Degree Requirements

Degree requirements for the MESB Ph.D. degree include a series of core courses in scientific communications, applied bioinformatics, and ethical, legal, and social implications of modern biotechnology, as well as a research proposal, qualifying examinations, and the completion of a dissertation.

Research proposal: No later than at the conclusion of the second full semester of dissertation research (typically the third semester if rotating), students prepare a three-to-four-page, single-spaced, succinct synopsis of their thesis project, with citations. The synopsis includes:

1) Background: a summary of problem and general knowledge in the field
2) Hypotheses, questions, and relevance: articulates specific hypotheses, questions to be addressed, and importance of research
3) Approach: a general description of approaches with caveats, possible problems, alternative approaches, and resources of expertise
4) Timeline: a general timeline for completion of the work
5) Communication: potential audiences for the work (meetings, publications) 

Students submit this proposal to their guidance committee who will read it and provide input in a committee meeting, which should take place no later than the end of their third semester.

Qualifying examination: A qualifying examination has both a written and an oral section and is designed to test depth and breadth of knowledge in both the primary disciplinary area of study as well as in the student’s area of research beyond the primary specialization. The exam also tests the student’s ability to identify and describe significant and transformative research. Finally, it examines the student’s ability to develop and defend an original research plan. 

In order to prepare, students are encouraged to meet and discuss with their committee members the general topics likely to be covered during the oral exam. The written exam will be administered by the guidance committee in year three of study. The student will identify two current primary research papers (only one of which may be closely related to their dissertation research) that make a significant contributions to their respective fields. The committee will evaluate the student’s choices, and either select one of the papers, require the student to select additional papers, or provide a paper of their choice as the subject of the written exam. The written exam consists of i) a short review of the article indicating why the work is significant (~1 page), and ii) a synopsis proposal of what the next steps are in the research, following the format of an NSF pre-proposal or a letter of intent (four-page limit). The proposed research must be original and unpublished. Exactly three weeks are given for the written exam. If the committee agrees the student has passed the written exam, the oral exam will be scheduled. If a student doesn’t pass the written exam, guidance will be given to the student on what improvements must be made before scheduling a second attempt on the exam.

An oral defense of the review, synopsis proposal, and questions of general knowledge using the synopsis proposal as a vehicle will be conducted by the committee. Questions may also address the thesis project (which was presented to the committee the previous year). If desired, the student may provide a brief (10-minute maximum) update on their research at the beginning of the oral exam. The qualifying exam will be graded as Pass, Conditional Pass, or Not Pass. Students who conditionally pass likely had weaknesses identified by the committee, which can be remedied by additional work. Students who do not pass their exam showed insufficient mastery of material and will be required to repeat the oral exam at a later date.

Advancement to candidacy: The student is advanced to candidacy after the qualifying examination has been successfully passed, coursework and other requirements have been fulfilled, and the proposed subject of the dissertation declared.

Questions? Contact:

David Plachetzki, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Gregg Hall, Room 446
Durham, NH 03824
(603) 862-5144