Welcome to the Department of Biology

Department of Biology at Illinois State University
Department of Biology

Program Policies

Graduate School guidelines and requirements for Ph.D. degrees are provided on the Graduate School webpage:http://grad.illinoisstate.edu/academics/thesis-dissertation/.  All Ph.D. students are expected to be aware of these requirements.  Many of the forms that need to be submitted to the Graduate School are also available on the Graduate School webpage: http://grad.illinoisstate.edu/academics/forms/.

The School of Biological Sciences has adopted the following policies affecting graduate students in our Ph.D. program:

  • All Ph.D. students are assumed to have sufficient background in biology and chemistry to meet the prerequisites of our graduate courses. The responsibility for identifying deficiencies rests with the student's dissertation committee.
  • All Ph.D. students in Biological Sciences are required to maintain academic good standing as defined by the University. In addition, the School of Biological Sciences requires that Ph.D. students have a Ph.D. dissertation advisor who is a member of the Illinois State graduate faculty in the School of Biological Sciences, form a Ph.D. dissertation committee, take and pass the Ph.D. qualifying exam, and complete, defend successfully, and submit a Ph.D. dissertation proposal by the specified deadlines (see Web page). Students who obtain course grades lower than a B in graduate courses, perform inadequately as teaching assistants or research assistants, or who fail to meet other university or school requirements can be denied assistantship support or be dismissed from the program by the graduate studies committee.
  • Seminar Requirements: Ph.D. students must enroll for a minimum of four credits in Seminar 420. Ph.D. students who earned two credits of seminar at the M.S. level only need two additional credits during the doctoral program. Attendance at official seminars (4:00 PM each Thursday during the academic year) is required as part of Seminar 420 unless the student is officially excused because of course or teaching conflicts.
  • Ph.D. dissertation committees consist of the major professor and at least four additional faculty members. At least two of the committee members must be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the School. The School Chair or Director of the Graduate Program must approve all dissertation committees prior to their official appointment. PhD. students should obtain a Dissertation Committee Form from the Biology office and return the completed form to the office no later than the start of their 3rd semester in the program.  A copy of the form will be placed in your file in the Biology office.
  • Following admission to the Ph.D. program and satisfactory progress, students must apply for admission to candidacy by the end of their 2nd year in the program as described below.
  • The goal of the process of admission to candidacy is to test whether students have both the intellectual ability and the knowledge-base necessary to pursue work at the level expected for the Ph.D. This is tested in two ways. First, the Qualifying Examination (comprised of both a written and oral portion) is used to assess the student's ability to assimilate knowledge and to evaluate the primary literature in his or her area of specialization (e.g., neurobiology, physiology, ecology, behavior, genetics, microbiology, endocrinology, etc.). Second, the Proposal Defense tests the student's ability to propose and to defend a specific research project that will be the basis of his or her dissertation. In the Proposal Defense the student is expected to place his or her proposed work into the context of the literature in the field of study; to describe hypotheses that will be tested; and to describe the appropriate methods, data analysis, and interpretation that will be used to test those hypotheses. The emphasis of the process of admission to candidacy is on the area of specialization deemed appropriate by the Dissertation Committee, which is responsible for preparing, administering, and evaluating both the Qualifying Examination and the Proposal Defense. The Dissertation Committee is constituted to guide and to evaluate research in the area of specialization that the student has chosen, as well as to advise the student on any academic or scientific issues. The School of Biological Sciences requires Ph.D. students to pass a combined Qualifying Examination and Proposal Defense no later than the start of the student's 5th semester in the program.  This combined event consists of a detailed, written dissertation proposal that follows the guidelines of either NSF or NIH. After the dissertation proposal is approved by the student's dissertation committee, the student will defend the proposal at a meeting of the committee where the student will respond to a variety of questions from the committee related to the proposal itself and the student's knowledge of their area of specialization. Succesful completion of the dissertation proposal defense constitutes completion of both the the Qualifying Examination and the Proposal Defense.  The student's major professor should email the Graduate Director as to the student's completion of this combined event.
  • After completing the research and writing a dissertation, the student must defend the dissertation in the Dissertation Defense oral examination. Note: Prior to scheduling the Dissertation Defense, the student must have submitted or published at least two (2) manuscripts based on the dissertation research and must have submitted to the Graduate School a signed School of Biological Sciences Right to Defend Form for Ph.D. Students. This form is available in the Biology office and must be signed by either the Graduate Director or the School Director.
  • Only in exceptional cases will students be allowed to obtain their third academic degree in Biology at Illinois State University.
  • Students should follow the School Check-List for the Ph.D. program (see below), which details the major requirements and the usual sequence of events that a student should follow.

