Academic Program

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The Graduate Program in Genetics and Genomics aims to teach our students not only how to apply the approaches of hypothesis-testing genetics and hypothesis-generating genomics to biomedical research, but also how to function as active members of the scientific community who can clearly communicate ideas, critically evaluate biomedical research, and mentor others in scientific scholarship. Towards this end, we have designed a complementary set of degree requirements to meet these goals consisting of traditional coursework, journal clubs, seminar series, and a research proposal-based qualifying examination for Ph.D. students. The coursework will be completed during the first two years of study, and further details about the courses themselves are available here. The rest of the academic program is described below.

Laboratory Rotations

Our Ph.D. candidates participate in a minimum of three laboratory rotations while they are completing their first year of study as a PiBS student. The PiBS program provides advising to help students identify rotations that reflect their scientific interests. These rotations will ensure exposure to a variety of scientific approaches and will last approximately ten weeks each with one during the fall semester and two during the spring semester. Due to time constraints, M.D.-Ph.D. students will have the option of joining a dissertation laboratory after two rotations, and they will frequently complete these rotations during the summers adjacent to their MD studies.

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Teaching Requirement

Upon successful completion of the core courses, Ph.D. students will serve as teaching assistants for one of the Program’s courses. The teaching assistants will have the opportunity to lead discussion and review sections, provide tutoring, as well as support exam and homework grading. The TA assignments will be made according to academic performance in the courses in question. Going through a TA training workshop and acting as a TA for one course will satisfy the teaching requirement for the Ph.D. degree, but further teaching opportunities will be available for students who are interested in developing these skills.

The Qualifying Process

Successful completion of the coursework and rotations during the first two years of graduate study will prepare the Ph.D. students to advance to Ph.D. candidacy through the qualifying process. This process depends on the following sequence of events:

  1. Completion of all required core and elective courses with a passing grade (A to B average for all courses with the exception of 900-level courses (research credits) which are graded on a Pass/Fail scale).
  2. Skilled preparation of a twelve-page, written, grant-style dissertation proposal based on their thesis research.
  3. Skillful performance in an oral examination based on the written proposal. This forum will test the student’s ability to critically think about the area of their thesis research and about biological problems in general. The examining panel will also be free to explore outside topics in order to assess the student’s knowledge of genetics and genomics broadly. The examining panel will be chosen by the student, dissertation advisor, and program director based on related areas of expertise to the proposed dissertation research. The panel will be composed of five faculty members, three members who must be faculty of the Graduate Program in Genetics and Genomics and two additional members who are faculty members at Boston University but outside the Program. The examining panel will be required to adhere to the written guidelines of the Qualifying Examination Format Committee to ensure the equitable administration of the exam.

These milestones will be completed by summer of the second year.

Dissertation Research

Upon advancing to Ph.D. candidacy, graduate students will focus on their dissertation research. This research will be conducted under the supervision of their chosen graduate advisor. The student will be responsible for conducting a rigorous, in-depth program of investigation into an area of research that is within the scope of their graduate advisor’s expertise and interests. The student’s progress will be assessed continuously by the graduate advisor and annually by a dissertation advisory committee. This committee will be composed of the student’s advisor and at least four other faculty members with a minimum of two faculty members from the Graduate Program in Genetics and Genomics and one faculty member from an outside program, potentially including neighboring Universities as well. The dissertation advisory committee will serve to provide outside perspectives on the research program.

While the student is conducting their dissertation research, they actively participate in the Genome Science Institute seminar series, give Research in Progress talks annually, and attend lab meetings and other research activities of their thesis lab. Students also have the opportunity to interact more privately with GSI visiting seminar speakers through organized student lunch forums. Students will also complete the certificate program in “The Responsible Conduct of Research” that is currently available to the Boston University School of Medicine through a series of four 2-hour workshops.

Although the period of dissertation research will not be limited in maximal duration, it is the job of the dissertation advisory committee to facilitate expeditious progress towards the Ph.D. degree, usually within 5 to 6 years. Once the research has developed into several chapters of publication quality work, the advisory committee will ask the student to begin compiling her written thesis, and a date for the Division public seminar and formal dissertation defense will be scheduled. The public seminar will be delivered to a general audience of the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences faculty, students, and researchers. Later that day, the public seminar will be followed by a formal dissertation defense which will occur behind closed doors in the presence of the Dissertation Advisory Committee. This committee will evaluate the student’s thesis defense for satisfactory completion of the degree requirements.

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