Upon arrival in graduate school, students will attend brief presentations by each faculty member that describes their research interests. Following these lectures, students will choose a minimum of three laboratories to rotate through as part of the process of choosing a permanent laboratory in which to do their dissertation research.
Each student is required to select a graduate advisory committee that will meet approximately every six months. This committee will consist of the student’s thesis advisor (major professor), three additional members of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and one faculty member whose primary appointment is outside of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
All PhD students are required to pass the Qualifying Examination. This examination is offered in June at the end of the first year, about two weeks after completion of the spring semester, and again in January, about two weeks after completion of the fall semester. The Qualifying Exam is a two day written examination designed to test basic knowledge as well as analytical skills in biochemistry and molecular biology.
The Preliminary Examination (Prelim) consists of a written research proposal on the student’s PhD thesis work in the format of an NIH R01 grant application. At the discretion of the student’s advisory committee, a comprehensive review of the pertinent scientific literature may also be required as an addendum to the research proposal. The proposal is submitted to the student’s PhD advisory committee, followed by presentation of a seminar to the department describing the proposal. The seminar is followed by a defense of the proposal to be conducted by the advisory committee. The department believes that writing and defending a full-length research proposal provides the student with a valuable learning experience in preparation for the responsibilities required of an independent scientist.
One of the unique aspects of the Prelim format is that each PhD student will choose a visiting scientist (ad hoc committee member) to participate in the evaluation of the research proposal. The visiting scientist is chosen by the student in consultation with his/her mentor and must be approved by the chairman and dean. The visiting scientist should be a nationally recognized authority within the student’s research area. Such individuals often provide insightful suggestions for the student’s dissertation project, and in some cases, opportunities for collaboration.
A written PhD dissertation must be submitted to the advisory committee and defended according to guidelines established by the LSUHS Graduate School.
Expectations of Students Awarded the PhD Degree
Due to the nature of scientific research, there is wide variation among thesis projects. As a result, it is impossible to set precise time or productivity standards for obtaining a PhD Whether a student has satisfied the requirements for a PhD is left to his or her committee with final approval by the chairman and dean. Nonetheless, the following achievements and skills are expected to be attained by every student who receives the PhD degree from this department.
- The student should have a good basic knowledge of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, as evidenced by maintaining a GPA of at least 3.0.
- The student should be able to critically read and understand the scientific literature.
- The student should know the scientific literature in her or his field, and know it well.
- The student should understand how her or his research fits into the context of other research in the field.
- The student should be able to conduct independent scientific research that makes an original and significant contribution to her or his field. This includes proposing testable hypotheses, designing experiments and controls for testing these hypotheses, performing experiments, interpreting the results of these experiments, and publishing the results in peer-reviewed scientific journal(s).
- When an experiment does not work, or gives ambiguous results, the student should be able to devise and execute an experimental plan to determine why the experiment did not work, or to clarify the ambiguous results.