Ph.D Program Policies

Graduate School guidelines requirements and forms for Ph.D. degrees are provided on the Graduate School webpage. All Ph.D. students are expected to be aware of these requirements.

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

  1. 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 faculty advisor and dissertation committee. PhD Dissertation Defense Checklist.
  2. 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 (by start of 3rd semester), take and pass the combined Ph.D. qualifying exam, and Ph.D. dissertation proposal defense (by start of the 5th semester).  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.
  3. Seminar Requirements: Ph.D. students are required to enroll for four BSC 420 credits. Also, attendance at official School seminars (4pm each Thursday during the academic year, occasionally 4pm Tuesdays) is required unless the student is officially excused because of course or teaching conflicts
  4. Ph.D. dissertation committees consist of the advisor and at least four additional faculty members.  At least two of the committee members in addition to the faculty advisor chair 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 or via the link below and return the completed form to the office no later than the start of their 3rd semester in the program. A completed copy should be emailed the Director of Graduate Studies and Barbara Cox.  PhD Dissertation Committee Form  Together with this form, you should submit a 1-2 page outline of your dissertation, which lays out its general aims.
  5. Complete the CITI Responsible Conduct of Research Basic Course (Biomedical). Details and links to the training can be found here: CITI training registration details can be found here: There are 15 required modules, with an estimated completion time of 4-6 hours for all modules. Upon completion, please save your Completion Report, which should be submitted (to Barb Cox and the School of Biological Sciences Graduate Director) based on the following: 

    Degree start August 2024 or later: evidence of completion submitted with Committee Formation form 
    Degree start before August 2024: completion submitted with Right to Defend form in final semester
    Degree completion December 2024 or sooner: no required completion of training
    Research advisors may require completion of training ahead of these School-wide deadlines.

  6. Following admission to the Ph.D. program and satisfactory progress, students must apply for admission to candidacy by the start of their 5th semester in the program.
  7. The goal of the process of admission to candidacy through the combined Qualifying Exam and Dissertation Proposal Defense 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 oral Qualifying Examination 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.). 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. 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 guides and evaluate research in the area of specialization that the student has chosen, as well as advising the student on any academic or scientific issues. Successful completion of the dissertation proposal defense constitutes completion of both the Qualifying Examination and the Proposal Defense
  8. A Dissertation Proposal Seminar must take place prior to the competition of the combined Qualifying Exam and Proposal Defense in a School lunchtime or specially arranged seminar that must be announced to the School. This Proposal seminar must be announced by Barbara Cox, along with details of the Proposal Defense at least one-week prior to the date.
  9. 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 complete an oral qualifying exam and defend the proposal at a meeting of the committee.  The combined event consists of two distinct parts of equal importance: 1) Qualifying exam, in which the student will respond to a variety of questions from the committee related to the student's knowledge of their area of specialization; (these questions and adequacy of responses should be recorded by the faculty advisor); 2) Proposal defense, in which the dissertation proposal is evaluated by the committee, the student questioned on the content and suggestions for changes are given. The two parts typically take place in a single meeting of the student and the Dissertation Committee. The draft dissertation proposal should be approved by the student's dissertation advisor prior to the defense of the proposal before the full committee. The outcome of the combined Qualifying Examination/Proposal Defense will be reported by email from the dissertation advisor to the Director of Graduate Studies, including the Qualifying Exam questions.
  10. Ordinarily, approximately 3 hours should be scheduled for the combined examination following the seminar. Time allotted to the two components may vary but 1 hour for Qualifying Exam, 2 hours for Proposal Defense is suggested as the average. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Dissertation Committee will vote to pass or fail the student on the overall combined Qualifying Examination/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. The Dissertation Advisor is responsible for reporting the outcome of the combined qualifying examination/proposal defense (Pass or Fail) to the Director for Graduate Studies, who is responsible for reporting the outcome to the Graduate School along with the required forms. Upon passing the combined Qualifying Examination/Proposal Defense (both written and oral components), the student will incorporate suggestions from the proposal seminar and oral defense, and submit a final, improved copy of the dissertation proposal to the Dissertation Committee for approval within 2 months of the combined Qualifying Exam/Proposal Defense date. After approval by the Dissertation Committee, the final draft of the proposal will be submitted to the Biological Sciences Office, the completed Outcome Proposal Defense Form (available on the Graduate School website) will be submitted to the Graduate School, and the student will advance to candidacy. If a student fails the combined qualifying examination/proposal defense, the student may attempt to qualify one additional time, within 6 months of the initial attempt.
  11. After completing the research and writing a dissertation, the student must defend the dissertation in the Dissertation Defense oral examination.
  12. The dissertation defense must be preceded in the same semester by a defense seminar given in the School Seminar series (typically 4pm Thursday in Fall and Spring semesters). If this is not possible (e.g., more Ph.D. students planning to defend than can be accommodated, or an unanticipated need to defend arises), a special 4pm Tuesday seminar may be scheduled. PhD students planning to graduate in each semester are responsible for contacting the School Seminar coordinator to reserve a date on the schedule. For degrees completed in Summer, seminars may be scheduled in late Spring, or a special seminar may be scheduled in Summer. The seminar will be announced to the entire school at least one week ahead of the seminar. It will be given in a room that can accommodate all faculty and graduate students in Biological Sciences.
  13. 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 a signed School of Biological Sciences Right to Defend Form  signed by the Director of Graduate Studies.
  14. Extensions of deadlines for the Dissertation Committee formation or for the combined Qualifying Examination/Proposal Defense require approval of the Graduate Studies Committee. Extenuating circumstances to justify deviation from the plan described above must be explained. 
  15. 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.
  16. Advisor and advisee relationships may not always be smooth, and they must be worked on by both faculty members and students alike. However, we recognize that sometimes the relationship may be deemed unsustainable despite all best efforts. The Graduate Studies Committee will work with the student to ensure fair and equal treatment during this transition, and provide all reasonable assistance to facilitate the student’s success and eventual graduation from the program. Any issues should be discussed with the Director of the Graduate Program.
  17. Policies for integrity in research are outlined in University Policies and Procedures 1.8 and policies for student academic integrity here If academic misconduct is suspected at any time during the process of a thesis / dissertation, the process will be paused before passing through any further benchmarks (e.g., Proposal Approval, Outcome of Defense, etc.). The committee will review the suspected misconduct. If the issue cannot be resolved as a misunderstanding of the situation by the committee, they will report the issue to the School Graduate Director and Graduate Studies Committee. A meeting will be held to review the case and to determine the next, which will likely include the required elevation the issue as laid out in the Student Code of Conduct, the Policy for Integrity in Research, or as relevant to external funding guidelines.