Check-List of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biology

  1. Be sure to read the graduate catalog and comply with all University requirements. The following requirements are listed in the order in which they should be met. Click here to access required Graduate School forms and deadlines referred to below.
  2. As soon as possible after arriving on campus, but in any case before the end of your first semester as a graduate student, you should have selected your area of research specialization and a faculty member who agrees to direct your dissertation research (i.e., your major professor and dissertation advisor). The Director of the Graduate Program will serve as your academic advisor until you have selected a major professor.
  3. Notify the Director of the Graduate Program by email when you have obtained a major professor. You and your major professor should should select at least four other faculty members to comprise your Dissertation Committee. At least two of the committee members must be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the School. 
  4. Because the combined  Qualifying Examination/Proposal Defense will be administered by the Dissertation Committee, the student must form a Dissertation Committee well before writing their proposal. The Dissertation Committee must be formed no later than the beginning of the 3rd semester after enrolling in the Ph.D. Program so that committee members are able to provide advice on the planning of the dissertation research. Creation of the Dissertation Committee is formalized by having members sign Biology's Dissertation Committee Form (available in the Biology office) which includes a 1-or 2-page outline of the proposed research. A completed and signed Diisertation Committee Form should be submitted to the Biology office and a copy will be deposited in the student’s folder. The Dissertation Committee will also decide course requirements and identify any course deficiencies. A copy of these course deficiencies should be filed in the Biology Office.
  5. A copy of the Residency Form should be obtained from the Biology Office and completed. To meet residence requirements, you will need to carry a full course load for either two semesters or one semester and one summer term. This requirement must be completed within a 12-month period. A completed and signed Residency Form must be submitted to the Graduate School.
  6. Combined PhD Qualifying Examination & Proposal Defense Format

    PhD students must complete a combined qualifying examination and proposal defense with written and oral components, administered by the student’s dissertation committee. This requirement must be completed before the beginning of the 5th semester. The cobined qualifying exam and proposal defense will test the student’s ability to (1) assimilate knowledge and to evaluate primary literature in his or her area of specialization, focusing on the student’s ability to discuss broadly ideas, concepts, data, theory, and the literature of his/her area of specialization; and (2) write a full-length research proposal draft on his/her dissertation topic. It is expected that the area of specialization is broader than the dissertation topic, and that passing the candidacy exam requires demonstrating knowledge and understanding beyond the dissertation proposal.  Upon passing, the completed proposal defense form will be submitted to the graduate school and the student will advance to candidacy.

     Written Component

    The written portion of the combined qualifying examination and proposal defense will include submission of a full draft of the student’s dissertation proposal to the student’s committee and to the graduate director. This should consist of a research proposal, written in the format of the committee’s choice (preferably NIH or NSF full proposal format) on the student's dissertation topic. The emphasis should be ample introduction to the research topic and placing proposed research into the context of the literature in the field; describing hypotheses that will be tested; and describing appropriate methods, data analysis, and interpretation that will test those hypotheses. The goal should be for the student to prepare a proposal that, with input from the advisor/dissertation committee and subsequent revisions, is of sufficient quality to be submitted to an external funding organization. In order for the dissertation committee to complete review of the written proposal, it must be submitted to the student’s dissertation committee at least two weeks before the oral defense component is scheduled.

    Oral Defense Component

    One week prior to the oral examination, the student will present his/her plan of dissertation study to the faculty and graduate students via a departmental or a brown-bag seminar. The oral examination will consist of a defense of the written dissertation proposal draft. The student's knowledge of and ability to discuss scientific issues associated with their area of specialization will also be evaluated. At the conclusion of the oral defense of the proposal, the dissertation committee will vote to pass or fail the student on the overall combined qualifying examination and proposal defense (both written and oral components, and both the proposal and knowledge of the area of specialization). The decision of the Dissertation Committee will be by majority vote. Upon failing the combined qualifying examination and propsal defense, the student may attempt to qualify one additional time, within 6 months of the initial attempt. Upon passing the combined qualifying examination and proposal defense (both written and oral components), the student will continue to improve upon the written proposal, incorporating suggested ideas and improvements from both the proposal seminar and oral defense component of the qualifying exam and proposal defenseThe student will submit a final, improved copy of the dissertation proposal to the dissertation committee for approval within two months of the combined qualifying exam and proposal defense date. After approval by the dissertation committee, the final draft of the proposal will be submitted to the Biology office, the completed Proposal Defense Form (available on the Graduate School web site) will be submitted to the Graduate School, and the student will advance to candidacy.  The Oral Proposal Defense will usually begin with a seminar presentation by the student, which will be followed by questions by the Dissertation Committee and discussion. Ordinarily, approximately three hours should be scheduled for the examination following the seminar.

