Audhesh Paswan asks ELMAR subscribers to contribute to an informal survey on doctoral comprehensive exams

Traditions in our doctoral programs in marketing:

The doctoral program in marketing evokes strong reactions. It brings back memories, both good and bad. Most have fond memories while others horror stories. It is an institution that we see as our contribution to the field. Structurally, most doctoral programs consist of about 2 years of coursework, then a comprehensive exam, followed by the pre-dissertation, and ends hopefully successful dissertation defense. In summary, most doctoral programs have three major gates – comprehensive exams, proposal defense, and dissertation defense. My focus is on the comprehensive exam, a strong and almost intimidating gate. A typical comprehensive exam is given over 2 days (8 hrs. each day), although some programs have started using other formats. Only after passing this exam, students can move into the dissertation proposal stage. Most of us are wedded to it like rituals and traditions, and swear by it as a rite of passage, while some have started questioning it. Some see it a test of memory, while others see genuine value in it

I have been struggling with whether comprehensive exams (typically given at the end of coursework, before starting the dissertation proposal) serve a purpose, and if yes what purpose? Also, ask our colleagues if their school gives a comprehensive exam, and if yes, what the format is? If no, do they use something else instead? I think these are important questions, because they are part of our future as marketing academics.

To facilitate our discussion and feedback, I would like to humbly offer a structure (hope it helps):

  1. Do you currently have a Ph.D. program at your school?– Y/N
  2. Do you have a comprehensive exam? Y/N

The remaining questions could be answered by anyone, even if you do not have a doctoral program at your school. Use your own doctoral program experiences as a basis for answering the remaining four questions.

  1. What is/was the structure or format? – provide as much detail as possible.
  2. Do feel that the comprehensive exam serves a useful purpose, and if yes what? – provide as much detail as possible.
  3. What do you see are the negative consequences of the comprehensive exam; and are these negatives worth the price for the positives mentioned above (as in 4)?
  4. What changes would you recommend to achieve the same goal (as in 4)?

Finally, if you feel like, tell me if you are (a) currently a Ph.D. student, (b) already have a Ph.D., and (c) currently working as a faculty. Name of your schools are not required, but if you feel like, go ahead, put it in.

I will try to compile the responses in some readable form and make it public through ELMAR, if allowed [But of course – ch]. You can either send your response via ELMAR (reply to your community update email) or if you feel comfortable sending your responses through an email to me, my e-mail address is

A big thank you in advance.