Ph.D. Program

Admissions Guidelines

Graduate Student Forms

Overview

Students pursuing a Ph.D. are interested in advanced biological research, usually leading to a research and/or teaching career at a university or in industry. Faculty research interests are organized into four areas of research, each corresponding to one of the four different Ph.D. disciplines within the department. Students can choose among any of these programs of research based upon their own interests.

Upon entry into the program, students usually perform rotations in two Biology Graduate Faculty laboratories for ~10 weeks each. Students then choose one of the two labs for their dissertation work. In addition to the Graduate Faculty on campus, there are opportunities for collaboration with researchers at Emory University, Georgia Tech, Morehouse School of Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control. As part of their training, students take 28 hours of graduate classroom coursework, including core courses, electives, seminars and topics courses. In addition, students must complete 60 credit hours of research. By their second year, students should be well on their way to completing their core coursework, as well as engaging in research projects with their major professors.  Following their courses (and usually by the beginning of their third year), students take written and oral qualifying examinations in their concentrations. After passing the exams, a student then forms a dissertation committee, writes a dissertation proposal and focuses on research. Once the research has been completed, students are required to write a dissertation and present findings at a departmental seminar. A common time frame for students to complete the program is four to six years. All Ph.D. students are supported by stipends. The student’s major research professor can also use grant monies to supplement student stipends.