  7. Extensions of deadlines for the Dissertation Committee formation and/or the combined Qualifying Examination and Proposal Defense require approval of a majority of the Graduate Studies Committee. Extenuating circumstances to justify deviation from the plan described above must be explained. Except for the deadline for Dissertation Committee formation, all such requests must be submitted by the student’s entire Dissertation Committee.
  8. Complete your required course work. The School expects most Ph.D. candidates to take 60 credit hours of formal graduate course work beyond the B.S. or B.A. degree or 30 credit hours beyond the M.S. degree.
  9. Before you begin to write your dissertation, consult the guidelines for theses/dissertations available on the Graduate School website.  However, with prior approval of your committee, you may use the Alternative Format (*see Appendix 1, below) of writing dissertation chapters in the form of manuscripts that are ready for submission to journals.
  10. Consult the Graduate School website for the exact sequence of events that must occur between you and the Graduate School who ultimately must approve your dissertation and give permission for you to take the Oral Dissertation Defense Examination.
  11. You must present a School research seminar prior to the Oral Dissertation Defense Examination. Before the beginning of the semester in which you expect to graduate, schedule your seminar through the appropriate seminar coordinator. This seminar can be presented as part of the School Seminar Series (4 PM each Thursday during the semester), a Section Brown-bag seminar program, or a specially scheduled School Seminar. Your research seminar must be given no later than during the semester you expect to graduate.
  12. Prior to the semester in which you plan to graduate, obtain the detailed calendar of events prescribed for the semester in which you will actually graduate. Important details are specified each semester on this calendar such as when you must apply for graduation, pay your fees, when the final electronic copy of the dissertation must be submitted to the Graduate School, and so forth. These calendars and deadlines are always available on the Graduate School website.
  13. Early in your final semester submit a completed Doctoral Degree Audit Form (formerly known as Plan of Study) to the Graduate Director. The Doctoral Degree Audit Form is available from the Graduate School website. It is completed electronically and sent to the Graduate Director via email as an attachment. The Graduate Director will then forward the completed Form to the Graduate School.
  14. Dissertation Defense.
  15. A Ph.D. degree in the Biological Sciences carries an expectation that degree holders will contribute scientifically to their discipline by scholarly publication.  Thus, prior to the dissertation defense, each student will have produced at least two manuscripts from their dissertation work that have been submitted to or published in peer-reviewed journals.  Merely presenting dissertation chapters written in the form of a publication at the defense, or stating that data within the dissertation will be compiled into manuscripts, are not sufficient to schedule a dissertation defense. Dissertation committees, primarily the major professor, are charged with ensuring that this requirement is met prior to scheduling the defense. Prior to scheduling a disseration defense, a student must submit to the Graduate School a signed School of Biological Sciences Right to Defend Form for Ph.D. Students. This form is available in the Biology office and must be signed by either the Graduate Director or the School Director. Exceptions to this requirement must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee.

    Before you schedule your oral Dissertation Defense examination, you must have your dissertation draft authorized to be defended by (1) your Dissertation Committee and (2) the Graduate School.  A copy of the Right to Defend form is available on the Graduate School website.  The Graduate School must issue to you the Right to Defend form no less than one week (seven days) prior to the date you intend to take your oral examination. The examination must be scheduled on or before the date that the Graduate School has specified as the date for final submission of theses/dissertations.

  16. Make sure your major professor has scheduled your Oral Dissertation Defense Examination for a time that satisfies the requirements in #11, #12, #13, and #14, above. The Biology Office must be informed of both the time and place of the examination. The Biology Office in turn notifies the Graduate School and the Biology Faculty.
  17. When you have passed the Dissertation Defense examination and your dissertation has been approved (all errors corrected as specified by your Dissertation Committee), an electronic final copy of the approved dissertation must be uploaded to ProQuest prior to submitting the Right to Defend form to the Graduate School.  After the dissertation is uplaoded to ProQuest, the student should submit the Outcome of Defense form and the Final Deposit checklist (both available on the Graduate School website).  The Graduate School requires the original copy of the Outcome of Defense form. Final upload and submission of forms must occur on or prior to the Final deposit Filing Deadline listed on the Graduate School website.
  18. If you possess any keys to University facilities, equipment, or furniture, these must be returned before you leave the University.
  19. IMPORTANT: If you have satisfied all of the requirements for your Ph.D. degree (including having completed 15 credit hours of dissertation research credit, BSC 599, as well as having a Proposal Approval Form and a Doctoral Degree Audit Form on file) except completing your dissertation, you must register each semester for one credit hour of 599.01 and pay the appropriate fees until your dissertation has been deposited. If the aforementioned conditions have not been met, you must register each semester for 1 hour of BSC 599.

*Appendix 1

ALTERNATIVE DISSERTATION FORMAT

  1. A dissertation may be formatted according to the specifications of the journal(s) to which it has been or will be submitted. Accordingly, separate chapters may be formatted differently. A copy of the "Instructions to Authors" from each relevant journal publisher, and a sample journal article which illustrates figures, tables, schemes, etc. needs to be included with your dissertation when delivered to the Examiner for the format check.
  2. Each chapter must be preceded by a page containing the chapter (Roman) numeral and title of chapter, e.g.,

CHAPTER II
DO POLYANDROUS HOUSE WRENS GAIN INDIRECT GENETIC BENEFITS FOR SOME OF THEIR OFFSPRING?

  1. An optional introductory first chapter and/or summary last chapter may be included.
  2. Pagination must be continuous throughout the document and may be placed at the bottom center of all pages.
  3. A separate Literature Cited may be given in each chapter using the specific journal format of that chapter.
  4. Current Graduate School regulations regarding page margins remain in effect.
  5. All dissertations must have the following first pages:        

        page 1: Abstract page

        page 2: Title page

        page 3: Copyright page (optional)

        page 4: Committee page

        page 5: Acknowledgment page (optional)

        page 6: Table of contents