PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS FOR THE PH.D.

For the Ph.D. degree, the student shall show competence in original research and shall prepare a doctoral dissertation containing the results of their independent studies. The thesis should present a coherent investigation of an original scientific research question at a level of rigor suitable for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal. It should also include a thorough and critical analysis of the published literature in the field, and of the methodological and theoretical background of the work. Before beginning to prepare the thesis, the student must obtain approval from the AC.

As students begin preparation for the thesis defense, they must contact their program office. This is essential to help ensure that the student and program work together to follow all graduate school policies so that the student will be able to graduate on their projected date. Students are advised to visit the Graduate Studies Office website for information about thesis preparation and formatting.

Upon completion of a thesis approved for defense by the thesis advisor, the thesis advisor in conjunction with the student will assemble a Thesis Exam Committee and obtain the approval of the composition of this committee from the Graduate Studies Office, which has final authority over the membership requirements. The Thesis Exam Committee will consist of a minimum of three full-time Dartmouth faculty members of which a minimum of two must be from the MCB Program (including the thesis advisor) as well as an external member with a faculty-equivalent research appointment outside of Dartmouth. The external member may participate in meetings in person or via video conference. The Thesis Exam Committee will usually be the student's AC plus a fourth person who is usually a scientist that is not a member of the Dartmouth College faculty. If one member of the AC is not a MCB faculty member, they can serve on the Thesis Exam Committee only with the approval of the Graduate Studies Office. It is each student's responsibility to work with their program office to ensure they meet the deadlines of the Graduate Studies Office for preparation, defense, and submission of the thesis.

A. Required Research Rotations

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 sign and submit a letter of agreement, to the Graduate Committee confirming 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 and requires approval of the Graduate Committee.

B. Course and Grade Requirements

Graduate students are required to perform satisfactorily in ten separate areas in which they receive grades. Every student is required to participate in three research rotations and a three-term core introductory sequence. In addition, each student must earn four additional course credits, by passing courses chosen from the MCB approved list of course offerings (see MCB website for course list). One of these four required courses must be a teaching course, assigned by the Graduate Committee, normally in the student's second year in the program, and this fulfills the one-term teaching requirement. Students are required to complete an approved ethics course as part of the program requirements. The remaining three MCB approved elective courses should be chosen in consultation with the student's AC.

The MCB approved list of course offerings can be found on the MCB website. Approved elective courses normally meet for a complete term (about ten weeks) either three times per week for 65 minutes each or twice per week for 100 minutes each or once per week for approximately 3 hours. Thus, a full-term course meets for about 25-30 contact hours per term and counts for one course credit of the required three course credits. Courses completed with a grade of No Credit (NC) will not count toward the three-course requirement.

If a student wishes to take an elective that is not on the approved list or is offered at another institution, the student must petition the MCB Graduate Committee and obtain approval before the course begins. If the student fails to obtain approval prior to enrolling the course, elective credit will not be given. Students that transfer from another graduate program may seek approval of courses taken at that institution. Such approval will proceed on a case-by-case basis, but approval must be sought within one year of matriculation into the MCB Program.

Students considering an internship or training with an off-campus institution will need to petition the MCB Graduate Committee for pre-approval. The student must provide information about the internship or training with a specific timeline and it's relevance to their research. The student's advisor should provide an email request to the Chair of MCB with specific details about the opportunity. The student may not receive stipend support, reimbursement, travel expense, etc. from the outside institution during or after the internship/training. Stipend support will continue to be covered by the student's advisor.

Some approved electives change topics from year to year. In order to receive course credit for taking the course more than once, the student must receive pre-approval from the Graduate Committee by presenting documentation demonstrating that the course topics are different with little or no overlap of content.

Some programs within MCB may set additional course requirements, either by requiring specific courses or by requiring the student to select electives from a list that is a subset of the list approved by the Graduate Committee. In addition, the AC can recommend that a student take more than the minimum required number of courses in order to provide that student with an academic background appropriate for pursuing research in the student's chosen area of investigation. For example, a student studying NMR spectroscopy may require a more extensive background in chemistry than is provided by the minimal course requirements. If such courses are to count towards the three required courses, they must be from the approved course list, or the student and advisor must petition the Graduate Committee that the course be approved. In all instances where additional courses are suggested, the proper procedure will be for the AC to make a recommendation to the Graduate Committee, which will have the final authority in this area.

Some approved electives change topic and instructor from year to year. In order to receive course credit for taking the course more than once, the student must receive pre-approval from the Graduate Committee by presenting documentation from each instructor stating that the course topics are different with little or not overlap of content.

