Our PhD program is a comprehensive, research-oriented program involving foundational coursework and an original dissertation research project mentored by one of our faculty. By working closely with this research advisor and members of a dissertation committee, students become independent scientists positioned to assume leadership roles in their chosen profession
As a foundation for advanced research, PhD candidates complete 22 credit hours of coursework in their first two years in the program. Courses cover advanced topics in the biological sciences and teach critical thinking, analysis of primary scientific literature, and experimental design.
To develop oral presentation skills, PhD candidates enroll in a seminar course each semester of their first two years. Each student presents two seminars. PhD candidates also attend the departmental seminar series, featuring distinguished scientists from inside and outside the university.
In the first year, PhD candidates perform two or three 10-week research rotations prior to joining a laboratory and embarking on a thesis project. Rotations consist of small research projects that are designed to introduce the student to research opportunities available in that laboratory.
At the end of the second year, PhD candidates take a candidacy exam consisting of two parts. For the written exam, each student prepares an original research proposal on a topic of their choosing. For the oral examination, the dissertation committee questions the student about the research proposal and about foundational knowledge in the sub-discipline the student has chosen for their dissertation research.
After successful completion of the candidacy exam, the student focuses on an original research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor. Regular meetings with the PhD Advisory Committee provide additional guidance and support.
Upon the completion of the research project, the student prepares a dissertation, which is read and evaluated by the PhD Advisory Committee. The student also presents the research results publically in an hour-long seminar.