Ph.D Program Policies
Graduate School guidelines and requirements for Ph.D. degrees are provided on the Graduate School webpage. 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.
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. PhD Dissertation Defense Checklist.
- 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 Graduate School webpage. 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. 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 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 copy of the form will be placed in your file in the Biology office. PhD Dissertation Committee Form
- Following admission to the Ph.D. program and satisfactory progress, students must apply for admission to candidacy by the end of their 4th semester in the program. Failure to apply for and attain candidacy by the start of the 5th semester in the program will result in the student’s TA stipend being reduced to the MS level until candidacy is attained.
- 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 assesses 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 components. The Dissertation Committee guides and evaluates research in the area of specialization that the student has chosen, as well as advises 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 by the start of the student's 4th semester in the program. This 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; 2) Proposal defense, in which a detailed, written dissertation proposal following the guidelines of either NSF or NIH, is evaluated by the committee, the student is questioned by the committee on the content of the proposal, and suggestions for changes are given by the committee. The two parts typically take place in a single meeting of the student and the Dissertation Committee. See below for recommended steps and timeline for the combined Qualifying Examination/Proposal defense. 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 Assistant Director of Graduate Studies.
- After completing the research and writing a dissertation, the student must defend the dissertation in the Dissertation Defense oral examination.
- 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 4 PM Tuesday seminar may be scheduled. PhD students planning to graduate in a given 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.
- 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 form must be signed by either the Graduate Director or the School Director.
- Extensions of deadlines for the Dissertation Committee formation or for the combined Qualifying Examination/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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 Assistant Director for Graduate Studies will serve as your academic advisor until you have selected a major professor.
- 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 of Biological Sciences.
- The Dissertation Committee must be formed by the end of the 2nd 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 (available in the Biology office) and the form is submitted to the Biology office and 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.
- Take and pass the combined Qualifying Examination/Proposal Defense (Format and timeline of the Qualifying Exam/Proposal Defense given below).
- 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 to the Graduate School a signed School of Biological Science Right to Defend Form for PhD Students
- The student must defend the dissertation in the Dissertation Defense oral examination.
- 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.)
- A copy of the Residency Form (obtained from the Biology Sciences Office) will be 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 within a 12-month period. A completed and signed Residency Form must be submitted to the Graduate School.
- 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. To graduate in any semester the examination must be completed on or before the date that the Graduate School has specified as the date for final submission of dissertations for that semester.
- 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 major professor are responsible for scheduling the Oral Dissertation Defense Examination at a time and place that satisfies the requirements in 8 through 10, above. The Biology Sciences Office must be informed of both the time and place of examination. The Biology Sciences Office in turn notifies the Graduate School and the Biology Faculty. 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.
- 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.
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 by the end of the 4th semester. The combined 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 qualifying exam outcome form, and the proposal defense form will be submitted to the Graduate School and the student will advance to candidacy. A suggested timeline leading up to the combined exam is:
Committee formation (before the end of semester 2): In consultation with the Dissertation Advisor, the student will contact 4 or more Graduate Faculty and present them with a 1-2 page outline of the proposed research, in a format consistent with, for example, the Specific Aims page of a NIH grant proposal. The student will, as needed, discuss with the Faculty Member the proposed research.
(before the end of semester 2) When all Committee Members have agreed to serve on the committee, a completed and signed Dissertation Committee Form should be submitted to the Biological Sciences Office and a copy will be deposited in the student's folder. At this time the committee should meet with the student and decide course requirements and identify any course deficiencies. A list of these course deficiencies should be filed in the Biological Sciences Office.
(before the end of semester 2) The Committee Members should inform the student of the general areas in which they expect the student to demonstrate adequate knowledge and expertise during the Qualifying Exam component. These expectations should be conveyed in writing (with cc to the Graduate Studies Committee) and may take several forms: reading lists from the primary literature; questions to study; lists of topics to know; etc.
Combined Qualifying Exam/Proposal Defense (before the end of semester 4):
Oral Exam 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, brown bag, or special seminar that should be scheduled and announced to the Faculty and Graduate Students of the school (at least 1 week before the event). The Oral Qualifying Examination itself will consist of a meeting in which Committee Members assess student's knowledge of and ability to discuss scientific issues indicated by the Committee (see item 3. above), and any other questions that arise during discussions. The Major Professor is responsible for recording the qualifying examination questions asked and reporting the Committee's assessment of the quality of the answers.
Written Proposal/Proposal Defense 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. This should consist of a research proposal, written as an NIH, NSF, or similar proposal on the student's dissertation topic. The proposal should place the research into the context of the literature in the field; describe hypotheses that will be tested; and describe appropriate methods, data analysis, and interpretation that will test those hypotheses. The goal is for the student to prepare a proposal that, with input from the Dissertation Committee and subsequent revisions, is of sufficient quality for submission to an external funding organization. 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. The Defense of proposal component will consist of the committee questioning the student about the background, significance, hypotheses, and methods for research.
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 Assistant 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.
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.
* Appendix 1
ALTERNATIVE DISSERTATION FORMAT
- 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.
- Each chapter must be preceded by a page containing the chapter (Roman) numeral and title of chapter, e.g.,
DO POLYANDROUS HOUSE WRENS GAIN INDIRECT GENETIC BENEFITS FOR SOME OF THEIR OFFSPRING?
- An optional introductory first chapter and/or summary last chapter may be included.
- Pagination must be continuous throughout the document and may be placed at the bottom center of all pages.
- A separate Literature Cited may be given in each chapter using the specific journal format of that chapter.
- Current Graduate School regulations regarding page margins remain in effect.
- 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