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Biochemistry Ph.D. Assessment Plan 

student poster presentation


The following tools are used to assess Ph.D. students' mastery of the learning objectives: 

A. Annual Reviews with Supervisory Committee
B. Written Qualifying Exams
C. Oral Qualifying Exams
D. Oral and Poster Presentations
E. Publications
F. Dissertation and Defense


Annual Reviews with Supervisory Committee

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

Medium

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

Annual meetings with the supervisory committee result in significant progress towards Learning Objectives 2 and 3 by providing an opportunity for students to present a research summary and discuss their research progress with their committee.  These meetings also provide a venue for feedback about the progress being made on the research project, to clarify expectations for the successful completion of the degree, and for constructive criticism to be given when necessary. Committees particularly look for progress in the areas below, and comment on these in the letter following each annual meeting that is placed in the student’s file.

In consultation with the major advisor, the student will then select a supervisory committee for approval by the Department Head. For a Ph.D. student, a minimum of five faculty members are required, with at least four members coming from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and one from another Department; a minimum of two members must be chosen from the Division of Biochemistry.

Committee Meeting Progress Report Checklist

First Meeting:

  • Is satisfactory progress being made in completing coursework on the Program of Study, and are grades satisfactory?
  • Is satisfactory progress being made in the research project; is progress toward research proficiency evident, and does the student show signs of taking intellectual ownership?
  • Does the student meet the advisor’s expectations with regard to time and effort, lab safety, notebook standards, and citizenship?
  • Is there evidence that the student reads and understands the current literature in their research area?


Subsequent Meetings:

  • Has clear research progress been made since the previous year’s meeting?
  • Has the student produced work that has been presented at conferences, or in publications? If not, is there clear progress toward this goal; what are the committee’s expectations in this area, and are they being met?


Particularly Important for Fourth Year and Beyond:

  • Does the level of measurable research progress, in terms of meeting abstracts or manuscripts, compare favorably with previous successful Ph.D. students, in a comparable research area, at this point in their studies?
  • Has the candidate taken intellectual ownership of their project? Can he/she make choices about the next steps in research, or just doing what they are told?
  • If any these areas are not clearly satisfactorily, is there justification for continuation in the Ph.D. program?


Any areas in need of improvement should be clearly identified in the letter, and the student given constructive criticisms during the meeting. Expectations to be met before the following year’s meeting should be specified in the letter.

Format of the Meeting: An essential part of the committee meeting is a discussion of the student's research progress. Students should come to the meeting with their notebooks, and any other materials needed to enable them to answer questions and discuss their results. The progress report must be given to committee members no later than 10 days before the meeting, and may include any publications since the previous meeting. An oral PowerPoint presentation may be a part of the annual meeting, but is not mandated. Students should consult with their committee in advance of the meeting to ascertain whether or not such a presentation will be expected, and its length.

Written Qualifying Exams

 

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

High

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

The written candidacy exams make significant contributions towards all three learning objectives since the exams are designed to test a student’s mastery of both basic and specialized knowledge in their research area. These exams also test a student’s ability to effectively communicate complex ideas and concepts in a written format. 

In addition to passing the six (6) credits of graduate biochemistry core, Ph.D. students must pass a qualifying examination. This examination must be taken by the end of the seventh semester after entrance, including summer semesters. In order to schedule the examination, a student must pass 7 of the 8 Chem 5700 and Chem 5710 exams, including final exams, as a graduate student with an 80% or better. Each student will be encouraged to attend the Chem 5700/5710 lectures and will be given access to all Canvas materials for the course, including examples of past exams. Students who do not pass an exam or multiple exams in their first year will have an opportunity to take the equivalent exam when it is administered the following year. Students who do not achieve an 80% or higher on 7 of the 8 exams (by the end of their second year in the program) will be advised on degree alternatives. In the event that a student changes from the M.S. program to the Ph.D. program or changes major advisors within the Biochemistry Program, the student will be given four semesters after the change to pass the required Chem 5700/5710 exams and complete the qualifying examination unless the Supervisory Committee recommends otherwise to the Graduate Studies Committee. If a student transfers from any other degree program to the Biochemistry Program, that student will be considered a new student in the program and will also have seven semesters from the semester of transfer in which to pass the required Chem 5700/5710 exams and complete the qualifying exam.

Oral Qualifying Exams

 

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

High

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

The oral qualifying exams make significant contributions towards all three learning objectives since they require a high level of competency in fundamental skills, knowledge in a specialized area, and both written and oral communication skills.

