The student is expected to devote a considerable amount of time to research both in the laboratory and through studying the literature even though course work is in progress. A key part of developing into a biomedical scientist is for the student to learn how to partition his/her time so that progress can be made in research while courses are taken.
The Research component of the doctoral program will consist of research in the laboratory, presentations at research seminars (see below), preparation and defense of a research proposal in the NIH grant application format, presentation of research findings at scientific meetings, publication of papers, and finally the preparation and defense of the doctoral dissertation.
- Laboratory Rotation and Selection of a Major Professor
- Selection of Dissertation Committee
- Quality of the Student's Research
- Preliminary Examination - Preparation and Defense of the Doctoral Research Proposal
- Preparation and Defense of the Doctoral Dissertation
- Final Research Seminar and Certification
Laboratory Rotation and Selection of a Major Professor
The second emphasis of the doctoral training program will be on research and time for research will increase each year. In the Fall Semester new students will be introduced to ongoing Departmental research by meeting with faculty members to discuss their research. Faculty with primary or adjunct appointments in the Department of Physiology may host a rotating student. Each new student will select a minimum of four (4) faculty members for rotation in their respective laboratories. The rotation will allow the student to gain first-hand knowledge of the research in these selected laboratories and serve as a basis to choose a major professor. Two rotations will be completed in the Fall Semester and two in the Spring Semester. MD- PhD students may do one rotation as part of the Medical Students Research Program in the summer after their first year of Medical School. Where possible, these students are advised to complete three other rotations during the second year of Medical School.
The selection of a major professor will be after the Qualifying Examination. The student will list his/her order of choice in a letter to the Director of Graduate Studies. Every effort will be made to place the student in the laboratory of his/her choice provided the faculty member is agreeable and room and funds are available to support the student's research.
Selection of Dissertation Committee
This Dissertation Committee is usually established during the second year after the student has selected a major professor and has begun to identify his/her research problem. The members of the Dissertation Committee should be faculty who have expertise in research, especially in the areas of research that may relate to the student's area of experimentation. One major function of the Dissertation Committee is to provide advice and support regarding the student's research and to help monitor the development of the student into a productive, careful, and competent investigator. The Dissertation Committee also helps the major professor evaluate the student's progress in his/her research and advises the student of the elective coursework best suited to his/her needs.
The Dissertation Committee must be comprised of at least five (5) faculty who are eligible to serve according to the rules of the School of Graduate Studies. Four of the members should be from the Department of Physiology, and should include at least three members with primary appointments in Physiology. The major professor may have a primary or adjunct appointment in the Department. The fifth committee member must be from outside the Department (not adjunct faculty in Physiology), and may be from a different Department such as Biochemistry or Pharmacology or from a different institution. Before inviting the individual faculty to serve on the Dissertation Committee, the major professor must have the Department Head approve the committee.
The Dissertation Committee is expected to meet every six (6) months (during September and March) to review the student's progress. A brief report of the Dissertation Committee's recommendations must be prepared in writing by the major professor and provided to the student, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Department Head. In addition, a copy of this report is to be placed in the student's file. The progress of each student will be discussed by the entire faculty at departmental faculty meetings.
Quality of the Student's Research
The dissertation research must be a contribution to the field and is expected to generate original findings that address a fundamental question. It is expected that the major substance of the study will be published in journals of international repute and that the student will present his/her research findings at local, regional, national or international meetings of scientific societies in the student's field. One first author publication "in press" or published by a peer-reviewed journal will be required for graduation.
Preliminary Examination - Preparation and Defense of the Doctoral Research Proposal
The Preliminary Examination consists of the preparation, presentation, and peer review of the student’s Research Proposal and subsequent submission of the Research Proposal. Preparation of the Research Proposal allows the student to pursue a research problem to a meaningful conclusion, become aware of the findings of other researchers in his/her field, learn what a research grant is and how to prepare one, focus on his/her major research aims and the rationale and methods to achieve goals, as well as introducing the student to the peer review process. The Research Proposal is primarily the responsibility of the student with appropriate input from the major professor and a Dissertation Committee.
