Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree
The University of Texas-Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences requires a minimum of 54 credit hours to obtain the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). The 54 credit hour minimum includes one credit hour of the Ethical Dimensions of the Biomedical Sciences (GS21 1051) and, for students entering in Fall 2011, the two on-line ethics modules, 12 credit hours of Tutorial Research Experience (GS00 1514), four required GSBS area requirement courses, and a minimum of one year of registration for research which includes Research in Biomedical Sciences (GS00 1520) and Dissertation for Doctor of Philosophy (GS00 1920). Any exceptions to this minimum credit hour requirement must be approved by the Dean upon recommendation by the Academic Standards Committee. The majority of these 54 credit hours, plus the majority of any additional coursework required by the Academic Standards Committee or the student's Advisory or Supervisory Committees, must be taken at the UT GSBS at Houston, at other UTHSC schools, or at an institution with which we have consortium arrangements (i.e., Rice University, the University of Houston, or Baylor University). Effective for students entering in the Fall term, 2012, all students must affiliate with a Program. This affiliation is usually performed after the student has completed the tutorial rotations and joined a laboratory.
TUTORIAL LABORATORY REQUIREMENTS
Ph.D. students must complete with a grade of pass three different tutorial laboratory rotations under the supervision of three different GSBS faculty members.
The tutorials are each worth four credit hours (10 weeks per tutorial, 20 hours per week, or other arrangements resulting in a total of 200 hours in the laboratory) and are normally taken during the first two semesters. The tutorial laboratory experience serves the dual role of introducing the incoming student to a variety of research environments and allowing the student the opportunity to select an Advisor to supervise future dissertation research.
One tutorial requirement may be waived at the discretion of the Academic Standards Committee if:
- The student has a valid Master's degree from another institution, provided the M.S. degree involved laboratory research and the preparation of a thesis; or,
- The student has had post-baccalaureate laboratory research experience judged by the Academic Standards Committee to be equivalent to a tutorial rotation.
The waiver of more than one tutorial requirement will not be considered except in very unusual cases. Students wishing a tutorial waiver must first obtain approval of their Dean's Office Advisor, and then must submit a written request for waiver to the ASC. In addition, tutorial waivers will be considered only for students who have identified the laboratory in which they will remain for their dissertation research. Therefore, the request must be accompanied by a letter from the student's proposed Advisor supporting the waiver.
AREA COURSE REQUIREMENTS
All students pursuing the Ph.D. degree must complete with a grade of at least C (or demonstrate equivalent proficiency as determined by the Academic Standards Committee) one course from each of the following four Areas: quantitative, molecular, cellular, and systems. The only exception is made for students who are affiliated formally with a Program which has been approved by the GSBS Faculty to have its own curriculum. Currently, three Programs have their own requirements: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Genes and Development, and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Students affiliated with one of those Programs are required to meet the specific course requirements of that Program.
Area courses must be completed before the student petitions to take the Ph.D. oral candidacy examination. Area courses are intended to provide students with breadth of knowledge in relevant areas of biomedical sciences, provide basic area communication skills, and should be taught at least once a year. The objective of the requirement for education in breadth is to facilitate creative collaboration between biomedical scientists trained in depth in different disciplines.
Primary Area courses have been approved by the Academic Standards Committee as satisfying the above criteria. Students who can demonstrate adequate undergraduate academic experience in one or more of the areas may take an approved alternative course to satisfy an Area requirement. The use of an alternative course for Area credit requires prior approval of the course directors of the primary Area course and the alternative Area course, and of the student's Faculty Advisor and Dean's Office Advisor. Listings of the approved primary and alternative courses that satisfy the Area course requirements are updated annually by the Academic Standards Committee and are available on the GSBS website.
