Asee peer logo

Graduate Student Qualifying Exam Approach: Course To Guide Students Through Writing A Research Proposal

Download Paper |


2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Mentoring Graduate Students, Diversity, and Assessment

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.630.1 - 15.630.25



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Adrienne Minerick Mississippi State University

visit author page

Adrienne Minerick is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Michigan Technological University having recently moved from Mississippi State University, where she was a tenured Associate Professor. She received her Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Notre Dame and B.S. from Michigan Tech. At MTU, Adrienne has taught graduate kinetics. At MSU, she taught graduate Chemical Engineering Math, Process Controls, Introduction to Chemical Engineering Freshman Seminar, Heat Transfer, and Analytical Microdevice Technology courses. In addition, she is an NSF CAREER Awardee, has served as co-PI on an NSF REU site, PI on grants from NSF and DOE, and was the faculty advisor for MSU’s chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE). Her research is in medical microdevice diagnostics & dielectrophoresis.

visit author page


Rafael Hernandez Mississippi State University

visit author page

Rafael Hernandez is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering. He has a BS (1993) and MS (1995) in chemical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, and a PhD (2002) in chemical engineering from Mississippi State University (MSU), Mississippi State, MS. He worked for the US Army Corp of Engineers Engineering Research and Development Center on the development, design, and implementation of groundwater treatment technologies. His research interests are the development of technologies for the remediation of contaminated media and the development of non-traditional feedstocks for producing biofuels. Dr. Hernandez has over 80 technical presentations at state and national conferences and over 15 peer reviewed publications. He is the principal investigator on projects funded by the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and private industries.

visit author page

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Graduate Student Qualifying Exam Approach: Course to Guide Students Through Writing a Research Proposal


This paper describes a new course at Mississippi State University that provides structured guidance on writing an NSF research proposal. Course development was guided by personal communications with David F. Ollis and his 1995 article1 in Chemical Engineering Education on “The Research Proposition.” The endearing premise of this proposal-based qualifying exam is that writing a research proposal is a learning tool that teaches tangible research skills which students do not gain in their traditional graduate coursework. This course was focused for first to second year Ph.D. graduate students in chemical engineering and doubled as the Ph.D. qualification exam. This semester-long course included incremental milestones for the student and regular feedback from the instructors. The final product of the course was a 15 page NSF style research proposal and a 20-minute oral presentation on the proposal before a faculty committee. As students progress through the course, they are taught and then asked to demonstrate the tools, skills and knowledge to: • Assimilate information from a comprehensive (yet succinct and thorough) literature review on a given research topic, • Identify and articulate knowledge missing from the research field, • Develop a well-defined hypothesis that probes an important and relevant research problem, • Describe a detailed method of approach (experimental or otherwise) to obtain the missing knowledge, • Outline data analysis / interpretation as well as the nature and impact of expected results, • Contextualize the importance of their proposed idea within the larger research field, • Craft supporting documents such as the Budget, Biosketch, and Facilities and Resources.

In addition to evaluations of each student by a committee of faculty, the students and faculty were asked to complete formative assessment surveys. All surveys, procedures, and tools were approved by Mississippi State University’s Institutional Review Board for the protection of human subjects. The 6 students enrolled in the summer 2009 course were asked to complete pre- course and post-course surveys on their self-measured skills and attitudes. Individual responses were recorded and paired between pre and post surveys; group trends were then compiled. Responses for questions were all cast on a 5 point Likert scale with 5 being the highest rating, 3 as neutral and 1 as the lowest rating. The faculty were asked to assess the student performances and to compare them to prior years where students were required to write a research proposal, but were not given guidance on developing the proposal. This paper will describe the course structure and then discuss the assessment tools and results for the summer 2009 cohort compared to ~3 years of qualifying exams without the course instruction.


Expectations and skills needed to succeed in graduate school are different than in undergraduate curriculums. However, many graduate programs still use proficiency on course-derived

Minerick, A., & Hernandez, R. (2010, June), Graduate Student Qualifying Exam Approach: Course To Guide Students Through Writing A Research Proposal Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16403

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015