The oral qualifying examination will include a formal, written research proposal patterned after those submitted to national funding agencies, including specific aims, progress report, and experimental lines to be pursued. Specific formatting instructions can be found in "Guidelines for the Qualifying Examination in the Biochemistry Program" document. The proposal must contain original ideas, but it will be based on the student's own research project. Consequently, direct assistance from the major advisor will not be permitted in either the writing or the formulation of original avenues of investigation. A student is permitted to solicit information from others, including faculty. However, this must be done on a strictly limited basis and good judgment must be exercised on both sides. It is expected that originality and the bulk of the preparation of the proposal represent the student's own work. If a student is in doubt about the propriety of requesting information in a specific case, the examination committee should be consulted. Any information in the written proposal obtained from others should be acknowledged. The proposal will be presented at a formal, open seminar. The student will meet with the examination committee within 5 working days following the seminar to defend the proposal orally. A detailed description of the expectations for this examination is contained in the document, "Guidelines for the Qualifying Examination in the Biochemistry Program". Immediately following the examination, the examination committee will decide if the student has passed or failed each of the three components of the exam. In the case of no more than a single negative vote, a recommendation of pass will be forwarded to the student. In the event of failure, the student will be provided with a written statement that clearly details what the student must do to pass the examination in the event that he or she petitions to retake it.

The supervisory committee will serve as the examination committee except that the major advisor will not participate as a voting member of the committee. A biochemist member of the supervisory committee will serve as chair of the examination committee and the student will select the chair from among the biochemistry members. The major advisor will attend the exam, but should remain quiet until the end of the exam. The PI can then provide clarifying comments to the Committee after the student is excused, if needed. Upon petition, a student who fails the examination may be allowed to retake it once upon approval of the examination committee in consultation with the major advisor. Consequently, the written document given to the student following the examination must be agreed upon by the committee in detail before being transmitted to the student. The conditions for retaking the examination must be explicit enough so that someone who was not present at the meeting can judge exactly what is expected of the student. The time period within which the examination must be re-taken must be clearly stated (a date would be most appropriate). The conditions for the second examination, if approved, will be set by the examination committee.

Students who do not pass the examination may transfer to the M.S. degree program. If, after completing the M.S. degree, a student failing the oral exam wishes to reapply to the PhD program, the student must petition the Graduate Studies committee to that effect. This petition should explain why the student believes they can succeed in this program, and any extenuating circumstances concerning their previous failure. In addition, this petition must be supported by at least one faculty member in the Department who would be willing to accept the student into their research group if they are readmitted to the Ph.D. program.

Oral and Poster Presentations

 

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

Medium

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

A key component in the achievement of Learning Objective 3 (Development of communication & professional preparation) involves the development of competence in presenting scientific results and conclusions. At the same time, the development of an effective research presentation involves mastery of foundational skills (Learning Objective 1) and research skills (Learning Objective 2).

Assessment of this learning objective is achieved in the following ways:

  1. Seminar Course: Seminars scheduled under the Biochemistry program are an important aspect of graduate training. Students will register for one of these seminar programs in the Fall and Spring during the first two years of the program. Annual participation in the Departmental section (CHEM 7800-001) of the seminar program is mandatory regardless of the student’s registration status, and students must also register for the appropriate section based on area of research. The grading for seminar is on a Pass/Fail basis. Each student will present at least one seminar each year regardless of seminar registration status. Students’ attendance and a satisfactory annual seminar presentation are a requirement for continuation in the program, and will be evaluated at the annual meeting with the supervisory committee. The student will present a departmental seminar reporting the results of their research as part of the defense of the Ph.D. dissertation.
  2. Presentations at Conferences and Professional Meetings: An important component of a Ph.D. student’s development is their presentation of research results at conferences and professional meetings. These experiences require students to prepare highly professional oral talks and posters for presentation to peers in their research field.

Publications

 

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

Medium

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

Another critical aspect of Learning Objective 3 (Development of communication & professional preparation) is the publication of research work in peer-reviewed journals. This process takes place under the close mentorship of the student’s supervisor and is a critical component of the scientific process.  It also requires mastery of foundational skills (Learning Objective 1) and knowledge in a chosen area (Learning Objective 2).  While expectations regarding number of publications varies between research groups, all Ph.D. students are expected to publish results in peer-reviewed journals during their program and publication is an important part of the assessment done by the student’s committee.

Dissertation and Defense

The dissertation and defense provide an opportunity for final assessment of student’s success in achieving all three learning objectives.

After completing research, students must report their results in a Ph.D. dissertation. A copy must be given to each member of the supervisory committee at least four weeks before the final examination is held. The student and the supervisory committee members must complete and sign an Appointment for Examination form for submission to the School of Graduate Studies at least ten days prior to the examination. The defense must be coordinated with the departmental seminar coordinator and announced to the faculty at least one week in advance.

The final defense of the dissertation or thesis includes a formal departmental seminar followed immediately by a closed meeting of the candidate with the supervisory committee. Although a detailed summary of the research is expected, the seminar should demonstrate the ability to present material that is understandable to chemists outside of a special research discipline. This seminar is an important degree requirement, and it must be presented to the satisfaction of the faculty at large. Students who pass the oral examination must make any changes or revisions specified by the supervisory committee and obtain their signatures before submission the School of Graduate Studies.

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

Medium

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High