Curriculum

Required for All Ph.D Students

BIOL 8010
BIOL 8020
BIOL 8220
BIOL 8248
BIOL 8410
BIOL 8610
BIOL 8620

Overview: The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is normally offered once a year. Students who wish to take the Examination must submit a request in writing by completing the Request to take the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination form available online under the graduate student forms section. The student must have received an overall grade point average of 3.0 or better in all coursework representing his/her major. The Area Program Director in consultation with the student's major professor will appoint an Examination Committee. Students are encouraged to take the Qualifying Examination by the end of their second year of study. The Examination must be undertaken within four calendar years of the student's admission to the doctoral program and must be passed at least one academic year prior to the conferral of the Ph.D. degree.
Examination Committee: Upon submission of the Request to Take the Qualifying Examination form, the Area Program Director will appoint an Examination Committee in consultation with the major professor. The Examination Committee shall consist of at least three members of the Biology Department Graduate Faculty, one of whom will serve as Chair.
Doctoral Research Proposal: Students must enroll in 9991 or 9992 in the semester in which they are taking the qualifying Exam. Note that the course number is discipline-specific (see Appendix II)
Format of the Qualifying Examination: The candidate is expected to develop and submit a proposal for a research project, based on the NIH or NSF proposal format. Following submission of the proposal to the Examination Committee, an examination (defined later) will be scheduled. The candidate will submit to the committee a two page pre-proposal outlining the proposed research project. Included in this pre-proposal should be the following:
o A statement of the major issues or questions (specific aims) to be addressed in the proposal
o A brief background that leads to the importance and significance of the issues addressed in the proposal
o A brief description of experimental approaches to be used in addressing these questions (including several key references)
o A statement of the relationship between the research in this preproposal and the candidate's research topic and the research ongoing in the lab of the candidate's advisor.
o The student will distribute the pre-proposal to the Examination Committee who will comment on the pre-proposal in writing. The Committee Chair will then communicate comments and recommended changes in the pre-proposal to the candidate. Frequently, recommended changes in the pre-proposal will result in the necessity on the part of the candidate to modify or resubmit the pre-proposal. Upon submission of an acceptable pre-proposal, the Committee Chair will issue a written approval of the pre-proposal. The content of the proposal should be original, in that ii should not duplicate any research that has been carried out previously. The proposal should be distinct from ongoing research in the candidate's laboratory but could be the basis of a future dissertation proposal. All students must consult with their Area Program Director for discipline specific formatting policies/requirements which may differ from those outlined on page 5 (see addendum). In formulation and preparation of the pre-proposal, the written proposal, and the oral presentation of the proposal given at the oral defense, the candidate is encouraged to use multiple sources of written material (books, journals, class notes, etc.). The candidate is also encouraged to consult with departmental faculty including the major professor. Such consultations are expected to cover general approaches to the writing of proposals, rather than specific content. The student is expected to adhere to the honors spirit in accordance with the University Policy on Academic Honesty.
Written Proposal: The proposal should not exceed 20 pages in length (double-spaced), not including references or timetable.
Suggested Guidelines:
o 1 page Specific Aims
o 4-6 pages Introduction and Background
o 8-13 pages Experimental Design
o Timetable
o References
The candidate will submit four copies of the completed proposal to the Examination Committee by the appropriate deadline. Members of the Examination Committee will evaluate the written proposal on the basis of its logic, clarity, creativity and originality. Depending on the discipline, there will be an additional meeting of the student with the Examination Committee before the due date of the proposal, in which the student presents the proposal and receives feedback from the Committee. For this meeting, the student submits a draft of the proposal to the Committee chair by a set deadline and meets with the Committee according to the examination schedule.
All proposals must be checked using the iPlagiarism software. A copy of the report must be on file with the Graduate Coordinator and exam chair by the proposal due date.
Oral Examination: The oral examination will be scheduled within two - three weeks of the student's submission of the written proposal. The Examination Committee will administer the examination. Depending on the candidate's discipline, the candidate's advisor may be in attendance as a silent observer during the presentation and subsequent questioning of the candidate. The candidate is expected to demonstrate understanding of all components of the written proposal, as well as general understanding of the field related to the subject of the proposal.
Assessment of Performance on the Qualifying Examination: The aims of the examination are to test the student's grasp of fundamental and complex scientific concepts pertaining to the student's chosen field of study, and to assess the student's scientific development and potential as an independent research scientist and communicator. These will be evaluated on the student's performance during the examination in the following areas: researching and developing an independent and viable scientific project; writing and orally presenting and defending this proposed research; and demonstrating an ability to interpret and use the variety of scientific techniques and materials at their disposal.
Examination Outcomes: Following completion of the Oral Examination, the student will be excused from the room and the Examination Committee will confer on the outcome of the examination. The candidate's advisor may be asked to evaluate both or either the candidate's performance on the oral examination and the candidate's performance in laboratory research. The Chair will inform the student both verbally and in writing of the Committee's decision. Possible outcomes include Pass/Fail (Bio 9992, see detailed exam outcomes below) or letter grade (BIOL 9991).
o Unconditional Pass: This outcome is reserved for superior examination performances.
o Qualified Pass: If the student's performance is found to be satisfactory, but deficiencies in the student's background are identified, the student will be given a pass on the exam but will be required to complete coursework specified by the Examination Committee before completion of the Ph.D. Degree.
o Decision Pending: Frequently, the Examination Committee will find the examination performance incomplete or insufficient in some aspect(s). In this case, the student will be required to prepare and submit additional material and, on occasion, to meet with the Committee to defend this material orally. Oftentimes, these additional objectives serve as guidance to help students in aspects of their performance. A deadline for submission of additional material will be specified by the Examination Committee. Failure on the part of the student to meet this deadline will result in failure of the exam. Following assessment of the additional required material, the Examination Committee will meet to determine if the student has passed or failed the exam. The student will be informed of the Committee's decision in writing.
o Failure: In the case of failure, the Examination Committee will not reconsider any part of the examination and the student will have to retake the examination based on a completely new research proposal following a minimum interval of six months. Students receiving assistantships to support their graduate education are required to retake the examination by the end of the next Examination Period, unless a leave of absence is taken. Any student who fails the examination twice will be subject to dismissal from the Ph.D. program.

Each student is accepted into one of these disciplines:

Electives (8 hours)
BIOL 6045
BIOL 6248
BIOL 6428
BIOL 6430
BIOL 6438
BIOL 6451
BIOL 6458
BIOL 6480
BIOL 6481
BIOL 6484
BIOL 6580
BIOL 6694
BIOL 8415
BIOL 8416
BIOL 8620
BIOL 8910
CHEM 6610

Concepts/Topics/Seminar (10 hours)
BIOL 8510
BIOL 8700
BIOL 8900
BIOL 8970
BIOL 8980

Qualifying Exam Preparation
BIOL 9992

Electives (8 hours)
BIOL 6074
BIOL 6240
BIOL 6246
BIOL 6458
BIOL 6500
BIOL 6744
BIOL 6930
BIOL 8010
BIOL 8020
BIOL 8278
BIOL 8610
BIOL 8620
BIOL 8637
BIOL 8696
BIOL 8675
BIOL 8910
CHEM 6610
CHEM 6850
CHEM 8360
CHEM 8510

Concepts/Topics/Seminar (10 hours)
BIOL 8310
BIOL 8710
BIOL 8700
BIOL 8900
BIOL 8960
BIOL 8970

Qualifying Exam Preparation
BIOL 9991

*Proficiency in Biochemistry. Biochemistry proficiency can be demonstrated by completion of CHEM 6600 with a B or better. Students may petition for a waiver of the biochemistry requirement if they have made a B or better in an undergraduate course deemed by the Graduate Committee to be equivalent to CHEM 6600. Substitution of proficiency (demonstrated by examination or by receipt of a B or better in coursework) in one or more equivalent discipline-related subjects from chemistry, physics, or psychology appropriate to the student's program of study will be considered on a case-by-case basis and requires the prior written approval of the Biology Graduate Committee.

