Your Q&A session and oral presentation will take place in the term after you prepare your paper. Assignment of dates and times for the Q&A session and oral presentation is done at random, taking into account student and committee members’ schedules.  Requests for early scheduling will be honored when possible; however, requests for “late scheduling” will not be accepted. When the schedules are complete, you can find the time of your Q&A and oral presentation on the department website (see Committee Talks and Schedules). Scheduling is done over winter break for Fall/Winter comps and over spring break for Winter/Spring comps. If the assigned Comps time conflicts with a legitimate academic exercise (i.e., another class), the student should work with their Comps advisor to find another meeting time that will work for both student and faculty schedules.

The Q&A period occurs first, after the committee has read your paper but before your oral presentation. During the question period, committee members may ask questions on a variety of topics related to your paper. In preparing for the questions, be sure to pay particular attention to the key references you chose in your bibliography. You should be able to defend your choice of each key reference within the context of the question, as well as demonstrate an understanding of details such as experimental methods, figures and tables, etc.

You should have available a copy of each of your key references, which you are free to refer to during the question period. Other questions from your committee will be diverse and not easily predictable, but the faculty will be interested in how well you are able to explain and defend the positions you have taken. If you are well-prepared and are interested in the subject, the discussion should be stimulating and even enjoyable to all.

Your oral presentation should be 15 minutes long, followed by no more than 5 minutes for questions from the audience.  

When possible, comps oral presentations will be scheduled on Mondays and Wednesdays during 6a, and are a chance for you to share your hard work with your peers and mentors. Your talk does not need to repeat the exact order and content of your submitted paper. Instead, you may take this as an opportunity to highlight an aspect of your research that you are excited to share in greater depth. The presentation should follow a structured format, but should be presented without reading a prepared script verbatim. 

We determine grades for comps (pass with distinction, pass, fail) by evaluating the paper, the Q&A, and the oral presentation. All deadlines must be met to receive distinction. 

Tips for your Oral Presentation and Q&A Period

Below are a few tips that the faculty have compiled to help you think about your comps talk and Q&A. Please keep in mind that there is no one “right way” to complete these aspects of comps — you should consult with your comps advisor to get their advice. The comps Q&A rubric is here.

Q&A Period

  • You should understand the basic biology for the processes you describe in either your paper or your presentation. 
  • Be prepared to apply your understanding of the basic biology for the processes you describe to new situations (for example, you might not know how every cell signaling pathway results in cell proliferation, but you should be able to think your way through how an extracellular signal could lead to changes in cell proliferation).
  • Recognize the limits of your knowledge of hard facts; propose what you think could happen based on the reality of our biological systems, your foundation of conceptual biology knowledge, and the published literature.
  • “Starred” references from your paper are likely to be the basis of questions in the Q&A. You should have a full understanding of all aspects of these papers and be prepared to discuss them. It is permissible (and encouraged!) to have copies of your papers on hand during the defense.

Oral presentation

  • The presentation is an opportunity to highlight specific aspects of your research. You can do this by going into greater depth on specific examples mentioned in your paper, or by expanding your interpretation or analysis of one or more key points.
  • In the oral presentation, slides should have minimal text and instead use photos, diagrams, and figures from papers to illustrate the information being presented.
  • When a figure is presented in an oral presentation, all axes, colors, and shapes should be clearly defined before interpreting the results. In many cases, some background on the experimental design is necessary to give context for the figure.
  • Presentations should be practiced (and timed) in front of an audience of your peers several times before your presentation date. Keeping to time is crucial in order to respect the time of your peers, who will be giving their talks during the same time slot.