Advising And Research Requirements - First Year

A. Research Requirements for First Year Graduate Students

In September preceding the start of the fall term, entering students will meet individually with a member of the MCB Graduate Committee. The purpose of this initial meeting is to inform the students of program expectations and regulations and to begin the process of selection of laboratories for research rotations, courses, etc. During their first year in the program, first year graduate students are required to do three research rotations under the supervision of three different program faculty members; each rotation will be of a term's duration (i.e. approximately two and a half to three months, covering the periods Sept-Nov, Dec-Feb, Mar-May). Students are strongly encouraged to read papers by faculty whose research is of particular interest to them and to call or write those faculty members during the summer to discuss the possibility of a rotation.

Before the start of the fall term, therefore, each student needs to contact faculty members whose research they find coincident with their own interests to find out if it is possible to rotate in their laboratories. Students will each submit to the Graduate Committee three choices for fall term research rotation sponsors, in rank order of preference. The Graduate Committee will then match students with their fall term research rotation advisor making every effort to give students and faculty their first choice. The Graduate Committee will perform this function using the following considerations:

  1. Students may perform research rotations only in laboratories of faculty who have made it clear to the Graduate Committee that they have the appropriate research grant funds or departmental resources at their disposal to fund the costs of the rotation (expendable supplies and potential thesis research).
  2. The Graduate Committee will solicit information from each faculty member in the program regarding their interests in sponsoring rotation students and be guided by this faculty input when assigning rotations.
  3. Realizing that ideas, impressions, attitudes, and expectations change with time, the Graduate Committee recognizes that only the first (i.e. the fall term) rotation is to be arranged prior to the beginning of the fall term. The second and third rotations (winter and spring terms) will be arranged (and assigned by the Graduate Committee) during the final week of the preceding term using procedures identical to those employed for the choosing of fall term rotations.

It should be emphasized that neither the student nor the faculty member is to regard any of the three research rotations as permanent. Indeed, students are required to perform three such rotations before finally deciding on a thesis advisor from among the three rotation lab advisors. Students and faculty are not to arrange the choice of their thesis lab until the last two weeks of the third rotation; the precise time when it is appropriate to discuss permanent arrangements will be announced to students and faculty by the Graduate Committee. Once the thesis lab arrangements are announced, students and faculty will be asked to submit a letter of agreement, to the Graduate Committee informing the Graduate Committee of the match and the program designation (letter will be sent by the MCB Office to the student). The final assignment of a student to a thesis lab requires the approval of the Graduate Committee.

At the end of each rotation, the research sponsor will submit to the MCB Office a grade of Credit (CR) or No Credit (NC), and a written summary of the students rotation. A grade of NC for research rotation is given only if there are serious deficiencies in student performance.

Grading System

MCB core and elective courses are graded on a HP (High Pass), P (Pass), LP (Low Pass), NC (No Credit) scale. Beginning in 2013, the half-term core courses (Fall and Winter terms) are taken in pairs and result in one grade for each of the terms. Spring term core course modules will be graded individually resulting in three grades for the term. Each student is required to complete three successive modules - one in each 1/3 of the term.

Grades of "LP" or "NC" in research rotations, journal club, thesis research, or in course work, (collectively referred to as 'course' or 'courses' below) have serious consequences, as follows:

One grade of "LP" or "NC" in any term in any course results in the student immediately being placed on probation. For Spring term core course, a "LP" in two modules is equivalent to a "LP" for the term and a "NC" in one module is equivalent to a "NC" for the term. Once placed on probation, any one of the following three conditions will constitute grounds for immediate termination from the MCB Program:

  1. A grade of "NC" earned in any course in any subsequent term.

  2. A grade of "LP" or "NC" in any term of the core course.

  3. An aggregate total of two additional "LPs" earned in any subsequent course.

B. Student Choosing to Enter the MCB Program from the PEMM Program

During the second and third rotations, students may rotate with any faculty member that is a member of the PEMM or MCB Programs. PEMM students may also rotate with MCB faculty members. In the event that a student admitted into the PEMM Program chooses to pursue their thesis research with a faculty member in the MCB Program, the student and advisor will write a letter to the MCB Graduate Committee informing them that the student will transfer to MCB.

