Graduate Program Guidelines

A.      General Policy

The graduate training program in Molecular Genetics and Genomics is an interdisciplinary curriculum that leads to the Ph.D. degree in Molecular Genetics and Genomics. The major goal of the program is to train students for independent research and teaching in the fields of laboratory molecular and cellular biology or computational analysis in biomedical sciences. The program faculty has departmental affiliations in all of the basic science departments and several clinical departments of the Medical School, and departments on the Reynolda Campus. There are two program tracks:

  • The Laboratory Sciences program of study is designed to provide a firm background in the basics of molecular and cellular biology, while also providing advanced course work designed to meet the objectives of the student and the laboratory in which the student performs his/her dissertation research. 
  • The Analytical Sciences program of study is designed to provide strong background in analysis using bioinformatics and statistics and also providing advanced course work designed to meet the objectives of the student and their thesis advisor.  By its nature this program has more extensive didactic coursework requirements.

It is the intent of the Graduate 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.      Program Administration

The Graduate Program in Molecular Genetics and Genomics is administered by a Graduate Program Committee consisting of the Director of the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Program, the Graduate Program Director, and three additional members appointed by the Director of Molecular Genetics and Genomics. The responsibilities of the committee include evaluation of prospective applicants to the program, evaluation of the progress of individual trainees, and formulation of program policies. The committee also oversees recruiting and coordinates interviews of prospective students. The application for institutional fellowships and graduate assistantships for incoming graduate students is the responsibility of the committee. The Graduate Program Director will serve as advisor for incoming students until a dissertation advisor has been named, will administer the qualifying examinations, will oversee the graduate student advisory committees, and will be the representative to the institutional Biomedical Graduate Studies Committee.

C.      Graduate Recruiting

The program accepts students with a variety of undergraduate degrees including majors in the biological sciences, chemistry, mathematics, computer science and statistics. For the Laboratory Sciences program applicants have usually successfully completed courses in general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, statistics, and mathematics through calculus. For the Analytical Sciences program applicants have usually successfully completed advanced courses in mathematics, statistics, and/or computer science. Students in Analytical Sciences are strongly recommended to have some preparation in basic chemistry and life sciences. 

Applications are evaluated by the Graduate Program Committee. A decision is made whether to consider the applicant for admission based on the quality of the undergraduate training record and grade point average, the verbal and quantitative scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in the case of applicants for whom English is not the native language, letters of reference, and a statement of personal interests. 

Qualified applicants are encouraged to visit the campus for an interview during the process of consideration. Major criteria for evaluation of the interview are the degree of motivation for a career in science and the quality and extent of the applicant’s undergraduate training. Applicants that meet the requirements for admission to the Graduate School and whom the committee wishes to accept are nominated for institutional fellowships, which are awarded by the Biomedical Graduate Studies Program. Once a student has selected a dissertation laboratory, every effort will be made to use research funds for stipend support so that institutional funds can be made available for new applicants to the graduate school. Institutional support for any student will be provided for a period not to exceed four years under normal circumstances.

D.      Course Requirements

Students in the Laboratory Sciences program and the Analytical Sciences Program will perform a course of study that reflects the different goals of these programs. Students are required to take the following core courses unless they are able to demonstrate a mastery of the subject matter by a written examination administered by the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Graduate Program Committee. First year courses provide an introduction to basic concepts of Molecular Genetics and Genomics and relevant associated disciplines. In addition, in the first year, students are required to take Introduction to Professional Development, a course that includes training in the preparation of research proposals, scientific papers, and a discussion of the ethical conduct of scientific research. This course provides an introduction to the core competencies of scientific professionalism for graduate students.


Laboratory Sciences Program
Fall Semester, First Year

           MOGN 731   Molecular Biology I *
           BICM 707     Biochemical Techniques
           BICM 705     Biochemistry I*
           MOGN 701   Research in Molecular Genetics and Genomics
                                  (laboratory rotation)
           GRAD700     Introduction to Professional Development
           GRAD 713    Introduction to Professional Development

           
(* core courses)

 Spring Semester, First Year

           MOGN 732   Molecular Biology II *
           MOGN 721   Computational Analysis in Molecular Biology*
           Specialty/Elective Course
           MOGN 702   Research in Molecular Genetics and Genomics 
                                   (laboratory rotation)
           GRAD701     Introduction to Professional Development
        •   G
RAD714     Introduction to Professional Development

            (* core courses)

 Summer Semester, First Year

           MOGN  701   Research in Molecular Genetics and Genomics

Fall Semester, Second Year

           MOGN 741    Tutorials in Molecular Biology
           MOGN 701    Research in Molecular Genetics and Genomics
           Specialty/Elective Course

Spring Semester, Second Year

           MOGN 742   Tutorials in Molecular Biology
           MOGN 701   Research in Molecular Genetics and Genomics
           Specialty/Elective Course

Summer Semester, Second Year

           MOGN  701  Research in Molecular Genetics and Genomics
           Prepare and defend research proposal for Ph.D. Candidacy exam.

