Graduate Program Guidelines

Program in Molecular Genetics & Genomics
Graduate Program Guidelines

Revised July 24, 2014

A.  General Policy

The Program in Molecular Genetics and Genomics is based on an interdisciplinary curriculum that leads to the PhD degree. The major goal of the program is to train students for independent research and teaching in the fields of molecular and cellular biology or computational analysis in biomedical sciences. The program faculty have departmental affiliations in all of the basic science departments and several clinical departments of the Medical School, and departments on the Reynolda Campus. It is the intent of the Program in Molecular Genetics and Genomics to provide specialized training in the interdisciplinary field of Molecular Genetics and Genomics, while integrating student training as much as possible with corresponding departmental graduate programs.

B.  Recruiting
The program accepts students directly from the Molecular & Cellular Biosciences (MCB) track, after the first year. Since many of the Molecular Genetics & Genomics faculty have appointments in other departments or programs, students can decide, after discussion with their faculty adviser, which program best suits their interests.

C.  Course Requirements
The majority of the required courses for the Program are fulfilled in the first-year MCB curriculum. A total of four (4) elective courses are required, three of which are usually completed in the first-year MCB curriculum. Therefore, one additional elective is required during the second or third years. This elective course should facilitate specialized training of the student in consultation with their thesis advisor and advisory committee (described below). Additional electives may also be recommended by a student’s advisor.

A journal club format course, Tutorials in Molecular Biology, is required during the Fall and Spring semesters for all second and third year students. This course focuses on new and important aspects of research in genetics, genomics, and molecular and cellular biology, with an emphasis on current literature. Each semester the course centers on specific themes, chosen by the faculty course director and the students. Students prepare a journal club presentation for each article, including an introduction with relevant background material, a critical review of the methods and results, and discussion points for the group.

D.  Laboratory Rotations
As part of the MCB track, all students will rotate through three laboratories during their first year.  Prior to selecting a dissertation laboratory, we encourage students to consult with members of the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Program faculty concerning ongoing research projects. The policies on the choice of research area for a student are guided by the principle that both the student and advisor should be in a position to make a well-informed choice before any decisions are made. Furthermore, to provide an optimal graduate training experience, the advisor must have adequate time, resources, and funding to devote to each student. For this reason, only certain laboratories may be available for students to do their dissertation research at any given time.  These policies are essential to insure that adequate supplies and equipment are available for the research project. 

EGrade Requirements
Minimum grade requirements for Molecular Genetics and Genomics are governed by these guidelines and the policies of the Graduate School, as stated in the Bulletin of the Wake Forest University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. A student whose cumulative grade point average (GPA) falls below 2.5 will be placed on academic probation. The student will have one semester to bring his/her GPA to 2.5 or greater; otherwise, the student may be dismissed from the Graduate School by the dean. The grade point average is obtained by dividing the total number of hours attempted for a grade, including hours for courses in which the grade is F. Thesis credit does not enter into the GPA. A student may be dismissed from the Graduate School by the dean upon recommendation by the program if he or she does not make adequate progress in research. Students must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 at the time of the preliminary examination. The full description of grading policy of the Graduate School is found in the current bulletin.

F.  Seminars and Symposia
Attendance at seminars is strongly encouraged to broaden the educational experience of graduate students. Students are expected to attend the seminar series sponsored by the home department of their dissertation advisor and the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Program. Each Molecular Genetics and Genomics graduate student will present his/her research once each year in the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Seminar Series.

G.  Research Advisory Committee
During the fall semester of the second year, an Advisory Committee is selected for each student. The committee is selected by the student and the faculty research advisor, and is composed of five (5) Graduate School faculty, including the faculty advisor. The Chairman of this committee must be from outside the department of the primary appointment of the faculty advisor. If the faculty advisor has not yet had a student graduate from their laboratory, it is recommended that at least one member be a senior faculty member, who can advise on procedural aspects of the Program. The functions of the committee are to advise the student on the course of his/her research, to administer the Candidacy Examination, and to form the nucleus of the Dissertation Defense Committee. 

The Committee for each student should meet once each academic year, and more often when necessary. The purpose of the meetings is to evaluate the progress being made in the student’s research and to make recommendations for the immediate future. The meetings should be scheduled by the Research Advisor to ensure that they occur in a timely fashion.

H.  Candidacy Requirements
Each student must fulfill the following requirements for admission to candidacy in the PhD program in Molecular Genetics and Genomics: 1) pass the MCB required core courses with final grades of B or better (the cumulative GPA must be at least 3.0); 2) pass four (4) approved elective courses; and 3) pass an oral defense of a written research proposal.

If a student does not pass a required course with a grade of “B” or better, the student may be allowed to retake the course or only the necessary exam, or exams, in that course (the next time the course is offered) that led to the low grade. Other forms of remediation may be required by the Advisory Committee or the Director of the Program. All forms of remediation must be completed before the student is admitted to candidacy. A failure to pass the re-examination of the course or any portion of the course with a grade of at least a “B” will be grounds for dismissal from the PhD program.

I.  Oral Research Proposal Defense
The examination committee for the preliminary examination will consist of the members of the student’s Advisory Committee. The function of the committee is to determine acceptability of the student for advancement to degree candidacy, by critically evaluating the scientific quality of the project, the clarity of the written proposal, the completeness of the literature survey, and the student’s originality and understanding of relevant biochemical concepts. 

The date of the oral exam (targeted for early Fall of the student’s third year) will determine when all other deadlines fall. The examining committee may revise the schedule suggested below at their discretion. The deadlines should be explicitly communicated to the student. 