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

Read the graduate catalog and comply with all University requirements. The following requirements are listed in the order in which they should be met. Graduate School forms and deadlines, that are referred to below.

The Dissertation Committee must be formed by the start 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. The Dissertation Committee is created when members sign Biology's Dissertation Committee Form and the form is submitted to Director of Graduate Studies and Barbara Cox. The Dissertation Committee will also decide course requirements and identify any course deficiencies. 

  1. Complete the CITI Responsible Conduct of Research Basic Course (Biomedical).
  2. Take and pass the combined Qualifying Examination/Proposal Defense (Format and timeline of the Qualifying Exam/Proposal Defense given above.
  3. Signed Proposal approval forms must be submitted by the start of your 5th full semester in the program.  Proposal Approval Form.pdf
  4. Prior to the semester in which you plan to graduate, obtain the detailed calendar of events prescribed for the semester in which you will graduate (available on the Graduate School website). Important details are specified each semester on this calendar, such as when you must apply for graduation, file degree audit, pay your fees, hold your thesis defense, when the thesis must be deposited in the Graduate School, etc. Your faculty advisor must agree about your readiness to defend your thesis.
  5. Early in your final semester file your Ph.D. Degree Audit Form. Email it to the Graduate Director who will forward it to the Graduate School. Note that in some cases, syllabi of courses you took may be required. You must file an application for graduation.
  6. Before you begin to write your dissertation, consult the formatting guidelines for theses/dissertations which provides information on issues of format. Submitted or published manuscripts may be formatted by journal guidelines, but a note of the status of the manuscript must be placed at the start of the relevant chapter.
  7. Prior to scheduling the Dissertation Defense, the student must have submitted or published at least 2 manuscripts based on the dissertation research and must have submitted a signed School of Biological Science Right to Defend Form.
  8. IMPORTANT, THERE ARE TWO RIGHT TO DEFEND FORMS: 10 business days before your defense date upload a draft of your dissertation to ProQuest. Also, complete and submit BOTH the Graduate School Right to Defend Form and the School of Biological Sciences Right to Defend Form to the Director of Graduate Studies and Barbara Cox together with a copy of your thesis. A copy of the Graduate School Right to Defend form is available on the Graduate School website. Provide the date, time and location of your defense, your title and your committee member names to Barbara Cox and your defense will be announced to the School.  The defense must be scheduled on or before the date that the Graduate School has specified as the date for final submission of theses/dissertations.
  9. The student must defend the dissertation in the Dissertation Defense oral examination.
  10. In the same semester as the Dissertation defense, the student will present a defense seminar in the School seminar series (or in a similar special seminar announced to the School Faculty and graduate students, and scheduled in a venue of a size comparable to that used for the School seminar series.)
  11. The student is responsible for depositing with the Biological Sciences Office an electronic copy of the dissertation in the approved format. The student and the faculty advisor are responsible for scheduling the Oral Dissertation Defense Examination at a time and place that satisfies the requirements above. The Biology Sciences Office must be informed of both the time and place of examination. The Biology Sciences Office in turn notifies the School. The deposited dissertation will be available to all Biological Sciences Graduate Faculty. Deposit of the dissertation and the announcement of the defense must occur a minimum of one week before the defense takes place.
  12. 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. After the dissertation is uploaded 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.