Fall Semester, Third Year

           MOGN 701   Research in Molecular Genetics and Genomics
           MOGN 741   Tutorials in Molecular Biology

Spring Semester, Third Year

           MOGN 701   Research in Molecular Genetics and Genomics
           MOGN 742   Tutorials in Molecular Biology 

All Remaining Semesters

           MOGN 701   Research in Molecular Genetics and Genomics


Analytical Sciences Program
Fall Semester, First Year:

           MOGN 731   Molecular Biology I *
           CPTS 701      Foundations of Clinical and Population
                                   Translational Science
*        
           CPTS 720      Epidemiology*   
           CPTS 730      Introduction to Statistics*       
        •    MOGN 702   Research in Molecular Genetics and
                                    Genomics (analysis rotation)
           GRAD713      Introduction to Professional Development

            (* core courses) 

Spring Semester, First Year

           CPTS 744       Measurement Methods in Clinical And 
                                    Population Translational Science
*    
           CPTS 732       Applied Linear Models    
           MOGN 721    Computational Analysis in Molecular Biology

                                                OR

           MOGN 726    Genetic Epidemiology    
           MOGN 702    Research in Molecular Genetics and
                                    Genomics (analysis rotation)
           GRAD701      Introduction to Professional Development-A
        •   GRAD 714     Introduction to Professional Development-B
           Specialty/Elective Course

            (* core courses)

Summer Semester, First Year

           MOGN  701    Research in Molecular Genetics and
                                     Genomics (analysis rotation)

Fall Semester, Second Year

           MOGN 741    Tutorials in Molecular Biology
           MOGN 701    Research in Molecular Genetics and
                                    Genomics
        •   PHY 685         Bioinformatics
           Specialty/Elective Course(s)

Spring Semester, Second Year

           MOGN 742    Tutorials in Molecular Biology
           MOGN 701    Research in Molecular Genetics and
                                    Genomics
        •   CSC 687         Computational Systems Biology
           Specialty/Elective Course(s)

Summer Semester, Second Year

           MOGN  701    Research in Molecular Genetics
                                     and Genomics
           Prepare and defend research proposal for Ph.D.
                                    Candidacy exam.

Fall Semester, Third Year

           MOGN 701     Research in Molecular Genetics
                                     and Genomics
           MOGN 741     Tutorials in Molecular Biology

Spring Semester, Third Year

           MOGN 701     Research in Molecular Genetics
                                     and Genomics
           MOGN 742     Tutorials in Molecular Biology

All Remaining Semesters

           MOGN 701     Research in Molecular Genetics
                                     and Genomics

Specialty/elective course should facilitate specialized training of the student in consultation with their thesis advisor and advisory committee. The analytical track especially will make use of such courses to support additional training in statistics (e.g. MATH 761 Stochastic Processes), population genetics (e.g. BIO 315 Population Genetics), or computer sciences.

The Graduate Program Director and dissertation advisor will consult with each student each semester to develop the schedule and to optimize the choice of courses in the best interests of the student. Once a student has chosen a dissertation laboratory, the dissertation advisor will also be consulted about further course selections. The specialty courses include those graduate level courses offered by the Graduate School.

 E.      Advanced Courses

All graduate students in their second and third years are required to take the course entitled, Tutorials in Molecular Biology (MOGN 441, 442). This course focuses on new and important aspects of research in genetics, genomics, molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis on the current literature. Each semester the course centers on specific themes that are publicized to the rest of the graduate school so that students and faculty in other programs may choose to participate. The themes are chosen by the director of Tutorials in Molecular Biology and second and third year Molecular Genetics and Genomics students. Students select topics for presentation and, with the help of the course director, prepare a short lecture to introduce the subject, assign key papers for participants to read, and provide a supplemental reading list. The following week the student leads a general discussion of key experimental findings. 

In the second and subsequent years, students may take additional courses according to the needs of their particular research program as recommended by their dissertation advisor or their research advisory committee.

 F.     Laboratory/Analysis Rotations

Each student works in at least two different laboratories during the first year. A student may elect to do a third rotation during the summer semester of the first year if a decision regarding the selection of a dissertation laboratory cannot be reached after the first two rotations. Working in at least two different laboratories provides students with opportunities to learn research techniques that are used in each lab. A major goal of the laboratory rotations is for the students to obtain in–depth views of the laboratories in which they may wish to pursue their research. 

