Training to become a scientist in the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences involves a program of study consisting of five distinct parts.
Selecting a thesis adviser is the most important decision the student will make in graduate school. An informed and thoughtful choice requires experience in the labs of several investigators. To help each student make an informed, thoughtful choice, the Division builds in flexibility to explore options. Students usually participate in three lab rotations during their first year. Additional rotations can be arranged; and rotation lengths are flexible. Students usually begin their thesis research just before or early in their second year.
Coursework generally requires from two to five semesters; usually consisting of four to seven courses in areas fundamental to the student’s Program. The typical student takes two or three courses in the first semester of graduate study and one or two courses in each of the next two or three semesters; most often completing by the end of the second year. Students are expected to maintain a "B" average in graduate courses. (See individual Program of Study sections for the specific course requirements of each PhD training program).
After required course work has been completed, each student takes a preliminary, or qualifying, examination. The purpose of the exam is to assess the student's mastery of the field. The format of the exam varies from Program to Program, but most often it consists of a written component and an oral portion in which the student's knowledge of the subject is evaluated by a small committee of faculty members. Upon successful completion of the exam, the student achieves Ph.D. candidacy and begins to concentrate on thesis research. Because admission is selective and academic preparation is emphasized during the first year, the success rate for achieving candidacy is high.
Thesis research begins once the student has chosen a laboratory in which to work. Working in close collaboration with his or her mentor (the lab’s principal investigator) the student devises a thesis project. Typically during the third year, the student will present their thesis proposal to a thesis advisory committee for approval.
The thesis committee consists of faculty members, chosen by the student in consultation with the mentor and approved by the Program director. Committee members monitor the student's progress throughout their training, providing objective, critical analysis of the research and, when the thesis is ready for presentation, they serve as the defense committee. Most students complete and defend their dissertations by the end of their sixth year of study. Publishing in scientific journals, a natural outgrowth of PhD research is an integral component of the scientific enterprise at Washington University. In recent years, Division students have contributed to numerous high, impact scientific journals.
3RD WEEK OF AUGUST IN ENROLLMENT YEARRegistration and orientationMeetings with advisors to plan rotations and course workYEAR 1Two to five core classes Laboratory rotations*YEAR 2One to three advanced electives and special topics coursesJournal club(s)Begin thesis researchTeaching assistantshipComplete qualifying examinationYEAR 3Form thesis committeeThesis researchJournal club(s)Thesis proposalYEAR 4 and THEREAFTERThesis research continuesMeet at least yearly with thesis committeeTravel to scientific meetingsResearch completed by end of the fifth yearPublish in leading scientific journalsDefend thesisThe first rotation may begin in June prior to Fall matriculation.
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