PhD Qualifying Examinations

Department Guidelines for Qualifying Examination (QE)

The PhD Qualifying Examination (QE) is compulsory for all postgraduate students who aim to complete their research-based graduate study under the PhD candidature that will lead to the award of the degree in Doctor of Philosophy degree upon completion of all requirements.

Purpose and Philosophy

The aims of the Graduate Study Program in Pharmacy (by research) are to train students to develop the following characteristics:

  • To acquire expert knowledge and technical competency in a specialized area of research;
  • To be able to critically analyze research problems, propose hypothesis/research question and suggest approaches to conduct the necessary investigation;
  • To be able to apply scientific methodologies for conducting properly designed experiments and generating relevant data, critically analyze research findings, provide an objective summary of results and a proposal for future investigations;
  • To be able to write and present their research findings in a concise, coherent and objective manner;
  • To be able to instruct and mentor junior students;
  • To acquire a mindset for workplace safety;
  • To exercise integrity and honesty in all research endeavors; and
  • To demonstrate the ability to think and conduct investigations across discipline boundaries.


The PhD Qualifying Examination has 2 main objectives:

  • To assess and ascertain that the graduate students are equipped with a strong foundation in the fundamental domain knowledge in his/her discipline of study.
  • To assess and ascertain that the graduate students have demonstrated the ability to conduct investigations, write and orally defend a sound research project proposal supported by relevant data.


The PhD Qualifying Examination consists of 2 parts: QE I and QE II.


The aim of QE I is to assess the candidate’s fundamental domain knowledge in one of the four domains where his/her chosen laboratory is based. QE I is an one hour oral examination to be conducted by a panel of faculty members from the respective domain. 

Students are expected to be competent in their foundation knowledge pertaining to their own domain. Foundation knowledge in the respective domain is likely to be represented by topics covered in the following undergraduate modules offered by the department:

Module Code Module Title Module Coordinator Module Descriptions
PR1110 (for PC domain) Foundations for Medicinal Chemistry Assoc Prof Chui Wai Keung This module studies the fundamental physical & chemical principles that are important to the design and development of drugs. The major topics to be covered include: molecular properties, electronic effects, functional groups and heterocycle nomenclature, intermolecular forces, acidity & basicity, conformation and stereochemistry, tautomerism, solubility, lipophilicity and permeability.
PR1111 (for PB domain) Pharmaceutical Biochemistry Assoc Prof Chew Eng Hui This module is aimed to provide fundamental biochemistry knowledge which is important and relevant for pharmacy students to relate the knowledge to drug discovery and development. The module will emphasise the relevance and application of biochemistry in pharmaceutical and pharmacy practices.
PR2114 (for PT domain) Formulation & Technology I Assoc Prof Gigi Chiu This module studies the fundamental physical chemical principles which are important to the design and development of pharmaceutical formulations. The major topics to be covered include: phase diagrams; solutions; buffers & isotonicity; partition, diffusion & mass transfer; solubility & dissolution; reaction kinetics & drug product stability; physical properties of solids (crystallinity, polymorphism); interfacial phenomenon; colloidal systems.

For PP domain, please refer to following table for the assigned reading materials.

Subject Areas Learning Objectives Reading Materials
Human Research Ethics Describe the purpose of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the informed consent process

Discuss the importance of ethics in the conduct of clinical research

List and describe the requirements that provide a framework for determining whether clinical research is ethical

Given a case scenario, comment and provide justifications on the ethical aspects of a clinical trial


Executive summary of the Ethics Guidelines for Human Biomedical Research, Bioethics Advisory Committee of Singapore.
Epidemiology and research methodology in health care Please refer to the learning objectives stated at the beginning of each chapter. Epidemiology (Leon Gordis). Elsevier Health Sciences; 2013 (5th Ed), Chapters 9-15 and 17.

