MEMP Qualifying Examination

The qualifying exam requires that students progress through a two-step process:

  • TQE: Students demonstrate technical competence based on coursework. The TQE is typically completed in the first three or four regular semesters of registration.
  • OQE: After successful completion of the TQE, students take an oral qualifying exam. It is desirable to complete the OQE by the end of the fourth regular semester of registration. Students must successfully complete the OQE by the end of the sixth regular semester of registration; explicit permission from the QuEHST committee is required to continue in the program beyond six semesters without passing the OQE.

Technical Qualifying Examination (TQE) Class Requirement

During their first year, students choose a technical concentration area in which to develop a focused engineering/physics skill set. Students must select a set of advanced technical subjects --- minimum of 4 classes and 42 units --- from a single concentration area. All students must also take Human Pathology (HST030/031 or HST034/035) and HST500: Introduction to (Bio)Medical Engineering and Medical Physics as part of their TQE.

Each student, with the assistance of his/her academic advisor, should construct a plan for satisfying the TQE course requirement. In constructing their TQE plans, students should consider the following:
  • A thorough grounding in a classical engineering or physical sciences discipline is one of the fundamental underpinnings of the MEMP program. Many MEMP students have undergraduate backgrounds that were not structured this way, but we believe that such training is an important part of the preparation for interdisciplinary research. Selecting a technical concentration area provides students with the opportunity to focus their general technical interests and acquire a solid technical foundation in a specific discipline.
  • It is often useful to enroll in undergraduate classes in preparation for some of the advanced technical subjects.
Students must register their plans by submitting a signed Contract for TQE form to Traci Anderson in E25-518, by Spring term Registration Day of their first year in the program. Changing the TQE concentration area at a later time requires a written petition to the QuEHST committee.
Changing TQE classes. Students may “shop” classes at the start of each term and make changes to TQE class selections – via an email to Traci Anderson with cc to the academic advisor – until Add Date of the term in which they are enrolled in the class being added. Please make sure that the email is clear with respect to which class(es) are being added to the TQE plan and which class(es) are being removed. Under no circumstances will students be permitted to add a class to the TQE plan after earning a grade in the class. 

Click here for sample schedules that fulfill TQE requirements

Students pass the TQE portion of the qualifying exam by demonstrating competence in the chosen concentration area and by earning a grade of 'satisfactory' or better in pathology. Competence in the chosen technical concentration area is demonstrated by:
  • Earning at least three A grades and one B grade in the four selected TQE classes.
  • Earning two A grades and two B grades in the four selected TQE classes, and subsequently earning an A grade in an alternate, fifth TQE class.
  • When five classes are required to meet the 42-unit minimum: Earning at least 30 units of A and no more than 12 units of B in the five selected TQE classes.
  • Applies only to Biological Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Material Science and Engineering TQE areas:
    • Earning at least two A grades and two B grades in the four selected TQE classes. Note that students who receive a B- in a core class (3.20, 3.21, 10.40, 10.50, 10.65, 20.420, 20.440) must earn an A in another class related to that topic area. Depending on the circumstances, the class that remediates the B- might be one of the four selected TQE classes or it might be an additional class; in any case the specific class must be approved by the cognizant concentration area chair on behalf of QuEHST.

When a student does not initially meet the criteria above, the QuEHST committee will review the student's academic performance and decide on a remediation plan individualized to the circumstances. The student is welcome to submit a written statement explaining any circumstances impacting their performance and proposing a specific remediation. Remediation plans could potentially include:

  • Taking (or retaking) one or more specific classes to achieve mastery of the material.
  • After suitable preparation, retaking the final exam and earning a grade (specified by instructor) that is indicative of a firm grasp of the subject matter. 
  • After suitable preparation, taking an oral exam with a pass/fail outcome in a specific topic area.
  • Communication between HST and the instructor(s) of those class(s) in which students received a B to determine the class rank of the candidate and the minimum rank indicating mastery of the subject material according to the instructor. (This approach is necessary because of the uneven grading policies - percent A's - in graduate subjects across different departments.) Under no circumstances should students approach instructors directly to discuss remediation.
Successful completion of the TQE is a prerequisite for taking the OQE.

Oral Qualifying Examination (OQE) Requirement

Students should identify a research project during the first year, and should conduct full-time research during their first summer. This research experience is essential as part of the preparation for the oral qualifying exam, but need not be the basis of the doctoral thesis.

