The first year of graduate study is spent doing coursework, exploring research opportunities, and performing laboratory rotations.
For the doctoral degree, the Division of Biological Sciences requires students to take a total of nine graded courses. Beyond the divisional requirement, each of our programs has certain specific course requirements that must be met, as follows:
Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics: Protein Fundamentals, Structure and Function of Membrane Proteins, and one course each in Cell Biology and Molecular Biology. Additional recommended courses: Nucleic Acids Structure & Function and Molecular Biophysics: Theory and Applications
Developmental Biology: One course in Cell Biology, one course in Genetics, one course in Molecular Biology, and three courses in the field of Developmental Biology
Genetics: Genetic Analysis, Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular Biology I or Fundamentals of Molecular Biology, and one of three courses: Population Genetics, Molecular Evolution or Human Variation and Disease
Human Genetics: Genetic Analysis, Human Genetics I, Human Variation and Disease, and one of the following: Developmental Genetics of Model Systems, Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular Biology II, Population Genetics, and Introduction to Statistical Genetics
Cell and Molecular Genetics: One course in Cell Biology, one course in Genetics, one course in Molecular Biology, plus one additional course in one of these areas
As this indicates, our programs have many required courses in common.
Students in our cluster perform at least two lab rotations before identifying the lab in which they will pursue their doctoral research: the rotations familiarize students with what it is like to actually work in the labs they are interested in, which helps them make an informed decision about which lab they would like to join. Rotations in winter or spring quarter are ten weeks; two rotations of five weeks each may be done in summer quarter. Two rotations will count towards the nine courses required by the division for the PhD degree.
Students in each program take a preliminary examination before the beginning of their second year. In Genetics, Genomics and Systems Biology and in Human Genetics, students are given a set of questions, prepare answers to the questions over a two week period, and at the end of that time, present their answers orally to an examining committee of several faculty members. In Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Development, Regeneration, and Stem Cell Biology, the examination has a different format: over a period of several weeks, students prepare an original research proposal; they then present this proposal orally to an examining committee of faculty.
Choosing a Lab and Forming a Thesis Committee
Students generally choose research advisors at the beginning of the second year, and they spend most of their time during this year developing a research project. By the end of Winter Quarter in the second year, each student assembles a thesis committee. Its members are proposed by the student and the student’s advisor, and must then be approved by the Curriculum Committee. It is composed of the student’s advisor and several other faculty members, one of whom serves as the Chair. The student then prepares a written proposal on the topic planned for their research.
Thesis Proposal (Qualifying Examination)
Students present their thesis proposal to the members of their thesis committee by the end of spring quarter in their second year in the graduate program. Completing the required coursework and passing the Qualifying Exam permits the student to enter into candidacy for the Ph.D.
Students serve as a teaching assistant for two courses, either graduate or undergraduate, for which they receive academic credit. It is common for students to perform their teaching assistantships in their second and third years. With the permission of their advisor, students can TA additional classes for extra income.
After the Qualifying Exam, the student concentrates full time on thesis research. Students meet at least annually with their thesis committee to discuss the progress of their research project. Finally, each graduating student writes a dissertation describing his or her research, presents the work in a public seminar, and defends it before a faculty examining committee.