Integrated PhD Program (IPP)
Students enter the PhD program without declaring a major. During their first year, they take a common set of courses (the “core” curriculum) in the first Fall, Spring and Summer semesters, along with elective course options that may differ for each student. First-year students also rotate through three different laboratories – one in each academic term. At the conclusion of the first year, each student declares his/her major and preferred research sponsor.
Each student must successfully complete a minimum of 29 didactic (i.e., letter-graded) credits. This total includes 16 credits in the core curriculum (see below). Each individual program may specify additional required or suggested courses (a minimum of 13 didactic credits) beyond those in the core curriculum. Each student should complete all or very nearly all required courses by the end of the second year. At the end of the second year, each student will attempt to pass a qualifying exam that tests the student’s integrated knowledge of the core curriculum and the discipline-based curriculum.
During the third year, the student assembles a dissertation committee and presents a formal dissertation proposal.
Graduates receive a PhD in one of our existing disciplinary areas – biochemistry & molecular biology, cell biology, microbiology & immunology, experimental pathology, pharmacology, or physiology.
Milestones and Student Progress
Upon entry to the program, each student is assigned an advisory committee of three faculty members, who will provide guidance with regard to choice of electives and research rotation sponsors and general academic advice. The membership of the committee may be modified once the student has declared a major in the second year. This advisory committee is replaced by the dissertation committee when that group is formed in the third year. Students are also encouraged to seek additional advice from other faculty on a one-to-one basis.
Declaration of major (selection of academic program)
Students declare their major field at the end of the first year, by an announced date. Programs have the option to deny the student’s entry, which would force the student to declare a second choice. If no “match” can be made, the student will be dismissed from the PhD program. According to this schedule, the student will have been admitted to a specific program by the Fall term of the second year, thus allowing an appropriate selection of courses for that term.
Selection of dissertation research sponsor
This choice is normally made at the same time as the declaration of major, and is subject to the agreement of the proposed dissertation sponsor. In special circumstances, the selection of a dissertation sponsor may be delayed by one academic term.
Qualifying (comprehensive) examination
During the summer at the end of the second year, all students sit for the PhD Qualifying Examination. In special circumstances, the exam for a particular student may be delayed for a short time. The student will be evaluated on his/her performance on the exam and on an assessment of his/her potential to conduct independent research. Passing the exam indicates that the student is prepared to undertake a doctoral dissertation and, therefore, will qualify the student for doctoral candidacy. Students who fail the qualifying exam on their first attempt may be allowed one additional attempt to pass the exam. Students who do not pass the qualifying exam will be dismissed from the PhD program, but will be eligible to receive a Master’s degree, providing the appropriate requirements for that degree are fulfilled.
Each exam will be constructed by the faculty of the student’s specific program, but the format will conform to standards set by the Graduate School. The format shall include both written and oral components. The examining committee shall include at least one graduate faculty member from outside the student’s program who will act as the dean’s representative to promote and ensure adherence to the Graduate School rules and standards for the exam. The student will be examined on his or her knowledge of the core concepts of the chosen discipline, including the core biomedical concepts taught in the first year. The student should also demonstrate an ability to think logically and critically, and demonstrate an understanding of how the scientific method may be used to address unanswered questions in his/her field.
Formation of a dissertation committee
The student, in consultation with the dissertation sponsor and with the approval of the program director and the dean, shall form a Dissertation Committee during the Fall term of the third year – i.e., shortly after passing the Qualifying Exam. The dissertation committee becomes the student’s academic advisory committee at that point. It shall meet with the student at least twice each year to assess the student’s overall progress, including progress related to the dissertation research project.
The dissertation committee shall be formed according to Graduate School regulations. It shall include at least one member of the graduate faculty from a program other than the student’s program. It may also include an external member from outside the institution. This external member may be added at the time of the formal dissertation proposal. While this external member should be kept apprised of the progress of the student’s dissertation research, and may attend as many of the twice-yearly committee meetings as is convenient, his or her physical attendance at meetings of the committee would only be required at the time of the proposal and at the dissertation defense.
Presentation of a formal dissertation proposal
Each student shall present to his/her dissertation committee an acceptable formal research proposal by the end of the Spring term of the third year. It shall be written in grant proposal format, as specified by the Graduate School.
Dissertation progress reports
The student shall present written and oral progress reports to the dissertation committee every six months. At some point, the committee shall decide that sufficient data have been collected and will authorize the student to prepare the dissertation itself.
The student shall provide the committee with a final draft of the dissertation at least two weeks in advance of a public defense of the dissertation. Because a public presentation and defense of the dissertation research is an academic tradition and a Graduate School requirement, the dean must approve all proposed dissertation defense dates.