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The prospective student must meet all general requirements for the Ph.D. degree in the Department of Biological Sciences. The curriculum described below was developed to ensure that students achieve the breadth of knowledge, written and oral communication skills, and proficiency in the practice of research expected of individuals holding an advanced degree with a specialization in Cell and Organ Systems. All students are expected to have basic competency in general physiology and cell biology upon admittance to the concentration since these fields underpin the training provided.
The Cell and Organ Systems Graduate Concentration encompasses a wide diversity of research areas, including cell biology, organ systems physiology, extracellular matrix biology, cell signaling, developmental biology and others. The curriculum provides for a breadth of background knowledge, skill development in oral and written communication and in critical thinking and opportunities for learning a variety of research techniques. The Ph.D. degree program will emphasize the development and critical defense of an independent research project (dissertation).
Students must take either two courses from the following list of three- and four-credit courses, or one course from this list plus three one-credit sections of BISC850.
If any graduate courses equivalent to those listed above have been taken in previous graduate degree programs and have been accepted as graduate level transfer credit by the University, the transferred courses may be used to satisfy the Concentration requirements with the approval of the Concentration coordinator.
Other three- or four-credit courses at the University may be used to fulfill the elective requirement if approval from the Concentration coordinator is received prior to taking the course.
Graduate students in the Cell and Organ System concentration are expected to possess a fundamental body of knowledge (see the core competency list for more details) as well as the ability to critically analyze scientific literature. To ensure that this is the case, an oral comprehensive examination will be administered to all graduate students in the Concentration.
In order to be eligible to take the comprehensive exam, students must have completed first year core courses (BISC 605 and BISC 612) with a grade of B or better. Students are required to take the comprehensive exam at a time set by the Concentration Coordinator for as soon as feasible after the first year curriculum has been successfully completed. If the student fails to complete the comprehensive exam by this time, the student will be subject to dismissal.
Students will be provided with at least four sets of papers from the primary literature selected by faculty, from which they must choose one set as the basis for their oral examination. These papers will be available at least three weeks before the exam, so that the exam can be administered the first or second week of June for students admitted the previous summer or fall. Students admitted in the spring will usually have paper sets available by December 10 so that the exam can be administered in early January. Two weeks prior to the exam, the student should inform the Concentration coordinator of the chosen paper set. Prior to the exam, the student should prepare slides of all of the figures and tables presented in the papers so that they will available for discussion during the exam.
During the exam, the student will be tested by a committee of four to six faculty on the student's comprehension of all aspects of the paper and the core competencies. Students will present a synopsis of the primary paper, then the examination committee will ask questions pertaining to the paper. The committee will also ask questions pertaining to the core competencies. Prior to the exam, students are encouraged to contact faculty to discuss the topics they are responsible for and to clarify difficult concepts.
The comprehensive exam committee will grade the student based on:
After the oral examination, the examination committee will determine an appropriate grade. Four grades are possible at the initial exam:
Once the student passes the comprehensive examination, the student becomes eligible to take the qualifying examination for advancement to Ph.D. candidacy.
The purpose of the oral candidacy examination is to give the student the opportunity to demonstrate:
Ph.D. Research Proposal
At the end of the student's third year, the student is expected to have spent at least two years working on a research project in the laboratory of the dissertation advisor. At this time, the student, in consultation with the dissertation advisor, will prepare a proposal in the format described below that outlines the background of the project, the hypothesis to be tested, the research accomplishments to date and the research to be completed to fulfill the requirements of a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences. It is the student's responsibility to submit the Research Proposal to each member of the dissertation committee at least two weeks prior to the oral exam date.
The Research Proposal must be double-spaced, in 12-point Arial or Palatino, and include:
Exam for admission into candidacy for the Ph.D. (Qualifying exam)
The exam will be administered by the student's dissertation committee, excluding the student's primary research advisor. If a student has co-advisors with major roles in supervising the student's research, the co-advisors may not serve on the examination committee. If a student whose research is supervised by someone outside the Department has an advisor of record who does not play a primary role in supervising the student's research, the advisor of record may serve on the exam committee. The exam committee must have at least four members, and at least two of the members must have primary appointments in Biological Sciences. Temporary members may be added to the dissertation committee to meet these requirements. It is not necessary to have a member of the exam committee from outside the Department.
Since the primary advisor for the dissertation will not be present during the examination, the student must choose an examination committee chair from among the remaining members. The chair will be responsible for the conduct of the exam and the completion of a detailed report outlining the student's strengths and weaknesses, as well as any suggestions for alterations to the research proposal after the defense.
At the oral defense, the student will present the background and significance of the work, the hypothesis to be tested and the preliminary data collected. The majority of the presentation should be devoted to explaining the research to be performed in the two years remaining in the student's degree program. Students should plan on a 30-45 minute presentation, throughout which the committee will ask questions. At the conclusion of the formal presentation the committee will evaluate the student's scientific background as well as the scientific validity of the proposed research project. It also is essential that the student demonstrates the ability to make a significant intellectual contribution to the project.
A student's performance will be regarded as satisfactory only if the student:
After the oral examination, the examination committee will determine an appropriate grade. Four grades are possible:
Total: 7 credits
Total: 8 credits
*BISC 868 for students who have not unconditionally passed the comprehensive exam, or BISC 964 for students who have unconditionally passed the comprehensive exam
Total: 8-10 credits
Total: 10 credits
Until successful completion of qualifying exam:
Total: 7 credits
After completion of qualifying exam:
Based on tutorials and discussions with different faculty members, students should choose a primary research advisor as soon as possible and prior to the end of their first academic year in the program. This advisor must have a primary or secondary appointment in the Department of Biological Sciences. With the help of the advisor, the student should then select 4-6 additional advisory committee members, one of whom must have a primary appointment outside the Department of Biological Sciences. It is expected that students will meet at least twice-yearly with their committees (see Graduate Program Policy).
The Ph.D. Dissertation must be defended in a public presentation. The format is a formal seminar summarizing the work done and its significance, followed by general questions from the audience and, finally, a questioning period by the Dissertation Committee.
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