Approval of New Courses:
Courses approved by the GSBS Curriculum Committee will be submitted with accompanying documentation to the ASC for determination of their suitability as primary or alternative courses. Such courses should meet the following minimal standards:
- At least two credit hours of lecture;
- Scheduled annually; and
- Broad enough in scope to meet the student's need for basic education in the four designated areas.
The following do not qualify as area courses:
- Selected topics, literature surveys, reading courses, special projects;
- Methods or laboratory courses.
Recognition of Previous Graduate Course Work:
Students may petition for approval of a graduate level course taken at another institution to satisfy an Area requirement by providing documentation that the course is equivalent to a GSBS course which satisfies the requirement. The request to substitute a course should be submitted to the Office of Academic Affairs for approval by the Academic Standards Committee in the first semester after matriculation. Students should discuss the substitution of previous course work with their Advisor or Dean's Office Advisor prior to submitting the form to the Office of Academic Affairs. Undergraduate courses are unacceptable as substitutes for GSBS Area courses.
All students are required to pass a one credit hour course entitled The Ethical Dimensions of the Biomedical Sciences prior to petitioning for candidacy. The aim of the course, which is taught by GSBS faculty members, is to provide students with a framework to recognize, examine, and resolve ethical conflicts in their professional ives. The course explores such issues as the commitment to truth and its breakdown; the ethics of authorship; experimentation with human and animal subjects; and the relationships of scientists to industry, society at large, and future generations. Students taking the Ethics course in 2011 and later must also successfully complete the two on-line modules "Data Acquisition and Management" and "Responsible Authorship and Publication" prior to petitioning for candidacy.
After completion of the tutorial rotations and the identification of the dissertation research Advisor, the student, with the assistance of the Advisor, proposes an Advisory Committee and submits the form to the Office of Academic Affairs. Upon approval by the Academic Standards Committee and the Dean, the Advisory Committee is notified of its appointment. The student immediately schedules a meeting with the Advisory Committee, and schedules subsequent meetings at least every 6 months. The student may modify the membership of the Advisory Committee by forwarding an email from the student's Advisor to the Office of Academic Affairs in which the change is requested and a rationale provided. This request will be forwarded to the Academic Standards Committee for approval.
PURPOSE OF THE Ph.D. CANDIDACY EXAMINATION
The purpose of the candidacy examination is to test the breadth and depth of knowledge in the biomedical sciences. The examination is meant to be an evaluation of the student's ability to construct an hypothesis, to design the means by which to test it, and to critically analyze obtained results. The purpose of the candidacy examination is to give the student the opportunity to demonstrate:
- An understanding of the research area in which he or she is being tested;
- The ability to formulate a research problem and to comprehend its significance; and,
- The ability to design appropriate experimental approaches to solve the problem.
A student's performance will be regarded as satisfactory only if the student:
- Demonstrates an adequate knowledge of the field and the research specialty in which he or she is being tested;
- Formulates a research problem, the solution of which will make a substantial contribution to our existing knowledge;
- Makes sound judgments about the proposed experimental design and can critically interpret the results anticipated; and,
- Demonstrates that the experimental design and methods proposed are appropriate to solving the problem.
PETITION FOR THE Ph.D. CANDIDACY EXAMINATION
Students who matriculated prior to the Fall term of 2008 must petition for Ph.D. candidacy before the end of the first semester of the third year of admission to the Ph.D. program (before the end of the second year if the student previously has earned an M.S. degree or one year after an M.S. has been completed at GSBS). Students who matriculated in the Fall 2008 term or thereafter must petition for Ph.D. candidacy by the end of the second year following matriculation.
Before submitting the petition for the candidacy exam, the student must have completed the tutorial and area course requirements. If a student has formally affiliated with a Program, the Program guidelines for the candidacy exam process should be followed. Students not affiliated with a Program should follow the general GSBS guidelines.
Under the general GSBS guidelines, Ph.D. students who matriculated on or after the Fall term of 2008 must take a candidacy exam in the "off-topic" format. Off topic means that the written proposal must be on a topic different from the student's proposed dissertation project, different from any project pursued by the student in a tutorial rotation, different from the student's M.S. thesis (if applicable), different from any project ongoing in the laboratory of the student's advisor, and not a project that differs in a trivial manner from any of the above (that is, different animal model, different gene, etc.).
Prior to the final Advisory Committee meeting, the student forwards to the Advisory Committee members an abstract of the student's proposed dissertation project. This abstract should be no more than one page in length, and contain the background, hypothesis and specific aims of the project. The student also forwards to the Advisory Committee three off-topic abstracts. Each off-topic abstract should be no more than one page in length and provide the background and hypothesis of the proposal. At the last Advisory Committee meeting, the Committee is responsible for approving the petition for candidacy, including the approval of the three off-topic abstracts.
Working with the Advisor, the student identifies the membership of the Examining Committee. The student then meets individually with the proposed members of the Examining Committee, and provides them with the off-topic abstracts. Their initials on the Examining Committee form indicate their approval of the student's off-topic abstracts and their willingness to serve on the Examining Committee. The student then submits these completed petition forms to the Office of Academic Affairs for approval by the Academic Standards Committee.
When the student is notified by the Office of Academic Affairs of the approval of the Candidacy Exam petition, the student contacts the Examining Committee to schedule the exam at least six weeks into the future, but no later than the end of the first term of the third year of study. Once the exam is scheduled, the Examining Committee decides which of the three off-topic abstracts will form the basis of the candidacy exam proposal, and provides this information to the student. The student then has four weeks to complete the proposal and forward it to the Examining Committee. The examining Committee then has two weeks to review the proposal prior to the examination.
Students taking the on-topic examination must also petition for candidacy, and they should consult with their Program Director for the guidelines.
Ph.D. EXAMINING COMMITTEE
The Ph.D. oral candidacy Examining Committee consists of five members, with at least two who have not served on the student's Advisory Committee. The Advisor (Chair of the student Advisory Committee) may not serve in any capacity on the Examining Committee, and is not permitted in the exam room. In addition, the spouse, domestic partner, parent or child of the Advisor may not serve in any capacity on the Examining Committee. At least one member must have research interests which lie outside the student's major discipline. In addition, all of the members may not come from the same department or the same GSBS Program. The same person may meet all "outside member" requirements. Individuals outside the GSBS Faculty may serve on a student's committee when their particular areas of expertise are not represented on the GSBS Faculty, but there may be no more than two such members on the committee. If four of the members are from the same department/Program, the fifth member outside the department/Program must be a GSBS faculty member.
The Chair of the Examining Committee cannot be the student's Advisor and must be a GSBS faculty member. Upon approval by the Academic Standards Committee, the Examining Committee and the student are notified by the Dean and sent instructions for the examination.
Ph.D. CANDIDACY EXAM RESEARCH PROPOSAL
It is the student's responsibility to submit a Research Proposal in the form of a research grant proposal to each member of the Examining Committee when the student obtains the initials of each Committee member on the petition form. Students who matriculated prior to the Fall 2008 term may do an off- or on-topic proposal. Students who matriculated in the Fall 2008 term or thereafter must do an off-topic proposal. The proposal should be prepared by the student without assistance from any faculty member. The completed proposal should be given to the members of the examining committee seven to fourteen days prior to the oral examination. At the same time, the proposal should be submitted to the GSBS Office of Academic Affairs for analysis by Turnitin. (The GSBS reserves the right to check proposals using other databases as they become available). The Research Proposal should include Title, Abstract (350 words or less), Specific Aims, Background and Significance, Research Design and Methods, and References as described below:
- Specific Aims: State concisely and realistically what the research is intended to accomplish and/or what hypothesis is to be tested. Do not exceed one page.
- Background and Significance: Briefly sketch the background to the present proposal, critically evaluate existing knowledge, and specifically identify gaps which the research is intended to fill. State concisely the importance of the research by relating the specific aims to longer term objectives. Do not exceed three pages.
- Research Design and Methods: Briefly summarize the experimental design and the procedures to be used to accomplish the specific aims of this research. Include a description of the types of data to be obtained and how they will be analyzed to accomplish the specific aims. The entire proposal should not exceed 15 pages (excluding references).
- Also see Tips for the Preparation of a Successful Ph.D. Candidacy Proposal.
The candidacy examination is meant to be an evaluation of the student's ability to construct a hypothesis, to design the means by which to test it, and to critically analyze obtained results.
Ph.D. CANDIDACY EXAMINATION
The candidacy examination should be taken as soon as possible after the petition is approved by the Academic Standards Committee and by the end of the next term following approval of the petition for candidacy. The examination will test both breadth and depth of the student's understanding of his/her research area. The examination will include both a written component* designed primarily to test the student's breadth of knowledge (which should be taken first), and an oral component in which depth of understanding will be evaluated. (*The written component is not required by the GSBS for students admitted prior to the spring 1999 semester, although individual Ph.D. Programs may choose to include a written breadth examination. Please see Format for GSBS Written Candidacy Exam.)
The written examination will be prepared by members of the Program with which the student is affiliated. Students not affiliated with a Program have the option of:
- taking the written candidacy examination administered by a particular Program, or by faculty within a particular Area of Research Concentration that matches the student's interests, or
- forming an ad hoc Examination Committee (approved by the ASC) to administer the written breadth examination.
Programs that require off-topic proposals for the oral candidacy exam may waive the written exam, whereas Programs that require on-topic proposals must continue to have a written portion of the exam. Non-Program students may bypass the written exam at the discretion of their Advisory Committees.
It is the student's responsibility to select the date, time and place of the oral and written components of the examination. If a member of the Examining Committee is unable to attend the examination, a substitute who meets the same criteria (e.g., outside the student's major interest or from another department/Program) should be added. The new member must be approved by the Office of Academic Affairs and the Academic Standards Committee Chair.
RESULTS OF THE Ph.D. CANDIDACY EXAMINATION
The Chair of the Examining Committee is responsible for submitting the results of the examination to the Office of Academic Affairs for review by the Academic Standards Committee. The results of the examination will be one of the following (Students are recommended to candidacy by the Academic Standards Committee and admitted to candidacy by the Dean only after review and approval of the examination results):
- Student passes unconditionally. The Examination Committee, where appropriate, also may recommend that a student who receives an unconditional pass may bypass the M.S. degree.
- Student passes conditionally, with the conditions clearly stated: i.e., the exact nature of the deficiency along with a suggested mechanism to repair this deficiency. The examining committee may choose to formulate the final mechanism for removing the deficiency, or the examining committee may elect at their discretion to pass this responsibility to the student's Supervisory Committee. Conditions must be met within one year of the exam date. The Chair of the Examining Committee must write a letter of certification to the Office of Academic Affairs when the student has resolved the conditional pass. The Chair of the Examining Committee must serve as a member of the Supervisory Committee, at least until the conditional pass has been resolved. Requests for an extension of the one year deadline, with justification by the Supervisory Committee, must be submitted to the Academic Standards Committee for its approval. In all cases, conditions must be met before the student requests the defense of the Ph.D. dissertation.
- Student is to be re-examined at some future date before the Examining Committee will render a decision. If the student fails to complete successfully the re-examination prior to the stated deadline determined by the Examining Committee (not to exceed one year from the first examination), the Academic Standards Committee will recommend to the Dean that the student be dropped from the Ph.D. program. Results of the first exam (where it was determined that the student would be re-examined) should be submitted to the Office of Academic Affairs immediately following the exam. The exam committee for the re-evaluation must be composed of the same faculty members that conducted the first exam. Upon re-examination, the Committee may only elect to Pass or Fail the student.
- Student fails. Failure of the examination means the Examining Committee has decided that the student does not have the potential to complete the Ph.D. program, and the Academic Standards Committee will recommend to the Dean that the student be dropped from the Ph.D. program. The committee has the option of allowing the student to continue towards a terminal M.S. degree, or recommending that the student not be allowed to continue in a degree program. Subsequent to dismissal, the student may re-apply to GSBS whereupon the application will be considered in competition with other applications pending at the time.
M.S. DEGREE BYPASS
Students admitted in the spring 1999 term and subsequent semesters will be considered for a bypass of the M.S. degree only after satisfactory completion of the Ph.D. candidacy examination. A recommendation from the Examination Committee that the student should be permitted to bypass the M.S. degree will be reviewed by the Academic Standards Committee.
Completion of the Master of Science degree is recommended for students:
- With little experience in laboratory research; or,
- Who have not written research papers or literature reviews; or,
- Who would benefit from the opportunity to pursue a research project under close supervision; or,
- Who need significant improvement in written and oral communication; or,
- Who have not determined which biomedical problem(s) they intend to pursue independently.
The entire candidacy exam (whether written/oral or oral alone) must be completed by the end of the student's third year.
REGISTRATION FOR Ph.D. DISSERTATION
After being admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree, the student is permitted to register for Dissertation for Doctor of Philosophy (GS000920). The student must register for at least one semester of Dissertation before becoming eligible for the Ph.D. defense. The student must be registered for Dissertation in the final semester in which requirements are completed.
EXPECTATIONS FOR THE Ph.D. DISSERTATION
Following are the expectations of the GSBS Faculty for the Ph.D. dissertation. They are based on the Council of Graduate Schools' publication, Requirements for the Ph.D.
Nature and Purpose:
The doctoral dissertation is the final and most important component of the series of academic experiences which culminate in the awarding of the Ph.D. degree. Four major functions are fulfilled by the dissertation experience:
- It is a work of original research or scholarship which makes a contribution to existing knowledge;
- It is an educational experience which demonstrates the candidate's mastery of research methods and tools of the specialized field;
- It demonstrates the student's ability to address a major intellectual problem and arrive at a successful conclusion; and,
- It demonstrates that the student possesses the potential to function as an independent researcher.
In view of the wide range of fields of knowledge in which the Ph.D. degree is awarded, it is not feasible to set specific requirements and standards for this degree. Nevertheless, there is a general -- and usually explicitly stated -- agreement among American universities that the doctoral dissertation should be a distinct contribution to knowledge, and of sufficient value to warrant its publication in a reputable journal, or as a book or monograph. At the present time, GSBS rules prohibit a student from preparing a dissertation by assembling published papers together verbatim. Instead, the dissertation should be an original document written by the student. In years past some universities required that the dissertation (or a substantial part) be published before the degree was officially awarded. Today that requirement has virtually disappeared; instead the common criterion has become the phrase "worthy of publication."
Although the role of the dissertation as an educational experience is usually not as clearly set forth as its role in developing new knowledge, it may be equally as important. A successful dissertation is a demonstration of the candidate's ability to use the tools and methods of research in the field, to organize the findings, and to report them in a mature, literate, and lucid fashion.
Scope of the Project:
The allowable scope of the dissertation project is also difficult to state precisely. The dissertation should clearly be a substantial and significant undertaking, yet not so extensive or open-ended that it cannot be successfully concluded in a reasonable period of time. The trend in recent years has been away from the long and comprehensive dissertation project, and in the direction of a more sharply delineated task requiring perhaps a year to a year and a half of full-time productive effort. The dissertation should be the introduction to a career of research and scholarship, not its apex!
Relationship with M.S. Thesis:
GSBS students may utilize a Master's degree project as the basis of the hypotheses to be tested by the doctoral research. The Ph.D. dissertation must not include data that are part of the M.S. thesis. Data from the M.S. thesis can be included in the dissertation as part of the Introduction or as an Appendix. In all cases, data from the M.S. thesis must be identified clearly as originating from the previous work. Furthermore, the Ph.D. dissertation must have a title that is distinct from the M.S. thesis.
