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Core Competency and Comprehensive Exams

The nature and format of Core Competency and Comprehensive Examinations for individual students is based upon when they were admitted into the CRM program.

For students who were admitted into the program before January 2010, their curricula requires the following: a grade of B or above in the foundation courses noted below and successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination, as administered by their advisory committee.

For students who were admitted into the program during or after January, 2010, their curricula requires the following: a grade of B or above in the foundation courses noted below, passing a Core Competency Examination (administered by the instructors of the core courses), and a Proposal Defense. For these students, the Proposal Defense qualifies as their Comprehensive Examination.

All students accepted to the program must take the following common set of foundation courses*:

GEOL 7002.
Coastal Geoscience (4). Fundamental concepts of geological and physical oceanographic principles of coastal systems.
BIOL 7005.
Coastal Ecological Processes (4). Fundamental concepts of chemistry and biology within the context of the coastal zone with emphasis on local ecosystems.
PADM 7004*.
Marine Policy, Governance, and Law (3). Processes, politics, laws, and institutions as they affect marine, coastal, and climate policy in the United States.
ECON 7010**.
Coastal and Marine Economics and Policy (3). Economic theory of coastal and marine environmental management and policy; treatment of externalities, common-pool resources, and public goods; benefit-cost analysis; ecosystem services and valuation methods; economics of biodiversity; fisheries economics; market-based approaches to environmental policy; economics of climate change.
CRM 7005.
Human Dimensions of Coastal Management (3) P: Graduate standing in CRM PhD program or consent of instructor. Concepts, theories, and frameworks of human values, attitudes and behavior related to coastal resources.

*This course is presently not offered. If this course was not offered during a student’s first two years of matriculation through the CRM program, then the student is not required to be tested on the subject matter.

**This is not a required core course for individuals admitted prior to fall 2015. Therefore, the subject matter in ECON 7010 will not be incorporated into the Core Competency Examination for students who initially joined the program prior to Fall 2015. Those students are only to be tested on subject matter from GEOL 7002, BIOL 7005, and CRM 7005.

Core Competency Examination

The members of the Core Competency Examination Committee will develop an exam pertinent to the following introductory courses Coastal Ecological Processes (BIOL 7005), Human Dimensions of Coastal Management (CRM 7005), Coastal Geoscience (GEOL 7002), and beginning in 2016, Coastal and Marine Economics and Policy (ECON 7010). The Core Competency Examination Committee consists of the instructors of those core courses.

The Core Competency Examination will consist of two parts, with one part testing thematic knowledge of subject matter in the core courses mentioned above and the other part testing the integration of that subject matter. The thematic part of the exam will consist of one section for each of the courses noted above. The part of the exam focusing on the integration question(s) shall deal with the student's ability to synthesize knowledge across the core course disciplines. There are a variety of answers available to the students for the integrative portion. As such, this portion is designed to test the student’s ability to demonstrate their understanding of cross-disciplinary thinking. The purpose of the question(s) is thus not specific content, but rather the student's ability to address a coastal problem from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Each part of the exam, i.e., thematic and integrative, should take approximately one day (~6-8 hours) to complete. Total exam length for both parts should be restricted to 2 days. The exam must be taken in its entirety within a single work-week, beginning on Monday and ending by 5 pm on Friday.

The exam may be open or closed book at the discretion of committee members.  The closed book part(s) should be labeled as such and students are bound by the Honor Code to complete each part according to the guidelines provided. Although the exam may allow use of a computer for typing responses to the examination questions, consultation of external sources (e.g. internet, textbooks) is not allowed for the closed-book part(s). Students may use internet resources, textbooks, and papers for open-book parts. Students may not confer with any other individuals for the open-book parts.

Core Competency Examination Committee members will consult with the CRM Director and the group will decide collectively if the questions are reasonable. Questions used for written core competency exams will be available to all faculty if requested and a copy of the written exam will be included in the student’s academic file where it will be available for viewing by any ICSP or CRM-affiliated faculty member who requests it.

