( What follows is a description of the specific evaluation criteria as developed by the Graduate Faculty in Food Science and administered by the Candidacy Committee under the direction of the Department Head, who is also Head of the Food Science Graduate Program.

This examination serves to validate the transformation in the student‘s status from graduate student accepted to work toward the Ph.D. to graduate student recognized as a candidate for the Ph.D. in the Food Science Graduate Program.

In general, as administered in the Food Science Graduate Program, this examination is designed to test two things: 1) the student‘s ability to engage in critical thinking within the field of food science, and 2) the student‘s knowledge in broad areas of the field, with an emphasis on understanding central principles and concepts rather than specific factual detail. More detailed guidance with respect to items 1 and 2 is described below.

The examination is administered in two parts. The first part is the written portion. It will take place in a single day. It will include questions concerning both items 1 and 2. At the completion of the written portion, the student will be given a copy of the questions and the answers submitted to them, but evaluative feedback will not be provided prior to the second part of the examination, the oral examination. For the oral examination, the student will be given a research paper (selected by the adviser) one week before the examination. The oral examination will begin with a 30-minute critique by the student of that research paper. The examination will consist of two components: 1) questions pertaining to the critique of that paper (primarily to evaluate overall understanding of the work and critical thinking with respect to it), and 2) questions pertaining to knowledge in the field; at the discretion of the Candidacy Committee members there may be specific questions concerning previously submitted written portion of the examination.

The primary outcome of the examination is either pass, fail with an opportunity for a re-examination, or fail. Even with a passing outcome, an additional outcome may be a requirement for additional coursework.

Students must pass the Candidacy Examination to be considered a Ph.D. candidate. The Candidacy Examination (Science Competency) is used to evaluate a candidate's potential for Ph.D. research, including the candidate's ability to think critically, analyze research problems, and communicate means to approach and examine these problems. Before taking the Candidacy Exam, students should have knowledge of the following areas with an emphasis on principles/concepts rather than details:

  1. The scientific method, including hypothesis development, basic experimental design and methods of data analysis.
  2. Scientific ethics and academic integrity.
  3. How to effectively communicate scientific research information to a wide variety of audiences.
  4. Principles of chemistry and biochemistry of foods, including food ingredients and food systems from raw materials to during and after processing.
  5. Principles of food microbiology, including beneficial and detrimental aspects of microorganisms in foods, as well as methods used for detection, enumeration and control of microorganisms important in foods.
  6. Principles of nutrition with emphasis on aspects of human physiology and metabolism, nutrient intake and utilization, nutrition surveillance and dietary recommendations, and the impact of food intake patterns on health.
  7. Principles of food engineering, including fluid flow and heat transfer, as applied to unit operations in food processing and manufacture.

Written Candidacy Examination

All students taking the exam during a specific period will be given the same questions in the areas of food microbiology, food engineering, nutrition, and food chemistry. Two questions will be given in the morning (Microbiology and Engineering from 9:00 A.M. to noon) and two questions will be given in the afternoon (Nutrition and Chemistry from 2:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M). The written examination will include questions to evaluate the student‘s ability to synthesize knowledge and develop/test hypotheses. A separate grade will not be assigned to the written exam and, therefore, a graded exam will not be returned to the student prior to the Oral Candidacy Examination. However, a copy of the questions and the student‘s answers will be provided to the candidate at the time it is distributed to the Committee members.

Oral Candidacy Examination

Two weeks before the oral examination, the candidate shall submit to the Staff Assistant of Student Programs the following:

  1. A copy of the master's thesis and any relevant published work.
  2. Transcripts of undergraduate and graduate course work and GRE scores.
  3. Statement of purpose for Ph.D. studies (professional goals, major research interests and plan for completing Ph.D.).
  4. A list of courses taken and to be taken at Penn State.

All of the materials will be made available in a file in the main office for review by the Candidacy Examination Committee prior to the Oral Candidacy Examination.

One week prior to the oral examination, the student will be given a research paper in their area of research interest. This paper will be selected by the student‘s advisor in consultation with the Chair of the Candidacy Examination Committee. The oral exam will begin with the student presenting a 30 minute critique of the research paper. It is recommended that a copy of the PowerPoint presentation be made available to the Candidacy Committee members. An ideal research paper will describe food science research and be published in a core food science journal (e.g. Journal of Food Science, Journal of Agriculture, Food Chemistry, Applied Environmental Microbiology, Journal of Food Engineering, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). The research paper should be broadly comprehensible to all members of the committee and should have some flaws that the student can identify and criticize. The research paper should be related to the student‘s research topic but not directly overlapping. The research paper should not have been previously discussed with the advisor or used in class.

Students may use visuals aids and notes, but a written draft that could be read from will not be permitted. After the presentation, the committee will have the opportunity to ask questions regarding information presented in the paper. The aim of these questions is to determine the student's ability to show a clear understanding of the data presented and to demonstrate competency in explaining research data to a scientific group in a logical and precise manner. It is expected that the student will have a thorough understanding of all aspects of the selected research paper including background literature and all methodology used.

The final part of the oral exam may include questions from the committee on perceived deficiencies in the previously taken written exams. This part of the exam may also consist of questions of a general nature to further determine critical thinking skills of the student.

Decision of the Candidacy Examination Committee and Communication of Results

The result of the Candidacy Examination (pass, fail with the opportunity to retake, or fail with no opportunity to retake) will be communicated to each student immediately after their Oral Candidacy Examination. To pass, the student must receive at least 3 out of 4 positive votes from the Committee. If the decision is to fail the student (less than 3 of 4 positive votes from the Committee) the Committee will then vote to determine whether or not the student may retake the Candidacy Examination. At least 3 out of 4 positive votes are required to allow a retake. If a student fails the Candidacy Examination but is given the opportunity to retake, they must take the Candidacy Examination at the next available Candidacy Examination period in January or May. Students will only be given one opportunity to retake the Science Competency portion of the Candidacy Examination. If a student fails the Candidacy Examination and the retake vote is less than 3 out of 4 positive, the student will not be allowed to retake the Candidacy Examination.

After all Oral Candidacy Examinations are finished, each student taking the Candidacy Exam, their advisor(s), all members of the Candidacy Examination Committee, the Department Head and the Graduate Program Coordinator will be notified in writing as to the outcome of the Candidacy Examination, whether the Candidacy Examination Committee perceived any specific deficiencies and what coursework and/or other work are recommended to remedy the perceived deficiencies.