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 the 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 the 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 separation 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

C. Seminar, Research in Progress, and Journal Club Attendance

Attendance at three program functions is required of all graduate students in the MCB Program:

  1. Students will attend MCB Program seminars such as RIP and departmental seminars. In addition, first year and new transfer MCB students are required to register for Biology 271 - "Research in Progress Colloquium" in the spring term of their first year in MCB. This course is designed to monitor attendance at RIP seminars throughout the first year of graduate school.
  2. Students in their second year and beyond are required to present a RIP seminar each year (defined as the period from July 1 to June 30) in which the student is enrolled for research credit (Bioc/Biol/Gene/Micr 197-199 or Bioc/Biol/Gene/Micr 297-299) in two or more terms. The order of presentation will be decided by the Graduate Committee but normally, presentations will begin in the fall with students who have been in the program for longest period. Reciprocal, mutually agreeable exchanges in RIP assignments in a given year can be made by any pair or group of graduate students with approval of the thesis advisors and the MCB office. In the year in which the student expects to defend his/her thesis and receive the Ph.D., the student must still present a RIP seminar unless the name of the outside examiner and the defense date have been sent to the MCB office before August 15.
  3. Participation in one of the journal club series approved by the GC is also required during the fall, winter, and spring terms. Participation is not required during the term in which a student's Ph.D. defense is scheduled, provided the student notifies the MCB office of the date of the defense and the name of the external advisor prior to the withdrawal deadline for the course. Choice of which journal club to attend will be made by the student, but some faculty may require students to attend an appropriate journal club during a student's research rotation in their lab, and students who have chosen a thesis lab may be required to attend specific journal club(s) as specified by their advisor or AC. It is expected that students, beginning in their second year, will present at least one oral presentation per year in a journal club.

D. The Qualifying Exam

Students will begin to write a Dissertation Proposal as early as possible during their 2nd year. The proposal will outline the research plan and be written in cooperation with the dissertation advisor. Specific details about the procedure for writing the Dissertation Proposal are provided in the following section. Briefly, the format must follow that of the current NIH format for F31 applications.  The dissertation proposal will contain 2-3 aims that address the central questions driving the student's thesis research. For the proposal, at least one aim should be an original conception of the student rather than an aim previously formulated in the thesis lab. The novelty of the original aim may be in the hypothesis tested, molecular mechanism evaluated and/or technical approach. The Dissertation Proposal must be approved by the Faculty Advisor and submitted to the QE committee at least 2 weeks prior to the oral examination, but will not be formally assessed by the QE committee.

In parallel, the student will independently conceive of and write a brief abstract describing a Mock Research Idea. The Mock Research Idea must be novel, and cannot be based on any project currently being conducted in the student's lab. Hypothesis-based questions, unbiased screening studies, or innovative technique development ideas relevant to Molecular and Cellular Biology are all acceptable. The abstract should include background, significance, a brief description of the idea, and any relevant references. The abstract should be as concise as possible; details should be explained during the oral examination.

The entire qualifying examination (assuming no retakes) must be completed by October 15th in the fall of the 3rd year at the latest, and must adhere to the following schedule.

  1. The student and thesis advisor will select two members of the QE committee. These two members will then recruit a third QE committee member. No more than one QE committee member may be from outside of the MCB program. The two members of the QE committee originally chosen by the student and thesis advisor will continue on to form the student's Thesis Exam committee.

  2. The Dissertation Proposal and Mock Research Idea abstract will be simultaneously distributed to the QE committee at least 2 weeks prior to the Oral Examination, which the student is responsible for scheduling. No formal assessment or approval of either document is required from the QE. Rather the Dissertation Proposal and Mock Research Idea will provide topics to be discussed and probed during the oral examination.

A majority affirmative decision of the QE committee members is required for a student to pass the exam. If the student does not pass the exam, he or she will have one opportunity to retake the exam within 4 weeks, unless there is a unanimous vote of QE committee members not to offer a retake.

The MCB Chair in cooperation with the advisor and Department Chair will determine whether reasons for delay beyond October 15th are acceptable.