Prior to the beginning of classes, students consult with selected members of the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Program faculty concerning ongoing research projects. From these individual discussions with faculty, each student chooses potential laboratories in which to work during the first semester rotation. Each new student then meets with the Graduate Program Director to discuss the first year curriculum and the student’s choices of first laboratory rotation. Students will be assigned to rotation labs by the Graduate Program Director after consultation with the student and the potential laboratory director. The selection of the rotation for the second semester will be made before the end of the first semester and the student moves to that laboratory at the start of the second semester. At the end of each lab rotation, the faculty member heading the laboratory should prepare an evaluation of the student’s overall performance, discuss it with the student, then send the evaluation to the Graduate Program Director. 

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 and resources 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. Only those laboratories supported by adequate funding will be able to take on entering students, with the exception of recently recruited faculty. In the case of new faculty or faculty with a recent lapse in funding, only one entering student can be committed to their laboratories until they have established extramural funding. These policies help to insure that adequate supplies and equipment are available for the students’ research. 

After the rotations have been completed, students choose a laboratory in which to do their thesis research, with the consent of the faculty member that heads the laboratory in consultation with the Graduate Program Director.

 G.      Grading

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 the program if he or she does not make adequate progress in research. Students must have a 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.

 H.      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 to attend seminars sponsored, in whole or in part, by the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Program. Each Molecular Genetics and Genomics graduate student will present his/her research once each year in a seminar before the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Seminar Program.

 I.       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. The committee is composed of the faculty advisor, two additional members of the program, and one member from outside the department of primary appointment of the dissertation advisor. If the faculty advisor has not yet had a student graduate from their laboratory, it is recommended that at least one of the departmental committee members be a senior faculty member, who can advise on procedural aspects of the Graduate Program. The functions of the committee are to advise the student on the course of their research, to administer the Candidacy Examination, and to form the nucleus of the Dissertation Defense Committee. 

The Committee for each student should meet at least 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.

 J.       Candidacy Requirements

Each student must fulfill the following requirements for admission to candidacy in the Ph.D. program in Molecular Genetics and Genomics: 1) pass their required core courses with final grades of B or better (the grade point average must be 3.0 or greater); 2) Pass four approved collateral 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 Graduate Program Committee may decide to allow the student 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 graduate program committee. 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 “B” will be grounds for dismissal from the Ph.D. program.

 K.      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 set for the oral exam (early August) 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 before the date of the oral exam (early June), 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. 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 recommend to the Molecular Genetics and Genomics Program Graduate Committee whether the student should be terminated from the Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. candidacy, the student may, at the discretion of the faculty, have the option to complete the M.S. degree program. The chair of the committee will inform the Graduate Program Director of the outcome of the preliminary exam. The Graduate Program Director then informs the graduate office. 

Format: The outline and the final proposal will be patterned after NIH guidelines. The student should consult with the examining committee on questions of format during the preparation of the proposal. The proposal should be clearly written in the student’s own words and should be carefully proofed for spelling and grammatical errors.

 Outline Format

 The outline should be no longer than two pages (single-spaced) and should consist of the following sections. 

Specific Aims: A concise statement of the specific research objectives, including the hypotheses to be tested. 

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 to be used to address the specific aims, including methods to be used. 

 Final Proposal Format

The final proposal should be patterned after the NIH guidelines, with a maximum limit of 20 single-spaced pages. 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. 

Abstract:(1/2 page) A short summary of the problem and the goals of the project. 

Specific Aims: (1 page) A concise statement of the specific research objectives, including the hypotheses to be tested. 

Background and Significance: (3-4 pages) 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 in this section. 

Preliminary Studies: (0-6 pages) A description of any significant progress already made by the student toward the goals of the proposal. Graphs and charts should be computer-generated and of sufficient size to be clearly readable. Some of the preliminary data can be presented in a short appendix, if the page limitation is a problem. 

Research Plan: (8-15 pages, depending on size of other sections) Experiments and methods to be used to address the specific aims with a description of the results expected. This section should identify any special problems that are anticipated and describe alternatives. 

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 committee.

 L.      Dissertation Defense: The 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 drive other deadlines.  These plans will be discussed and may be modified at the committee meeting.  When the student and committee have agreed to 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 will be scheduled in the existing student seminar series.  Detailed instructions for preparation of the dissertation may be found on the graduate school website: http://graduate.wfu.edu/students/dissertation.html

Four 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 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 meet to determine whether 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 remediates 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 if the written document is approved by the committee, then the oral defense will consistent of a final seminar of approximately one hour followed by audience questions.  Criteria for a successful defense will be: 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 by the student and satisfactory 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 will 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 3 members of the dissertation committee will be drawn from the original committee; If the resubmitted dissertation fails to meet requirements, the student will be dismissed.

Quick Reference

Telephone 336-716-4674

Dr. Mark Lively
Program Director

mlively@wakehealth.edu

Dr. Timothy Howard
Graduate Students Recruiting Director

tdhoward@wakehealth.edu

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