Electives (8 hours)
BIOL 6074
BIOL 6248
BIOL 6500
BIOL 6564
BIOL 6580
BIOL 6640
BIOL 6800
BIOL 8010
BIOL 8020
BIOL 8220
BIOL 8278
BIOL 8360
BIOL 8410
BIOL 8630
BIOL 8637
BIOL 8696
BIOL 8675
BIOL 8910

Concepts/Topics/Seminar (10 hours)
BIOL 8700
BIOL 8710
BIOL 8900
BIOL 8960
BIOL 8970

Qualifying Exam Preparation
BIOL 9991

*Proficiency in Biochemistry. Biochemistry proficiency can be demonstrated by completion of CHEM 6600 with a B or better. Students may petition for a waiver of the biochemistry requirement if they have made a B or better in an undergraduate course deemed by the Graduate Committee to be equivalent to CHEM 6600. Substitution of proficiency (demonstrated by examination or by receipt of a B or better in coursework) in one or more equivalent discipline-related subjects from chemistry, physics, or psychology appropriate to the student's program of study will be considered on a case-by-case basis and requires the prior written approval of the Biology Graduate Committee.

Electives (8 hours)
BIOL 6074
BIOL 6248
BIOL 6500
BIOL 6564
BIOL 6580
BIOL 6640
BIOL 6800
BIOL 8010
BIOL 8020
BIOL 8220
BIOL 8278
BIOL 8360
BIOL 8410
BIOL 8630
BIOL 8637
BIOL 8675
BIOL 8696
BIOL 8910
CHEM 6610
CHEM 8360

Concepts/Topics/Seminar (10 hours)
BIOL 8700
BIOL 8710
BIOL 8900
BIOL 8960
BIOL 8970

Qualifying Exam Preparation
BIOL 9991

Interdisciplinary Requirements (12 hours)
Math 6744
Math 6548
Stat 8050
Stat 8540
CSc 6310
CSc 6730
CSc 6350
CSc 6710
CSc 8710
CSc 8630

*At least one member of the student's dissertation committee must be from the Mathematics and Statistics or Computer Science Department faculty who is a member of the departments Bioinformatics program. The student's dissertation research must contain a significant bio-informatics research component (decisions on fulfilling this requirement will be made by the student's dissertation committee).

Electives (8 hours)
BIOL 6074
BIOL 6094
BIOL 6114
BIOL 6116
BIOL 6180
BIOL 6240
BIOL 6241
BIOL 6246
BIOL 6248
BIOL 6500
BIOL 6564
BIOL 6680
BIOL 6744
BIOL 8040
BIOL 8060
BIOL 8220
BIOL 8278
BIOL 8610
BIOL 8620
BIOL 8696
BIOL 8910
CHEM 6610
Psych 6130

Concepts/Topics/Seminar (10 hours)
BIOL 8110
BIOL 8700
BIOL 8950
BIOL 8960
BIOL 8970

Qualifying Exam Preparation
BIOL 9992

Interdisciplinary Requirements (12 hours)
Math 6744
Math 6548
Stat 8050
Stat 8540
CSc 6310
CSc 6730
CSc 6350
CSc 6710
CSc 8710
CSc 8630

*Proficiency in Biochemistry. Biochemistry proficiency can be demonstrated by completion of CHEM 6600 with a B or better. Students may petition for a waiver of the biochemistry requirement if they have made a B or better in an undergraduate course deemed by the Graduate Committee to be equivalent to CHEM 6600. Substitution of proficiency (demonstrated by examination or by receipt of a B or better in coursework) in one or more equivalent discipline-related subjects from chemistry, physics, or psychology appropriate to the student's program of study will be considered on a case-by-case basis and requires the prior written approval of the Biology Graduate Committee.

Detailed information about the Ph.D. graduate program is available in: