College of Arts & Sciences Biology

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Doctor of Philosophy

Admission Requirements

Acceptance into the Biology Doctoral Program is based on cumulative grade point average (3.0 minimum), Graduate Record Examination scores for the general test, letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose. Applicants may apply with either a bachelor's or master's degree. Applicants must select and be accepted by a faculty advisor before their application is complete.

Graduate students currently enrolled in the M.S. program in Biology at USD may apply to the Ph.D. program by submitting the following to the graduate steering committee: 

  1. Satisfactory progress report (from most recent thesis progress meeting)
  2. Letter of application
  3. Letter of support from advisor

Advisory Committee

Doctoral students are required to select, correspond with and be accepted by a faculty advisor prior to admission. During the second semester of the first year or earlier, an advisory committee of five members should be formed (the faculty advisor plus four additional members). The advisor and student should determine committee composition. One member must be from outside the USD  Biology Department. Outside members may be from another USD department (Chemistry, Math and Medical School), or from SDSU (Biology, Microbiology, Fish and Wildlife).

It is the student's responsibility, in consultation with their advisor, to contact each member of the advisory committee to gain their agreement to serve on the committee and to notify the Biology chair of the committee composition. This may be done in the format of the annual progress report. The Graduate School Dean, in consultation with the Biology chair, formally appoints advisory committee members. A dissertation proposal in an appropriate format (e.g., NSF dissertation enhancement grant, USDA) must be approved by the advisory committee before the beginning of the second semester of the second year of the program.

Dissertation Research Proposal

A written dissertation proposal must be approved by the advisory committee by the end of the first semester of the second year. A typical proposal is approximately 10-15 double-spaced pages of text, with additional pages of references, figures, etc. Format of proposal needs to be discussed with the student's advisor. A draft of this proposal should be edited by the student's advisor before being given to other committee members. An advisory committee meeting should be scheduled to discuss the proposal, sign the approval of research proposal form, and approve the student's proposed program of study.

Program of Study

The program of study represents an agreement between the student and advisory committee about courses to be taken by the student during their tenure in the graduate program. The program of study must be comprised of all graduate work, and at least 50% of the course work must be completed at the 700-course level or above. Students must pay particular attention to this requirement and discuss it with their advisor. The student will draft a proposed program of study during their first year, generally at their first advisory committee meeting. The proposed program of study may be amended from time to time to compensate for changes in course offerings. The final program of study form must be filed by at least the first week of the academic term before the student expects to graduate, i.e., the semester before they graduate. The Graduate School cannot accept the program of study until the student's advisory committee and Biology department chair have signed it. The program of study form must be typed before submission to the Graduate School.

Comprehensive Exams

Each doctoral student will be required to take comprehensive written and a comprehensive oral examinations. These examinations should be taken before the beginning of the third year, after completion of most of the course work. Comprehensive exams must be taken during the second full week of classes each semester (September and January). Comprehensive examinations shall be under the supervision of the Graduate School Dean and will be conducted by the student's advisory committee. This committee will serve in delivering the comprehensive exams as well as the final oral exam. No student shall be considered to have passed the written or the oral examination with more than one dissenting vote. In the case of failure, the examination may be repeated after one semester of additional work. A second repetition is at the discretion of the advisory committee; they may also recommend dropping the student from the program.

The comprehensive written examination will consist of two sets of questions, a general biology set and a specialized area set. The general biology set will be assembled by the Biology graduate steering committee and the specialized area set by the student's advisory committee. The student will be allowed 2-3 days to answer the questions in each set, as each set takes up to about 15 hours to complete. A one- to two-day break between sets is strongly encouraged. The comprehensive oral examination will normally be given within a month after the successful comprehensive written examination. This examination will be designed by the advisory committee and will cover areas of weakness as demonstrated on the written examination. All examinations are open to the graduate faculty; however, participation is only with the consent of the chair of the committee or the Dean of the Graduate School. The student will be notified of the written exam results within 2-3 weeks after completion.

Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy

The student must obtain signatures for advancement to doctoral candidacy upon satisfactory completion of the comprehensive examinations.

Annual Dissertation Progress Report

All Ph.D. students must arrange an annual research progress meeting and submit an annual progress report. The first progress report and meeting must be arranged during the second semester of the second year. Students who propose their dissertation research and file the approval of research proposal form in the preceding semester do not need to schedule a progress report meeting or file a progress report during the second semester. The report is designed for the student's benefit to ensure adequate progress toward completion of the degree, to identify any major problems (logistical or conceptual) in the project, to address feasibility and practicality of approach, and to discuss accomplishments to date relative to what was proposed in the previous year's annual progress report.

The research progress meeting should be held during the second semester, and before March 15 each year. The thesis advisor and all committee members must be present; if necessary another Biology faculty may be substituted for absent members. The student is responsible for arranging the meeting.

Graduate students should prepare a concise (1-2 page) written dissertation progress report to give to all committee members at least one week prior to the meeting. It must include the following components: 

  1. Dissertation title, name, date, committee advisor and committee members with blank lines for signatures, and also the heading "Progress Report Evaluation" followed by several blank lines (to be filled in by the committee).
  2. The concise report (above).
  3. A schedule of objectives for the following year, including target dates, etc.
  4. A copy of the schedule for the preceding year (against which committee members may judge progress).

This report must be signed by the members and given to the Chair of the Graduate Steering Committee by March 15. If the report is not submitted by this date, the student may not be considered for Graduate Teaching Assistantship (G.T.A.) or Graduate Research Assistantship (G.R.A.) positions the following year.

Dissertation

The dissertation must embody the results of an original investigation and be sufficiently important as to warrant publication. An advisor-approved copy of the completed dissertation should be delivered to all members of the student's advisory committee at least two weeks before the date of the final oral examination. After approval of the dissertation by the advisory committee and the department chair, the candidate must submit three unbound copies of the dissertation to the Graduate School office at least two weeks before anticipated graduation. (Please contact the Graduate School for information on formatting requirements and specific deadline dates.) An additional bound copy is required for the  Biology department library. Before the degree is granted, the candidate must demonstrate proof to the Graduate School that arrangements have been made for binding the dissertation and submitting the abstract for cataloging with UMI University Abstracts; microfilming the dissertation is a requirement.

Application for Degree

Application for degree must be made no later than the first week of the session in which the student expects to complete degree requirements. The application for degree form must be signed by your advisor.

Final Exam

The advisory committee will conduct the final examination (i.e., the dissertation defense). This examination consists of a departmental research seminar and a final oral exam. The departmental research seminar is given during the final semester in residence in the forum of the Graduate Seminar in Biology (Biol 792/892). The final oral exam is conducted by the advisory committee. The exam focuses on the candidate's field of specialization, although it need not be confined exclusively to the subject matter of the dissertation. No student shall be considered to have passed this examination with more than one dissenting vote from the advisory committee. The final oral examination is open to the graduate faculty given the consent of the Advisory Committee Chair or the Graduate School Dean. 

Time Line

Suggested time line for completion of the Ph.D. requirements:

Year One:
  • Initiate course work
  • Initiate research
  • Select advisory committee (second semester)
  • Receive approval for proposed program of study during advisory committee meeting (second semester)
Year Two:
  • Receive approval for dissertation research proposal from committee (first semester)
  • Successfully complete comprehensive written and oral examinations (second semester)
  • Advance to doctoral candidacy
  • Complete first annual dissertation progress report (second semester)
Years Three & Four:
  • Continue and finish research
  • Submit annual progress reports each spring
Final Year:
  • File application for degree form
  • Write dissertation
  • Present departmental research seminar
  • Pass final oral exam
  • Submit final program of study
  • Submit unbound copies of approved dissertation to Graduate School
  • Submit graduation approval form