(for graduate students who matriculate in AY2016/17 Semester and after)

The PhD Qualifying Examination (QE) is compulsory for all students who wish to be admitted into the PhD programme.

Purpose and Philosophy

The aims of the Graduate Program in Pharmacy are to produce students with the following characteristics:

  • To have expert knowledge and technical competency in a specialized area of research;
  • To be able to critically analyze a research problem, propose a hypothesis and suggest approaches to investigate the hypothesis;
  • To be able to critically analyze research findings, to apply appropriate methodologies and statistical analyses, to 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 and objective manner;
  • To be able to instruct and mentor junior students;
  • To have a safety mindset;
  • To maintain integrity and honesty in their research endeavor; and
  • To have the ability to perform across discipline boundaries.


The PhD Qualifying Examination has 2 objectives:

  • To ensure that the PhD candidate has sufficient fundamental knowledge in research methodology, statistics and his/her discipline of study
  • To ensure that the PhD candidate has the ability to design, write and orally defend a research project proposal


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 knowledge in research methodology, statistics and area of research.

  1. QEI is made up of 2 parts: Parts A and B, written and oral examinations respectively.
  2. Part A comprises of a 2-hour written examination, with questions (multiple-choice and short questions) relating to research methodology and statistics. This is a compulsory section for all candidates and carries the same weightage as Part B. The reading references for Part A are found in Appendix I.

3. The format for QE1, Part B is an oral examination to be conducted       by a panel of faculty members from the respective domain. 

  • Each student will be examined by the panel of examiners for about 1 hour.
  • If the student fails QE1, part A or part B examination, he/she can re-take the examination, but must pass both Part A and Part B within the first 3 semesters.
  • With the exception of PP domain (please contact Ms Kelly at for more details), there won’t be any specific reading materials.

4. Students are expected to be knowledgeable in their foundation        knowledge pertaining to their own domain, which are likely to be  represented by topics covered in the following undergraduate  modules offered by 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, intermolecular forces, acidity & basicity, stereochemistry, tautomerism, mechanisms of action, biotransformation and some basics on UV-vis and IR.

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.

5. In the oral examination, students will be assessed on their ability in handling and answering questions in a logical and rational manner.

6. Supervisor will NOT be present during the QE1-part B examination. Examinations will be conducted  in mid-May.

7. For students that have cross-disciplinary background, they are welcome to identify up to two domains, with one as a major domain, although they might be asked questions pertaining to the minor one also.

8. Parts A and B of QE 1 are held on separate days. The candidate may choose to be examined in both parts in the same semester or elect to do either Part A or Part B first, followed by the other in the following semester.

9. A student must achieve passes in BOTH Section A and Section B of QE 1 before he/she can proceed to QE II.

10. A call for registration for QE I will be made each semester. Candidates must sign up.


QE II consists of a written report and oral defence of the candidate’s research project proposal. It assesses 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. These examiners (and candidate’s supervisor) will form the candidate’s thesis committee if he/she successfully clears QE II.

The student can only apply for Part II of the QE within 12 to 24 months of his/her candidature. He/she should also satisfy all of the following conditions before applying for Part II of the QE:

(i) Has completed 2 Level 5000 modules with an average grade of B.

Candidates sitting for the examination of the module(s) may be granted provisional acceptance.

(ii) Has a publication accepted by a SCI indexed journal or has an abstract accepted by an international conference for presentation.

For candidates who have not satisfied this condition, the department is willing to consider their applications based on a letter of appeal/support from their supervisors. In the letter, the supervisor has to comment clearly on the candidate’s spoken and written English, performance in research up to date and the potential to complete the PhD program successfully.

(iii) Has passed Part I of the QE.

4. The format of the presentation and written report are as follows :

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 (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, develop new technology). (Not more than 1 page)

2. Literature review

Summarize the background leading to the present application.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 been carried up to date. 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 will complement 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 min) on his/her topic of research, following which he/she will be questioned by two examiners for the next 30 minutes.


  • At the point of admission into the Pharmacy graduate program, the student will be designated as being on the MSc or PhD track.
  • Students who pass the QE will be known as PhD students.
  • tudents who do not wish to take the QE or fail to pass the QE by the end of 24 months of their candidature will be designated MSc students.
  • A student is allowed TWO attempts on Part I of the QE and ONE attempt on Part II of the QE.
  • Registration for QE I and QE II can be made twice a year. The tentative schedule is shown in the following table.
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 September 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 of Section A and Section B QE I (different days)
2nd week of May 2nd week of December Seminar and oral defence of research project proposal (QE Part II)
1st week of June 4th week of December Submission of grades of modules taken where applicable

Appendix I

Topics and reference books

Section A


  • Research process
  • Research design
  • Types of research
  • Validity and reliability
  • Research ethics
  • Protection of intellectual property
  • Identifying the research question
  • Writing of research proposal
  • Presentation of research results

Reference book:

1. Festing MFW, Principles: the need for better experimental design. TrendPharmacol Sci, 24: 341-5 (2003)

2. Experimental designs, 2 nd edition, W G Cochran and G M Cox, John Wiley & Sons (1992)

3. PR 5115 lecture notes



  • Data Presentation
    – Types of variables
    – Summarising data
    – Descriptive statistics
  • Probability distribution and estimation
    – Normal distribution
    – Binomial distribution
    – Poisson distribution
    – Z score
    – Sampling distribution of means
  • Approaches to statistical inferences
    – Hypothesis testing
    – Types of errors
    – Power and Sample size
    – Parameter estimation and confidence intervals
  • Parametric tests
    – One-sample inference
    – Two-sample inference
    – ANOVA
  • Nonparametric methods
    – Wilcoxon rank sum test (Mann-Whitney U test)
    – Wilcoxon signed-rank test
    – Kruskal-Wallis test
  • Categorical data analysis
    – Chi-square test
    – Fisher’s exact test
    – McNemar’s test
  • Correlation and regression analysis

Suggested reference books (either of the suggested books will be fine, or any other preferred statistical reference books will also be fine, as long as the above topics are covered):

1. Bolton S, Bon C. Pharmaceutical statistics: practical and clinical applications. 5th edition. New York: Informa Healthcare USA, 2010.

2. Pagano M. Principle of Biostatistics. 2nd edition. Pacific Grove, CA: Duxbury, 2000.

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