During the second year of studies, after the selection of the Dissertation Committee, the student will meet with the Committee to defend the potential aims and experimental design of the Proposal. This proposal is written in the National Institute of Health (NIH) grant format by the student and includes Background information from the literature, Specific Aims, Rationale, Preliminary Data, and Methods to be used to answer the questions being asked. Once the proposed dissertation is approved, it is expected that the proposal will be submitted as a grant application in the spring of the second year to the Office of Research for consideration for an intramural predoctoral fellowship award or to an external funding mechanism. If the Proposal is funded, the student’s Committee will consider the student to have passed the Preliminary Examination.
If the first submission of the grant is not funded, it will be revised by the student, who will defend the revision to the Committee. The Committee will be required to review it, provide comments, and approve the final version for the student to pass the Preliminary Examination. If the student does not pass this defense, he/she will be allowed to defend a second time. Passing the Preliminary Examination is a PhD requirement.
The grant Proposal should be submitted in the second year. However, if there are delays and the Proposal has not undergone the first submission as a grant application prior to the end of the fall of the third year, the student will be required to write a grant proposal that is on a different topic than his/her dissertation (to be approved by his/her dissertation committee before writing commences), and successfully defend it to his/her dissertation committee in order to pass the Preliminary Examination.
Preparation and Defense of the Doctoral Dissertation
- Field Examination
An outline of the literature review for the PhD dissertation must be approved by the Dissertation Committee. Upon successful completion of the literature review, an oral examination (field examination) will be administered by the student's Dissertation Committee on this material. The field exam is usually scheduled 4-6 weeks prior to the dissertation defense. Successful completion of the field exam is required for the dissertation defense and final exam.
- Preparation of Doctoral Dissertation
The dissertation is prepared by the student with the guidance and advice of his/her major professor and Dissertation Committee. Instructions for the preparation of the dissertation are provided in the "Instructions for Thesis and Dissertation Writing" booklet, which is available through the Office of Graduate Studies. With the permission of the student's Dissertation Committee, the student can utilize the European format for the dissertation. Upon completion of the dissertation, the student should provide copies of the dissertation to all members of his/her Dissertation Committee, to the Director of Graduate Studies, and to the Department Head. After an appropriate period of time (approximately 14 days, during which the student should be available to provide information or clarifications requested by his committee members), the student's major professor should contact each member of the Dissertation Committee and determine whether the dissertation is completed to a degree that will allow scheduling of the Defense and Final Examination. If two or more members of the Dissertation Committee feel the dissertation is incomplete and/or a quality unsuitable to schedule the Defense, the Committee will meet and make specific recommendations.
- Defense and Final Examination
This exam should be scheduled no earlier than 4-6 weeks after successful completion of the field exam, and no sooner than one month after submission of the final dissertation to the Dissertation Committee. The Dissertation Defense and Final Examination will focus on the dissertation research and the dissertation itself. The student is expected to answer questions about the work, defend the validity of the conclusions, discuss suggestions for revisions to improve clarity, etc.
After the student has answered questions about the dissertation, the Committee will discuss the dissertation and final revisions that may be necessary and vote whether the student has passed the Final Examination. Voting to accept the dissertation (with all recommended revisions) will be by ballot with no more than one negative vote permitted. If the dissertation is not acceptable and/or the student is judged to have failed the examination, the Dissertation Committee is expected to inform the student in writing, of the reasons for the failure with a copy provided to the Head of the Department, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Dean of Graduate Studies.
Final Research Seminar and Certification
Once the student has passed the Final Examination and the dissertation has been accepted by the Dissertation Committee, the student is required to present a final research seminar open to all faculty, students, and staff of the Department of Physiology and interested members of other departments. The seminar must be advertised at least 14 days before the event. The purpose of this seminar is to allow the student to present the overall view of his/her doctoral research and to demonstrate to new and intermediate level graduate students as well as to other members of the Medical Center the high quality of research expected for the doctoral degree.
When the student has passed his/her Defense and Final Examination and scheduled the final research seminar and published (or have "in press") a first author paper on his/her dissertation research in a peer reviewed journal, he/she will be certified to the Graduate Faculty and Chancellor as having met all requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular and Cellular Physiology.
The School of Graduate Studies requires the submission of completed forms at various times as the student progresses through the program. All students will be provided with a list of required forms that must be submitted to the Graduate School Office at the time of completion of certain requirements. (Need to create this list and publish on website/departmental intranet site).