  • CHAPTER 9 Cohort Studies
  • CHAPTER 10 Case-Control Studies and Other Study Designs
  • CHAPTER 11 Estimating Risk: Is There an Association?
  • CHAPTER 12 More on Risk: Estimating the Potential for Prevention
  • CHAPTER 13 A Pause for Review: Comparing Cohort and Case-Control Studies
  • CHAPTER 14 From Association to Causation: Deriving Inferences from Epidemiologic Studies
  • CHAPTER 15 More on Causal Inferences: Bias, Confounding, and Interaction
  • CHAPTER 17 Using Epidemiology to Evaluate Health Services
  • Available here


  1. Each student will be examined by the panel of examiners for 1 hour. Supervisors should NOT be present during the QE I examination.
  2. Fulfilling seminar requirements is a pre-requisite to sit for the QE I examination.
  3. Each student taking the oral examination will be assessed individually for their ability in handling and answering questions in a logical and rational manner.
  4. For students who have cross-disciplinary background, they are welcome to identify up to two domains for the oral examination, with one as a major domain. Panel members will be chosen to be able to conduct oral examination in both domains.
  5. The examination will be video recorded.
  6. If the student fails QE I examination, he/she will be allowed to re-take the examination only one more time.
  7. Students are encouraged to sit for their QE I examination in their first semester, but must do so no later than the second semester in the program. Students must pass their QE I by the end of their third semester to be eligible to sit for QE II at the end of their fourth semester.


Students in the PhD Programme must pass QE II by the end of their fourth semester to be eligible for advancing to Ph.D candidature.

  1. QE II consists of a written report, an open seminar and a closed door oral defence session based on the candidate’s research project proposal supported by relevant results. QE II is intended to assess the candidate’s ability to design, write and orally defend his/her research project proposal. The report and presentation will be assessed by two examiners.
  2. Graduate students can only apply to sit for QE II in their 3rd or 4th semester. He/she must also satisfy all of the following conditions to be eligible to sit for QE II:
    • Completed PR5198
    • Completed at least two additional Level 5000 modules
    • Maintain overall CAP at 3.5 or above
    • Passed English language proficiency requirement (where applicable)
    • Passed QE I
    • Fulfilled seminar requirements
    • Endorsement from supervisor and co-supervisor for taking the examination
  3. Only one attempt in QE II is allowed. However, under exceptional circumstances, appeal to HOD may be permitted. In such instance, HOD, in consultation with the examiners, will decide whether to allow the student to re-take his/her QE2 one more time.
  4. Nomination of QE II examiners
  5. The following exclusion criteria apply when selecting suitable examiners for QE II:
    • Examiners must not be related (by family) to the candidate or the supervisor(s)
    • Examiners must not be the candidate’s research collaborator / co-author or have financial involvement in the research project
    • Examiners should not be co-authors with the supervisor(s) in the past 3 years
    • Examiners should not have been trained by the same supervisor as the candidate’s supervisor
    • The nominated examiner should not be previous research student (either FYP/PhD) of the supervisor(s) or vice-versa.
  6. Additional important considerations for selecting examiner for QE II:
    • Consent of the examiners proposed by the student’s supervisor must be obtained before nomination.
    • The list of proposed examiners should be approved by the Graduate Committee Domain Representative or Chair of Department Graduate Committee.
    • External examiners examining the report containing patentable/confidential materials will need to read and agree to the Terms & Conditions on the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before the report is sent to him/her (this also applies to examiners from NUH and NUHS).  Main Supervisor is required to arrange for the execution of the NDA for External Examiners.
    • For proposed experts outside of NUS to qualify as examiners, he/she must hold group leader position or above (preferably at least Tenure Track Assistant Professorship or equivalent).
    • For proposed examiners from outside NUS, supervisor should provide a copy of CV to domain representatives of Graduate Committee upon request to assist domain representation or chair of department Graduate Committee in their evaluation.
    • No more than one colleague from the educator track should serve in the QE ІІ panel of examiners.
    • Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC) members can be nominated to be examiners for QE ІІ, provided they fulfill the eligibility criteria listed above.
  7. The format of the presentation and written report are:

Format of the written report

  • Entire report should be 25-30 pages in length, excluding tables, figures and schemes.
  • Report should be presented with 1.5 line spacing, Times New Roman, font size 12.
  • Report should be printed on both sides of A4 paper.
  • Components of report:

1. Specific aims

List the broad, long-term objectives and the goal(s) of the specific research proposed (to test a stated hypothesis, create a novel design, solve a specific problem, challenge an existing paradigm, address a critical barrier to progress in the field and/or develop new technology). (Not more than 1 page)

2. Literature review

Succinctly summarize the background leading to the development of the current research project. Critically evaluate existing knowledge. (5-6 pages)

3. Significance of project

Identify gaps in existing knowledge that the project is intended to address. State concisely the importance of the research by relating the specific aims to the broad long term objectives. If the aims of the application are achieved, state how scientific knowledge will be advanced. Describe the impact to the field. (1-2 pages)

4. Preliminary studies

Describe the experiments that had already been carried out to the date prior to submission of the written report. Provide concise experimental details. Describe how the data was collected, analyzed and interpreted. Critically discuss your results in the light of the objectives of your proposal. (15-17 pages, excluding tables, figures and schemes)

5. Future work

Relate how the proposed work to be undertaken in immediate future to continue and expand the existing work done. Describe its role in fulfilling the (original) research objectives. Provide a tentative sequence for the proposed work. Briefly describe the methodology to be employed. Provide a timeline for the project. If a change is required in the light of the preliminary results, describe the nature and extent of change and how it impacts your original objectives. Restate your objectives if necessary. Provide a rationale and a tentative sequence for the proposed work. Briefly describe the methodology to be employed. Provide a timeline for the project. (3-4 pages)

6. Acknowledgements

Candidate must acknowledge contributions from undergraduate students (FYP, UROPS), and other contributors to his submitted report. (Not more than 1 page)

7. Literature cited

List all references. References should be numbered consecutively in Arabic numerals enclosed in parentheses, in the order in which they are cited in the text, e.g. (1), (2,3), (4-6), etc. Each reference must include the name of all authors, article title, book or journal title, volume number, page numbers and year of publication.

Supervisors will advise on the format for references. Citation of references should be consistent. References are not included in the page count.

8. Oral examination

The candidate will be requested to deliver an oral presentation (30 – 45 min) in seminar style on his/her proposed research, following which he/she will be examined by two examiners  on his/her research in a closed door session for additional 45 – 90 mins.

Passing QE is a pre-requisite for advancement to PhD candidature

  1. At the point of admission into the Pharmacy graduate study program, the student will be designated as being on the MSc or PhD track.
  2. Students who pass the QE will be known as PhD candidate.
  3. Students who are not eligible to sit for QE or do not wish to take the QE or fail to pass the QE I or QE II by the end of third and fourth semester, respectively, will be designated as MSc students and will complete the program under the guidelines for M.Sc. degree (by research).
  4. A student is allowed to undertake up to TWO attempts on QE I and only ONE attempt on QE II.
  5. Registration for QE I and QE II can be made twice a year. The tentative schedule is shown in the following table.
Semester 2 Semester 1 Schedule
2nd week of  February 2nd week  of September Registration for QE I and QE II. Submit Application form to the Department of Pharmacy, General Office
3rd week of March 3rd week of October For candidates presenting for QE II: Nomination of 2 examiners by candidate’s supervisor(s)
4th week of April 3rd week of November For candidates presenting for QE II: To submit written report of research project for QE II
3rd week of May 3rd week of December Examination for QE I
2nd week of May 2nd week of December Seminar and oral defence of research project proposal (QE II)
1st week of June 4th week of December Submission of grades of modules taken where applicable

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