PhD Program Curriculum
During your first academic year, you perform two or three research rotations in the laboratories of Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences faculty members. This allows you to explore different scientific disciplines before selecting your PhD training program, which you must do by July 15 at the end of your first year.
All PhD candidates are required to complete certain courses to fulfill the degree. For information about course schedules, instructors, and syllabi, see the PhD course catalog.
In year one, you take the following courses:
- Introduction to Research (fall semester)
- Rigor and Reproducibility (fall semester)
- Ethics: Scientific Integrity and Responsible Conduct in Research (fall semester)
In year two, the following courses are required:
- Data Analysis and Biostatistics with R (summer semester)
- Grant Writing (spring semester)
In year three, the following course is required:
- Individual Development Plan (spring semester)
In year five, the following course is required:
- Ethics Refresher (spring semester)
You can request free tutoring if you find you need academic support in a particular subject. Eligible tutors are students who have performed well in classes.
Using your Kerberos ID, you can log in to our intranet to see the list of available student tutors.
Research Rotation Requirements
During your first year, you’re expected to complete three research rotations, each lasting approximately three months. After completing these rotations, you select a thesis advisor and an area of scientific focus for your PhD training. With approval from the associate dean for biomedical sciences, you may complete just two research rotations before selecting an advisor. The associate dean must approve all candidates’ advisor selections and can provide guidance if you are unsure of how to proceed.
Typically, PhD candidates complete their first research rotation from October to December, the second rotation from January to March, and the third rotation from April to June. The first rotation should begin no later than October 1.
At the start of each research rotation, students should complete the research rotation tracking form.
Orientation and courses begin in early August.
Year One: Begin Open Program and Complete Rotations
All students enter our open program, giving providing the flexibility to work with three rotation advisors affiliated with any of our graduate programs while they start their coursework.
Students are expected to select a thesis advisor and an affiliated training program by July 15 of their first year.
Year Two: Complete Coursework and Begin Research
By the beginning of your second year, you should have familiarized yourself with program requirements and established a relationship with the graduate advisor of your training program. Your advisor can provide guidance unique to the second year of graduate school.
You’re required to attend programmatic seminars, often known as the Works in Progress Series, where you learn about research performed by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in other labs. In consultation with your thesis advisor, you should assemble a thesis committee. Graduate advisors can provide guidance to this process.
By May of your second year, you should have completed all required coursework relating to your training program and begun preparing for the qualifying exam. If a required course is only offered every other year, you may begin preparing to take the exam prior to completing all coursework.
Year Three: Complete Qualifying Exam and Continue Research
The timing of the qualifying exam differs slightly according to the training program. However, exams are generally scheduled between the end of the second and start of the third year of graduate school.
After you have completed your required coursework and passed the qualifying exam, you are eligible to for an MPhil. Please notify us of your qualifying exam date by completing the qualifying exam notification found on the student community. You’re required to hold your first thesis committee meeting within one year of passing the qualifying exam, and you must meet with your committee at least once per year.
Year Four: Conduct Full-Time Research and Schedule Frequent Committee Meetings
After you’ve passed your qualifying exam, you participate in full-time research. It is normal for experimental-discovery timelines and when a researcher obtains results to vary widely, so in your fourth year you may still be refining your projects.
If your research is further along, you may be determining which results are suitable for journal publication and what additional scientific questions should be pursued for inclusion in your thesis. Committee meetings are essential to ensure progress.
Year Five: Refine Publication Goals and Prepare for Thesis Defense
We recommend that you hold a thesis committee meeting at the beginning of your fifth year to plan the timing of final experiments, refine your publication goals, and plan for your thesis defense. At the final committee meeting, you receive written authorization from the members of your thesis committee to start writing your thesis. Your thesis defense should be scheduled at this stage.