FAQ – Specific Questions About Our Program

Specific Questions About Our Program

What is the purpose of the “cluster” organization within the Biological Sciences Division?

The cluster system was developed to coordinate the activities of the many Ph.D. granting programs in the Biological Sciences Division. The key functions it serves is a shared recruiting and admissions process and a shared annual retreat. In addition, the units in the Molecular Biosciences Cluster have an open policy for transfer of students from one program to another within the cluster to accommodate students whose academic interests shift during the first year.


What’s the difference between a Department and a Committee?

As far as students are concerned, Departments and Committees are essentially the same; both types of groups run Ph.D. training programs. Departments control faculty hires and allocate lab space. Committees are Interdepartmental groupings of faculty who share common research approaches and interests.


How does the Committee on Genetics, Genomics & Systems Biology differ from the Department of Human Genetics and Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology?

The GGSB is designed to provide broad, in-depth training in diverse areas of genetics including population genetics, evolution, molecular genetics, genomics, systems biology, transmission genetics, model organism genetics, and human genetics.


Can I do more than 2 rotations?

Yes. Although it is often desirable to find the right home during one of the first two rotations, an additional rotation is allowed and sometimes recommended. Decisions about rotations are made in consultation with members of the Student Affairs Committee.


What is the Preliminary Exam?

The objective of the Preliminary Exam is to determine the strength of a student’s general knowledge of genetics as well as his/her ability to synthesize an overview of literature on a particular topic of interest. This exam is in September following the student’s first year. Students are given a list of questions to choose from and have two weeks to prepare. They give an oral presentation of their answers to a committee of three faculty.


Can I join a lab in which the PI does not have an appointment in the Committee on Genetics, Genomics & Systems Biology?

Yes. In the event the student chooses to work with a member of the faculty who does not have an appointment in the GGSB, the student must petition the Committee for approval.


What is the Qualifying Exam?

The Qualifying Exam evaluates a student’s ability to propose and defend a doctoral thesis research plan. It occurs at the end of the second year, after the student has spent approximately 10 months in the thesis lab. Students prepare a written research proposal and also present their proposal orally. The Exam Committee is chosen by the student and mentor in consultation with the Student Affairs Committee. After the Qualifying Exam, the Exam Committee becomes the student’s Thesis Advisory Committee.


How do I choose my Thesis Advisory Committee?

The student and mentor propose the group of three faculty they feel are best suited to advise on the research topic. The Student Advisory Committee reviews the proposal and sometimes recommends an additional member be added. At least three members of the Thesis Advisory Committee must have appointments in the GGSB.


How often do I meet with my Thesis Advisory Committee?

After the initial meeting at the Qualifying Exam, students meet at least once a year with their Thesis Advisory Committee. A brief written report is provided to the committee members before hand to help them prepare for the meeting.


Am I required to teach any classes?

The ability to communicate verbally and teach is an important skill for a successful research career. All students are required to serve as teaching assistants (TAs) for two quarters. This usually occurs during the second and third years.


How much time will it take for me to get a Ph.D.?

The time to a degree in our program is usually 5.5 to 6.0 years.


Is it possible for me to get a Master’s Degree?

Yes and no. The GGSB does not have a specific Master’s Degree program nor are students admitted as Master’s Degree candidates. However, a student who decides not to complete his/her Ph.D. candidacy, or who loses Ph.D. candidate status may be eligible for a Master’s Degree. A minimum requirement for a Masters is a “B” average and a passing grade on the Preliminary Exam. The Steering Committee makes final decisions with respect to the granting of Master Degrees. Again, we do not admit students interested only in Master’s degrees.