The committee members will grade their exam questions for each of their sections. Based on the expected answer as outlined in writing by the committee member prior to reading the students answers, each committee member will provide a grade of Pass/Fail for their section. An 80 % is considered a passing grade.

If a student is not able to pass two sections, or if the student is not able to demonstrate proper integration across the sections, the student will be required to have a follow up oral re-examination. Any student required to have a follow up oral re-examination is encouraged to meet with the appropriate committee member(s) before the re-examination.  In general, the re-examination should occur within a few weeks of the fall semester immediately following the summer in which the exam was initially taken. The re-examination will last approximately one hour.

Each oral re-examination will cover primarily the sections failed in the original exam, but can also include, at the committee’s discretion, any other material covered in BIOL 7005, CRM 7005, GEOL 7002, and beginning in 2016, ECON 7010. The re-examination may also retest the student’s ability to integrate across the subject areas.

The whole examination committee shall sit on each oral re-examination. The CRM Director and the student’s advisor may also be in attendance. However, the re-examination is to be conducted by the examination committee. The CRM Director shall serve as an independent observer, and as a mediator if the need arises. The advisor may be involved in the re-examination process before the exam, and after the exam, but not during the exam. They are not to participate or inject themselves into the conversation during the exam itself.  If the advisor interjects or interferes with the exam, they will be removed from the exam and the student’s re-examination postponed to a later date.

At the end of the oral re-examination, the examination committee will make one of three recommendations

  1. PASS - no further action required related to core courses.
  2. EXTENSIVE ADDITIONAL REMEDIATION - this recommendation can include additional course work at a future date and may delay the student’s advancement to candidacy. This option is tantamount to a probation and may also result in suspension of institutional funding.
  3. FAIL - recommend that student’s program of study be terminated.
    The student is only allowed one exam retake and must take remediation action as soon as possible after the re-examination.

Comprehensive Examination

Upon completion of required course work, students admitted prior to January 2010 must successfully complete written and oral comprehensive examinations. No Core Competency Examinations are required for students admitted prior to January 2010.

For all CRM students, the interdisciplinary dissertation proposal defense constitutes the comprehensive examination. Based upon the student’s performance on the comprehensive examination, the dissertation committee: can pass the student, recommend additional coursework, or recommend that the students program of study be terminated.  Failure to pass either the proposal or final defense of the dissertation within two attempts will result in the termination of the student's program of study.

Students who have passed both the Core Competency Examinations and the dissertation proposal defense shall be considered candidates for the PhD in Coastal Resources Management.

Schedule: Comprehensive examinations shall be scheduled by the student in consultation with the Doctoral Advisory Committee, but may not take place before the student's final semester of course requirements. Prior to scheduling the exams, the student, committee, and CRM director will meet, to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of the committee are clear to all and that the student understands the nature, expected level of academic preparation, and procedures governing the examination process.

Preparation: Compilation and organization of the examination will be the responsibility of the chair of the student's doctoral advisory committee, in consultation with other advisory committee members and CRM faculty.

Examination: Logistics and scheduling of the comprehensive examination will be the responsibility of the faculty advisor, in consultation with the student, other advisory committee members, and the CRM director. The doctoral advisory committee will schedule and conduct an oral examination as soon as practicable upon completion of the written portion of the exam.

Evaluation: Evaluation of the comprehensive examination will in general be the responsibility of the members of doctoral advisory committee. A grade of B for each section accepted as passing. If the student receives less than B for any one of the sections, the faculty and the CRM director, may require further remedial activities by the student, in preparation for re-examination. Students are limited to one re-examination. Failure to achieve a grade of B on any test during the first series of examinations or a B on a repeat examination will initiate a formal review by the student's advisory committee. The review will assess the performance on the comprehensive examination, overall academic achievement worthy of a doctoral degree, and professional promise. Contingent on findings from this review, the student may be requested to withdraw from the program. Students who have completed all required coursework and have passed the Comprehensive Examinations shall be considered candidates for the PhD in Coastal Resources Management.

Updated October 19, 2015