School of Medicine

Department of Cell Biology & Anatomy

  In order to obtain a Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Anatomy, students must:
  1. complete the qualifying process
  2. pass the preliminary examination 
  3. write thesis/dissertation
  4. defend thesis/dissertation




During the first two years of the student's graduate program, students will be required to take as many graduate level courses as scheduling permits in order to satisfy all graduate school and departmental requirements. The Qualifying Process will begin after completion of these two years of coursework. The departmental DCN (Development and Cellular Neuroscience) Graduate Studies Committee will review each student's performance in these courses and establish a date for the Qualifying Exam.

The Qualifying Exam will consist of a written examination and an oral presentation. For the written exam, members of the cell biology and anatomy research faculty will submit 1-2 questions that evaluate concepts covered in the student's coursework.

For the oral component, the student will give a 35-45 minute seminar to CB&A (Cell Biology and Anatomy) faculty covering their research topic. CB&A faculty will then have an hour to ask questions regarding the research project and any related neurobiological concepts that pertain to that project.

Both the oral and written portions will be evaluated by the departmental Graduate Studies Committee and by the faculty member who served as the student's research mentor. Based upon all of these evaluations (the results of the student's Qualifying Exam and the student's performance on all of his/her coursework), the committee will then vote to advance the student into the Ph.D. Program.

If after the qualifying exam, questions arise as to the student's ability to complete the Ph.D. degree, remedial work addressing knowledge gaps/deficiencies may be recommended by the Graduate Studies Committee. The composition of this remedial work may be recommended by the Graduate Studies Committee. The composition of this remedial work will be a combination of additional writing on the student's field of research and any additional questions deemed necessary by the CB&A research faculty. Students engaged in remedial work will receive a written report from the faculty involved concerning their progress in the student's graduate program at the end of the semester. It is expected that the Qualifying Process will normally be completed by the end of the student's second year of study (end of Summer Semester) and never later than the end of the Fall Semester of the third year.

If a student does not pass the Qualifying Exam and/or does not successfully complete the recommended remedial coursework BUT is capable of completing a master's thesis, the student will be transferred to the Master of Sciences in Biomedical Sciences program in the School of Graduate Studies. This policy would also be in place for any other changes or circumstances that may arise which would prevent a student from continuing in his/her PhD program.

The Graduate School requires a minimum of 60 credit hours, including 30 credit hours of courses requiring a letter grade. The Graduate School also does not allow any more than 15 credit hours to be used for a student's research/dissertation, and no more than 4 credit hours can be used for seminars. Inter 220 and Inter 260 (ethics) are required courses. Also, MD/PhD students can transfer no more than 26 credit hours of medical school coursework in which they received a grade of 'honors' or 'high pass'.:

Following is a list from which students can select graduate courses they would like to take for credit:

Biochemistry INTER 111 4 Credits
Cell and Molecular Biology A INTER 121 3 Credits
Cell and Molecular Biology B INTER 122 3 Credits
Biological Systems A INTER 131 2 Credits
Biological Systems B INTER 132 5 Credits
Experimental Design & Analysis INTER 143 2 Credits
Genetics INTER 141 2 Credits
Pharmacology INTER 142 2 Credits
Ethics in the Biomedical Sciences INTER 220 1 Credit
Responsible Conduct of Research INTER 260 1 Credit
Molecular Neurobiology NRSC 250 4 Credits
Neuroanatomy ANAT 6533 4 Credits
Synaptic Organization of the Brain ANAT 264 3 Credits
Laboratory Rotation ANAT 270 3 Credits
Special Topics ANAT 280  
Seminar ANAT 290 1 Credit
Thesis Research ANAT 300 1-6 Credits
Dissertation Research ANAT 400 1-9 Credits
Advanced Topic Electives   7 Credits



All students pursuing the Ph.D. are required to pass the Preliminary Examination. This examination must be completed at least one academic year prior to graduation, but usually at the end of year 3. Performance on the Preliminary Examination will be decided by vote of the student's Dissertation Committee. Satisfactory completion of this examination requires that the student receives not more than one negative vote from his/her committee. Successful completion of this examination admits the student to Candidacy for the Doctoral degree. The format of the Preliminary Exam is: 

An oral exam on an NIH-format research proposal prepared by the student. Preparation of this proposal is designed help the student develop writing skills, to discover bibliographic resources and, in particular, to become acquainted with the large body of primary research literature pertinent to his/her field. The format also assists the student to think critically and to develop hypothesis-driven research projects. The NIH format should include sections on Specific Aims, Background and Significance, Experimental Design, Preliminary Results, and Materials and Methods.

It is expected that this proposal will be in the area of the student's dissertation research. The exam will be supervised by the student's Dissertation Committee and will be open to all departmental faculty. The exam may include questions related in any way to the research proposal, including theoretical questions about proposed techniques, rationale for such techniques, questions about the literature cited, etc. 

If a student does not pass the preliminary exam, but is capable of completing a master's thesis, the student will be transferred to the Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences program.



Research in preparation of a doctoral dissertation will normally occupy the majority of the student's time during the final stage of his/her training. Each doctoral student will undertake a research project that will form the basis of a dissertation to be submitted to the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy and the School of Graduate Studies. The student's dissertation committee will oversee the progress of this research project and determine when to begin preparing the dissertation. The standards and procedures for completing the dissertation are described below. The dissertation should be of a quality acceptable for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

It is to the student's advantage to provide manuscript drafts of the dissertation to the members of the Committee for their criticism prior to scheduling the defense.



The final oral examination (Defense of Dissertation) will be scheduled and taken only after all other graduate school and departmental requirements are satisfied and the dissertation is approved in its final form. Students must submit a final draft of the dissertation to their committee at least 2 weeks before the defense.

The student will present his/her research in a departmental seminar (usually 45 to 60 minutes), immediately preceding the defense of his/her dissertation.  The public is invited to attend and ask questions. The student's Research Committee will have the last opportunity to question the student on the dissertation work. After the questioning has been completed, the Research Committee will adjourn to deliberate on the defense and to sign a document stating its approval. The research should be worthy of publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Following successful completion of the defense, it will be the student's responsibility to comply with all the regulations of the Graduate School in regard to turning in the final version of the dissertation.