The student will join the MCB Program and be required to fulfill all requirements of MCB students (e.g. one term of teaching, six terms of courses, journal clubs, annual RIPs, qualifying exam, etc.) as outlined in these Rules and Regulations. The PEMM core course taken during the first year will be counted as part of the MCB course requirement for the Ph.D. However, the MCB Graduate Committee, in consultation with the student's advisor, may require a section of the MCB core course if it is thought that this would be critical for the student's scientific training in a particular area. The student will not be required to take more than the total of several required courses.

MCB students who join the lab of a faculty member with dual membership (membership in both MCB and PEMM) will remain a MCB student and bound by the requirements of the MCB Program.

C. Thesis Advisor and the Advisory Committee

By the end of the spring term of the first year of graduate study (approximately June 1), each student must have arranged with a member of the MCB faculty (from among the three formal research rotation advisors)to serve as thesis advisor and research sponsor.

Choice of a thesis advisor may be delayed by one term under special circumstances in which a student petitions the Graduate Committee for a fourth research rotation; in this case the fourth research rotation will occur during the summer of the student's first year in the program. Students not able to find a suitable or willing advisor from among MCB Program faculty at the end of their research rotations will be separated from the program.

The thesis advisor plus two other faculty members, chosen by the student in consultation with the thesis advisor and with their agreement, will become the student's Advisory Committee (AC). The student's thesis advisor will serve as AC Chair. Normally, the AC will be composed of MCB faculty members. However, where appropriate, one member of the AC may be a non-MCB faculty member. The committee should be assembled to avoid potential or perceived conflicts of interest between faculty members and between faculty members and the graduate student. Such conflicts would include personal or financial relationships.

Final approval by the Graduate Committee of the composition of the AC is required, as are any subsequent changes in the composition of the AC. The composition of the AC must be approved prior to the student's first research in progress (RIP) seminar.

D. Functions of the Advisory Committee (AC)

The duties and purpose of the AC are to:

  1. Meet with the student at least once yearly to assess progress.
  2. Attend the student's annual research-in-progress seminar (RIP). The AC should meet soon after the student's RIP.
  3. Advise the student of course requirements and to select, with the student, an academic program and timetable suitable for the student's chosen interests.
  4. Review and sign a brief annual report written by the student summarizing the progress and performance in the program. The report form should include an evaluation of the student's progress in developing a thesis research project that meets the criteria outlined in Section II.E. below, and should describe any concerns about the student's trajectory. This will serve as part of the formal record of the student's graduate education.
  5. Advise the student as to research direction, course selection, TA assignment, etc.
  6. Ensure that the student develops the ability to communicate ideas and knowledge to others in seminar-style presentations. This will normally be accomplished through experiences gained in courses, journal clubs, Research-In-Progress seminars, lab meetings, etc.
  7. Provide advice concerning the time and subject of the qualifying examination, following procedures specified by the program (see Section II.D. below).
  8. Mediate disputes between student and advisor. In the event that either the student or the advisor desires to end the student-advisor relationship, then the AC must play an active role, particularly if the decision is not a mutual one between the student and advisor.

It is the responsibility of the student to inform the AC about the dates of their research-in-progress seminars, to schedule meetings with the AC, at least once annually and to provide a document summarizing progress (template available on MCB website) and goals for faculty to sign that confirms that the committee has met. The student should come to the meeting with an outline of research progress to date and outlining future plans.

Once approved by the AC, this outline should be signed by the student and all members of the AC and submitted to the MCB office as a report of the annual meeting. The report is due by June 30 of each year (defined as the period from July 1 to June 30) in which the student is enrolled for research credit (197-199 or 297-299) in any term.

In the event that the report is not filed, the stipend increase that is granted to the student upon successful completion of the qualifying exam will be withheld in increments of $100 a month from July 1 through November 30. In addition, the student will be placed in unsatisfactory standing and the Graduate Studies Office will be notified. The qualifier increase will be restored upon the filing of the report, but the student will forfeit the raise for the months (or parts thereof) during which the report is late. If no report is filed by December 1 of the year it is due, the student will be separated from the MCB Program.

If either the advisor or the student wants to end the relationship, then the following must occur:

  1. The reasons for the action must be stated in writing.
  2. The AC must be made aware of the issues.
  3. The student (or advisor) must be given an opportunity to rectify the problems.
  4. The conditions that the student must meet to rectify the problem should be approved by the AC and communicated in writing to the student and to the Graduate Committee.