The purpose of the OQE is to evaluate whether the student can integrate information from diverse sources into a well thought out and coherent research proposal - a skill essential for successful scholarship. The ability to defend this proposal during an oral presentation is a central part of the qualifying process. The qualifying exam explores students’ ability to formulate coherent research questions and to explain the relevance of their proposed research to clinical medicine.  In addition, students should be prepared to demonstrate how they think on their feet. It is not possible to anticipate every question that might be asked during the OQE, but students should be prepared to show how they approach technical questions even when they do not immediately know the answer.

Each OQE is administered by an OQE committee composed of the student's Qualifying Exam (QE) chair and two additional faculty members. The student's research supervisor may not be a member of the OQE committee. A member of the QuEHST committee will be assigned as a QE chair upon successful completion of the TQE (or in those cases where a student has all As in the TQE subjects with one only remaining subject and thus eligible to schedule the OQE in the term of the final TQE subject registration.)
The OQE is offered twice each year, in January and May. Students indicate their intent to take the exam by submitting an OQE Scheduling form to Traci Anderson in the IMES/HST Academic Office by November 1 for January exams or by March 1 for May exams. The student and their QE chair must both sign the OQE scheduling form. Students may not submit the OQE scheduling form until they have successfully completed the TQE, with the following exceptions:
1) Students may submit the OQE scheduling form during the term in which they are taking Human Pathology and/or HST.500;
2) Students who have received A's in three TQE courses may submit the OQE scheduling form during the term in which they are taking their fourth TQE course.
Three weeks prior to the exam date, the student must ensure that the the following items have been submitted to Traci Anderson in the IMES/HST Academic Office: 
  1. A recommendation letter from the research supervisor. The letter should address the student's potential for conducting independent research and their progress in the laboratory to date. It is the student's responsibility to ensure that the research advisor's letter is received in a timely fashion. However, the letter should be sent from the supervisor directly to Traci Anderson <tanderso@mit.edu> rather than submitted by the student.
  2. A research proposal (maximum 10 pages, single spaced, Arial 11pt font) based on research conducted under the guidance of the research supervisor. The format of the research proposal is similar to that submitted to a granting agency or foundation, as discussed in HST500. The required sections are: 
  • Abstract 
  • Overall Goals and Specific Aims 
  • Background and Significance 
  • Preliminary Data (As in HST500, students may use their own preliminary data or data from the literature or sponsoring laboratory supporting the feasibility of the proposed work.) 
  • Research Design and Methods 
  • References (not included in 10 page limit)
The OQE normally consists of a 30-minute oral presentation by the student, followed by questions from the OQE committee. However, the precise format of the exam is determined by the QE chair and therefore questions/interruptions may be allowed during the student's presentation. Two hours are allotted for the OQE.
While the written research proposal should be at a detailed scientific level, expectations for the oral presentation differ. Committee members will judge the oral presentation based on the student’s ability to present their research to a broad scientific audience, for example, readers of Scientific American. Students should avoid jargon and should not assume that the committee members possess detailed knowledge about their field of specialization. In preparing their oral presentation, students are encouraged to seek help and advice from their research supervisor, lab mates, fellow MEMP students, and other knowledgeable parties.
At the conclusion of the exam, the OQE committee makes a recommendation to the QuEHST committee. This recommendation is based on the student's performance on the oral exam, the written research proposal, and the research supervisor's recommendation letter. The QuEHST committee determines the final outcome, which is one of the following:
  • Qualified: No further testing/evaluation is required. The student is qualified to proceed with thesis research.
  • Not Yet Qualified: Additional tasks are required to pass the OQE. This may include additional coursework and/or a repeat oral exam. Each student is permitted a maximum of two attempts at the oral exam.
  • Not Qualified: The student is not qualified to continue his/her pursuit of a degree in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics.


Petitions to the QuEHST Committee requesting exceptions to any of these policies may be submitted to Traci Anderson (tanderso@MIT.EDU) in the IMES/HST Academic Office, E25-518. 

QuEHST Committee

The doctoral qualifying examination is administered by the Qualifying Exam in HST (QuEHST) Committee, comprised of HST Faculty Members:

Sangeeta Bhatia, chair
Elfar Adalsteinsson
Kwanghun Chung
Martha Gray
Julie Greenberg
Roger Mark
Alex Shalek
Collin Stultz
Mehmet Toner