DEFENSE OF THE Ph.D. DISSERTATION
Within three years after advancement to candidacy, or at a time deemed appropriate by the Supervisory Committee, the student will submit a complete draft of the dissertation to each member of the Supervisory Committee, together with the form to request the defense of the Ph.D. dissertation. At the same time, the dissertation should be submitted to the GSBS Office of Academic Affairs for analysis by Turnitin. (The GSBS reserves the right to check dissertations using other databases as they become available). The completed defense form and a one-page summary of the research should be submitted to the Office of Academic Affairs at least 14 days before the scheduled defense.
The defense will be held no sooner than two weeks or later than three months after the request form is received by the Office of Academic Affairs and approved by the Dean.
Students who matriculate in the Fall 2008 term and thereafter are required to submit a first-author paper related to their education and research at the GSBS for publication in a peer-reviewed journal prior to the defense of the Ph.D. dissertation. The student's Supervisory Committee must approve the quality of the journal. A request for exception to this policy must be endorsed by the Supervisory Committee and approved by the Academic Standards Committee.
GUIDELINES FOR THE Ph.D. DEFENSE
The purpose of the defense is to provide a consistent and complete evaluation of the dissertation and the student's understanding of the research, as well as the student's ability to report information to the scientific community in a well organized and interesting form.
An announcement of the defense will be distributed by electronic mail to GSBS students and faculty and posted on various bulletin boards throughout the Texas Medical Center.
Guidelines for the defense are as follow:
- The student will deliver a 45 to 60 minute public presentation, including a detailed description of the background, rationale, materials and methods, results and conclusions appropriate to the research. Following the presentation, the student will respond to questions from the audience.
- Immediately thereafter, and at a location announced at the end of the seminar, the Supervisory Committee will examine the student on the dissertation. Any member of the GSBS Faculty who attends the public presentation may participate in the examination to the extent described below. Others wishing to attend must be approved by the Supervisory Committee.
- The student's Advisor will serve as moderator of the examination. The student will be expected to respond to questions from those attending on any aspect of the written dissertation or the material presented at the seminar.
After the defense, the student will meet privately with the Supervisory Committee to discuss the results. Finally, the Supervisory Committee (in executive session, if desired) will determine what recommendation to make to the Dean and the Academic Standards Committee. The Committee may conclude that the student has passed, or it may require additional research, modifications to the dissertation, and/or another defense. Within one week after the defense, the results of this meeting will be communicated through the Office of Academic Affairs to the Dean and the Academic Standards Committee for their information and approval.
Also within one week of the defense, any GSBS faculty member who has read the student's dissertation and has attended the defense may write directly to the Dean to provide an evaluation of the student's performance. In reaching a final decision on whether to award the Ph.D. or require further work and/or another defense, the Dean will take into consideration the recommendation of the Supervisory Committee and other comments received from GSBS Faculty. In particular cases, the Dean may solicit additional evaluations of the dissertation from experts in the field either within or outside the GSBS Faculty.
The decision of the Dean will be communicated to the student and the Supervisory Committee within one month of the defense.
COMPLETION OF Ph.D. REQUIREMENTS
The Ph.D. degree is not issued until the student has successfully completed the defense; the unbound dissertation, approved by the Supervisory Committee, is submitted to the Office of Academic Affairs for the Dean's signature; and all exit forms are completed and submitted to the office of Academic Affairs. The student must be registered for Dissertation in the final semester in which requirements are met.
The degree will be issued as of the final day of the semester in which all degree requirements have been met. The Ph.D. degree must be completed within seven years of first registration in GSBS. Students may continue registration in GSBS after the seven-year limit only with the express written permission of the Dean.