E. Composition and Functions of the Graduate Committee

The Graduate Committee is composed of program faculty members appointed jointly by the chairs of the programs within MCB. Normally, two faculty members from each of the component programs in MCB (Biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, and Microbiology & Immunology) will be appointed to the Graduate Committee each year by the respective program chairs. One or more graduate students also serve as members of the Graduate Committee. In recent years, there have been four student members of the Graduate Committee per year. In June of each year, the graduate students in the MCB Program will identify and vote on a slate of candidates to serve on the Graduate Committee. The Graduate Committee will then select from this slate one or more graduate students to serve as graduate representatives for the upcoming academic year.

The Graduate Committee is led by a Chair and a Vice-Chair, both faculty members of the committee chosen jointly by the chairs of the program within MCB. Each Chair will begin as Vice-Chair while working with the current Chair for one year (July 1 through June 30). The Vice-Chair will then take over the position of Chair for a two-year term with a final year as Vice-Chair. The terms for both positions are staggered to provide coverage at all times for the Graduate committee. Both the Chair and Vice-Chair positions will rotate among the four component programs.

When a student in the lab of any faculty member of the Graduate Committee is being discussed by the Committee (academic issues, move to Masters track, research performance etc.), the faculty member/advisor will recuse him/herself from the GC vote regarding the student. The faculty member/advisor will be present to answer questions and provide background information as appropriate. Should the faculty member/advisor in question be the Chair of the GC, then the Vice-Chair of the GC will preside over the discussion and subsequent vote. The Vice-Chair would then communicate the outcome of the meeting to the student.

The functions and responsibilities of the Graduate Committee are:

  1. Oversee the advertising of the MCB Program to potential students, monitor the application process, review applications, conduct interviews of prospective students, and recommend applicants for acceptance to the Dean of Graduate Studies.
  2. Approve the composition of each student's AC and Thesis Exam Committee (including outside PhD examiner), and approve changes (if any) in the composition of these committees. Note that the Thesis Exam Committee membership must also be approved by the Graduate Studies Office, which has final authority over membership requirements.
  3. Serve as an arbitrator for disputes, when required and warranted by the circumstances, should differences arise among members of a student's AC or between a student and one or more members of the student's AC, including the thesis advisor.
  4. Assign students as teaching assistants to various courses, as required, in consultation with the faculty teaching these courses.
  5. Inform appropriate program faculty (thesis advisor, AC, etc.) when a student is in jeopardy of being separated from the program (see Section I.C.).
  6. Oversee the conduct of the program, ensure that all the rules agreed to by the program faculty (i.e. those contained in this document) are followed, and determine that each student has specific plans for meeting the requirements of the program and is successfully making progress toward the Ph.D. degree.
  7. Maintain a list of courses that have been approved (by the MCB Graduate Committee) as appropriate for fulfilling the requirements for elective courses. Faculty wishing to have a new course approved should submit a description of the course to the MCB Office outlining the content, approach, and how students will be evaluated.

F. Transfer Students and Students Holding An Advanced Degree

In some instances, modification in the rules outlined in this document may be made for students entering the MCB Program with an advanced degree (e.g. M.A., M.S.) in molecular and cellular biology (or another appropriate area) or with substantial laboratory research and/or graduate level course experience from another graduate program. In some cases, students may receive a reduction in the requirements for the degree outlined in this document. Such modifications in the requirements will be decided on a case-by-case basis by the Graduate Committee as the need arises, and will be clearly documented by appropriate written documentation that becomes part of the student's formal record of participation in the MCB Program.

However, one rule that cannot be waived by the Graduate Committee is the rule governing three research rotations. The Graduate Committee can, however, in the case of transfer students who have prior laboratory experience in another graduate program and on a case-by-case basis, shorten the time of the required three rotations to no less than one month for each of the three rotations.

Note that students who transfer with an advisor who comes to Dartmouth with a new appointment in one of the component programs of the MCB Program are not required to complete three research rotations, as long as they remain in the advisor's laboratory. Students who transfer under these circumstances often receive their PhDs from the prior institution and follow its requirements. However, such students may apply for admission to the MCB Program. In these cases, the Graduate Committee will decide whether the student can be admitted to the MCB Program, and which MCB requirements they will need to fulfill.

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree are required to spend a minimum of either six terms or two academic years in residence in the program.

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