Eight weeks prior to the date of the oral exam, the student will submit an outline of the proposal. One week later, the examining committee will meet briefly with the student to discuss the acceptability of the outline and to make suggestions. The purpose of this meeting is to guide the student in preparing for the oral examination. It is appropriate to give examples of the issues that will be raised. However, detailed questioning and defense of the proposal should be reserved for the oral examination. If there are no major problems, the student may proceed to complete the written proposal. 
Two weeks before the oral exam, the student will submit the completed written proposal to the committee. Within 1 week, the committee chair will poll the committee and inform the student if the written proposal is acceptable for oral defense. If not, the committee will provide a detailed written critique and set a date for receipt of a revised proposal, usually within 2-3 weeks. If the revised proposal is unacceptable, the examining committee will discuss with the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Program Director and the Dean of the Graduate School whether the student should be terminated from the PhD Program. 

If the proposal is judged acceptable, the oral exam will proceed as scheduled. Following the exam, a decision on acceptability of the student for admission to degree candidacy will be made by the committee. In the event that a student does not pass the oral exam, the examining committee can recommend that the student be refused admission to candidacy for the PhD program, or that reexamination be allowed no earlier than six months from the date of the first exam. A student may be reexamined only once. If the committee does not recommend the student for advancement to PhD candidacy, the student may, at the discretion of the faculty, have the option to complete the MS degree program. The chair of the committee will inform the Graduate Program Director and the Dean of the Graduate School of the outcome of the preliminary exam.

Format: The outline should consist of a two-page (single-spaced) overview of the project, and include the following sections:

  • Specific Aims: A concise statement of the specific research objectives, including the hypotheses to be tested. (One page)
  • Justification: Explain the significance of the project and its originality, placed in the context of a brief summary of previous work done in the area
  • Research Plan: Summarize experimental design and methods to be used to address the specific aims.
  • References: Adequate references should be incorporated, and are not included in the two-page limit.

The final proposal should be patterned after NIH R01 guidelines, with a maximum of 13 single-spaced pages (one page for the Specific Aims, 12 pages for the Research Plan). The student should consult with his/her examining committee on questions of format during the preparation of the proposal. Typing width should be no smaller than 15 characters per inch and type height should be consistent with NIH form 398 guidelines. The final proposal should consist of the following sections.

  • Specific Aims: (1 page) A concise statement of the specific research objectives, including the hypotheses to be tested.
  • Significance: A summary of the literature describing the present status of the field. The background section should place the proposed research in proper context. The significance and value of the proposed research should be included.
  • Innovation:  A description of how the current project is innovative and will make unique contributions to the field of study.
  • Approach:  Experiments and methods to be used to address the specific aims, with a description of the expected results. This section should identify any special problems that are anticipated and describe alternatives. Preliminary data can be included at the beginning of this section.
  • References: (pages not included in page limit) Techniques to be used and all work and ideas of others should be properly referenced. References should include titles and follow a format approved by the committe

J. Dissertation Defense: Thesis and Thesis Defense
When the student and advisor agree that the student is approaching the completion of his/her studies, a committee meeting will be called.  At that meeting, the student will outline his/her trajectory for completion of experimental work and writing of the thesis.  This will include an outline of experiments to be completed and a tentative timetable.  It may be helpful to set a target graduation date, since that date will determine other deadlines.  These plans will be discussed and may be modified at the committee meeting.  When the student and committee have agreed on a plan, the student will proceed to execute that plan.  Additional meetings may be called to modify this plan if problems are encountered or the work does not proceed as anticipated.  

When the student is ready to write the dissertation, a final committee meeting may be called to discuss this decision.  With the approval of the advisor and committee, the student will set a date for the final thesis seminar.  This final seminar is required of all students, and is intended to serve as the final thesis defense (see below).  When feasible, this seminar may be scheduled in the existing student seminar series.

Four (4) weeks prior to the date set for the final thesis seminar, the student will submit the written dissertation to the Dean of the Graduate School.  Three (3) weeks prior to the date set for the final thesis seminar, the student will distribute copies of the written dissertation to members of the committee. 10 days prior to the date set for the final thesis seminar, the committee chair will poll the committee to determine the acceptability of the thesis for the defense.  If the committee members are not in unanimous agreement, the committee will determine if the defense should take place, which will be decided by a majority vote.  If the committee votes that the thesis is not acceptable for defense, the committee chair will communicate this to the student.  The student will be given a specific deadline for the submission of the revised dissertation and a detailed list of deficiencies.  The student will prepare and submit a revised dissertation that addresses these deficiencies.  The committee chair will again poll the committee to determine the acceptability of the revised thesis for defense.  If a majority of the committee vote that the revision is unacceptable, the student will be dismissed.

If agreement is reached that the thesis is ready to defend and the written document is approved by the committee, then the oral defense will consist of a final seminar of approximately one hour followed by audience questions. Criteria for a successful defense are as follows: a) approval of the written thesis by the committee, pending minor revisions, prior to the oral seminar/defense; b) satisfactory presentation of his/her research and responses to questions during the seminar.  A decision concerning whether the student has met these criteria will be rendered by the committee at a brief meeting following the seminar and will be communicated to the student immediately.

If any member of the committee judges that the student did not perform adequately at the oral seminar, then the meeting following the seminar may be extended to allow a full oral exam administered in closed session by the thesis committee.  Outcomes of the exam are unconditional pass, pass upon rectifying deficiencies, and fail.  As described in the Graduate Bulletin, a decision to fail the student will require a failing vote by more than one member of the committee.  Procedures for resubmission of the thesis will be as described in the Graduate Bulletin.  At least three (3) members of the dissertation committee will be drawn from the original committee. If the resubmitted dissertation fails to meet all requirements, the student will be dismissed.


Quick Reference

Telephone 336-713-7005

Dr. Timothy Howard
Program Director

Dr. Nicholette Allred
Graduate Students Recruiting Director

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