Dissertation Proposal Guidelines

The Dissertation Proposal should explain the questions that the student intends to pursue within the next two to four years of their graduate training. The proposal should contain 2-3 Specific Aims (including one original Aim), and rigorously and critically defend the rationale and choice of approach. The proposal is written by the student (in cooperation with the Faculty Advisor), and should conform to the current format for the Specific Aims and Research Strategy components of an NIH F31 pre-doctoral fellowship application. The student may include preliminary data (appropriately attributed if generated by other workers), but may not copy text from any other sources (violation of this rule would be considered plagiarism). The Faculty Advisor should not directly write any portion of the text. The Faculty Advisor is expected to suggest potential avenues for research and provide feedback on grantsmanship for most of the proposal except for the one original Specific Aim, which must be conceived and written by the student without any input from the Faculty Advisor. This Original Specific Aim should be clearly marked as such in the final document.

The Dissertation Proposal may be either hypothesis-based or needs/discovery-based, and should clearly describe:

  • The overarching questions that will be addressed and the reason why this is an important question to answer
  • The central hypothesis or needs/discovery goal
  • The specific aims and how they will test/address the central hypothesis
  • The necessary background information
  • For each aim, the rationale, experimental approaches, outcomes (both consistent and inconsistent with the hypothesis), interpretation (including controls), and pitfalls.
  • The impact of the research: how will completion of the project change the way scientists look at this area of biology or open up new areas of biology.

Oral Examination Guidelines

  1. At the oral examination, students will present a private, prepared seminar to their committee on their proposed dissertation work (~ 10 slides or 15 minutes total).
  2. The student will be assessed for whether they have thought deeply about the dissertation project and taken intellectual ownership for it. The student will be asked many questions about any aspect of the proposal.

For example:

  • What is the justification for choosing the proposed central hypothesis/ over alternative explanations?
  • How familiar is the student with the background literature and the broader context of the field of study?
  • Why were particular experiments chosen? How will they be carried out? Which controls will be required? How would particular hypothetical outcomes be interpreted? Are there alternative experimental approaches that might address any gaps.
  • If one specific aim cannot be experimentally resolved, will progress be blocked on the other aim(s)?
  • Is the student aware of related areas of scientific inquiry?
  • Is the student capable of thinking critically and creatively in responding to hypothetical outcomes or unfamiliar experimental concepts?

Being prepared to successfully answer these questions will require tremendous amounts of reading and synthetic thinking during the preparation of the proposal, but more importantly, throughout the entire period of time working in their lab.

  1. The student will also be asked to briefly (~5 minutes) explain and/or illustrate the significance and principle of their Mock Research Idea without prepared slides, as in a chalk talk. A model may be drawn on the board. Again, students will be assessed for their ability to think critically and rigorously when answering experimental and theoretical questions related to their Mock Research Idea.

  2. It is recommended that the entire Oral Examination be completed in less than 3 hours, although the examining committee may decide to extend it if necessary.

E. Thesis and Thesis Defense

For the Ph.D. degree, the student shall show competence in original research and shall prepare a doctoral dissertation containing the results of their independent studies. The thesis should present a coherent investigation of an original scientific research question at a level of rigor suitable for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal. It should also include a thorough and critical analysis of the published literature in the field, and of the methodological and theoretical background of the work. Before beginning to prepare the thesis, the student must obtain approval from the AC. As students begin preparation for the thesis defense, they must contact their program office. This is essential to ensure that the student and program work together to follow all graduate school policies so that the student will be able to graduate by their projected date.

Upon completion of a thesis approved for defense by the thesis advisor, the thesis advisor in conjunction with the student will assemble a Thesis Exam Committee and obtain the approval of the composition of this committee from the Graduate Committee and the Graduate Studies Office, which has final authority over the membership requirements. The Thesis Exam Committee must consist of three faculty members from the MCB Program and a fourth person from outside of the program. The Thesis Exam Committee will usually be the student's AC plus a fourth person from outside the program. The fourth member of the committee is usually a scientist that is not a member of the Dartmouth College faculty. If one member of the AC is not a MCB faculty member, they can serve on the Thesis Exam Committee only with the approval of the Graduate Studies Office.

Students must give each member of the Thesis Exam Committee a copy of the thesis at least two weeks before the date scheduled for the defense. Students planning to participate in the formal DMS or Dartmouth College June graduation exercises should be aware that both the Graduate Studies Office and the programs set deadlines regarding the submission, examination, and approval of theses. Typically, these deadlines occur during the month of May. It is each student's responsibility to work with their program office to ensure they meet these deadlines in order to participate in commencement. If any member of the examination committee finds that the submitted thesis is inadequate, that member must immediately communicate their concerns to the thesis advisor and the other members of the examining committee, which may cancel the thesis defense as late as 48 hours before the scheduled time of the defense. Concerns from the outside examiner may be communicated up to 72 hours prior to the scheduled defense to allow the committee time to meet the 48-hour deadline.

Following a publicly announced and delivered seminar on the thesis material, the doctoral candidate will defend the dissertation before the Thesis Exam Committee. The thesis advisor is responsible for promptly notifying the Departmental office of the outcome of the defense. Should this committee find the thesis itself or the student's understanding of the thesis subject area insufficient for the conferral of the Ph.D. degree, the student shall be informed of the deficiencies and the areas that require modification. The thesis may be revised, and the thesis defense may be repeated once, and insofar as possible, the composition of the examining committee shall remain unchanged. The exam committee will determine an appropriate deadline for the revised thesis to be submitted. If a student fails to satisfy the concerns of the Thesis Exam Committee after a second attempt, the student will be immediately separated from the program.

The student thesis can be approved provisionally, pending corrections and minor modifications recommended by the examining committee. Normally, the student's advisor will monitor these changes and upon satisfactory completion of them, permit the student to submit the finalized thesis to the Graduate Studies Office. The final thesis must be received by the Graduate Studies Office before a student will be awarded a Ph.D. degree.

F. Procedures in The Case of Potential Separation From the Program

In the event that a student faces potential separation from the program due to course grades or other reasons, or is denied advancement to candidacy due to failure at two attempts of the qualifying exam or other reason, an Assessment Committee will be convened to review the student's overall record and the pending separation prior to final action. The Assessment Committee will consist of the student's thesis advisor, the student's AC (if one has been formed), the Qualifying Exam Committee (if the qualifying examination has been attempted), or the thesis exam committee (if a thesis has been submitted and the thesis and the thesis defense attempted), and the faculty and student members of the MCB Graduate Committee. If all these members cannot be assembled for a meeting in a timely manner (generally within about two weeks of being notified of the pending action) a majority of the members will constitute the Assessment Committee. The chair of the Graduate Committee will serve as chair of the Assessment Committee, unless the chair is the student's thesis advisor. In such case, the Vice-Chair of the Graduate Committee will serve as chair. Students or faculty members who feel they might have a conflict of interest that would compromise their ability to make a fair and impartial decision, should absent themselves from the Assessment Committee and associated meetings. The Assessment Committee will function as a democratic committee with a single vote for each faculty member present and the final decision will be arrived at by closed ballot votes. The student members of the MCB Graduate Committee will not vote.

The Assessment Committee will review the overall performance of the student with respect to whether the student is qualified for a productive scientific, or related, career and as to their potential capacity for achieving Ph.D. level of scientific development within a reasonable timeframe. They will also consider any extenuating circumstances brought to their attention by the student, mentor, or other informed party that may have contributed to the poor performance. Information about extenuating circumstances should be brought to the attention of the Assessment Committee by the student, mentor or other informed party. In extraordinary instances, the Assessment Committee may recommend an alternative course of action to that which would normally be stipulated by the MCB rules and regulations for the particular circumstances that prompted the review process. Such a recommendation requires a 2/3 majority vote of the Assessment Committee.

G. MCB Student Grievance Policy

The committee-based process for guiding graduate student progress in MCB, while primarily designed to oversee scientific progress and direction, is also intended to guard against biased treatment of any individual. We have also established a grievance process consisting of multiple stages, to ensure that student grievances will be investigated fully and fairly, treated confidentially and decided in a timely manner. With an effective oversight/grievance committee structure, few grievances or disputes will reach the stage where they require formal resolution. However, when departmental and informal resolution is not feasible or successful, the graduate office is the next place to turn. A grievance may be handled as appropriate in the following stages:

  1. When possible, speak directly to the person who bears responsibility for the complaint or who is the alleged cause of the complaint.
  2. Speak to the research advisor and/or members of the thesis or AC.
  3. Speak to the Chair of the MCB Graduate Program and/or the Chair of the department.
  4. If a satisfactory resolution can not be reached within the department or program, the aggrieved student may request a meeting with the Dean of Graduate Studies to discuss the issue.
  5. If the Dean, working together with the aggrieved student and appropriate faculty member(s), or representatives of the MCB Program is unable to reach a satisfactory resolution, the student can request in writing a formal hearing and ruling by the Dean of Graduate Studies and the Committee on Student Grievances. Formal hearings are conducted as described in the Graduate Handbook (see sections titled "Committee on Student Grievances" and "Formal Hearing" under Academic and Conduct Regulations).

    Please note that allegations of scientific misconduct, violations of the academic honor principle, and certain issues of professional and personal conduct (sexual harassment, discrimination, and others described in the graduate handbook under code of conduct - non-academic regulations) must be reported to and handled by the Graduate Office.

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