Doctoral Program Guidelines
Table of Contents
- General Information
- Information for First Year Students
- Graduate Curriculum in Microbiology and Immunology
I. General Information Regarding the Doctoral Program in Microbiology and Immunology
This booklet defines the guidelines and policies governing the Doctoral Program in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, East Carolina University, and is supplemental to the current University Graduate Catalog. The information in this booklet has been prepared for the graduate faculty, graduate students and applicants to the graduate program in Microbiology and Immunology. All faculty and students should be thoroughly familiar with the information provided, and should adhere to these guidelines and policies in formulating the student’s program of education.
B. Graduate Program Committee (GPC)
This committee, composed of faculty from the graduate program in Microbiology and Immunology, is responsible for implementation and management of the graduate program, as described in this booklet, and for formulating new or amended policies and practices that are subject to approval by vote of the graduate faculty. The Graduate Program Committee shall consist of at least five members who are appointed by the Departmental Chair.
The Graduate Program Committee will call a Graduate Faculty Meeting at least twice each academic year, at the end of the fall semester and at the end of the academic year. The purpose of these meetings will be to inform the Graduate Faculty of the progress of all Microbiology and Immunology graduate students and to discuss and act on policy changes. New policies formulated by the Graduate Program Committee become binding only after they have been approved by two-thirds of the Departmental graduate faculty.
C. Application for Graduate Study in Microbiology and Immunology
Admission to the graduate program in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology requires recommendation by the Graduate Program Committee, and approval by the Departmental Chair. Preference is given to applicants who exhibit potential for academic and research success in microbiology and/or immunology as demonstrated by their previous academic achievement, Graduate Record Examination scores, and letters of recommendation. Selections are made after consideration of individual qualifications and availability of facilities and resources. Final admission is granted by the Dean of the Graduate School.
Admission requirements for graduate studies in Microbiology and Immunology are flexible; however, a knowledge of organic chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics through calculus are considered essential to pursue advanced studies. Students are encouraged to acquire knowledge of analytical chemistry, biochemistry, statistics, and computer science. Specific requirements for admission to the graduate program are given in the University Graduate Catalog. Applicants enrolled in another academic program are expected to complete their current program prior to matriculating into our program.
Applicants may apply for admission to begin studies in any semester of the academic year. Application for admission to the Graduate Program is made by completion of forms furnished by the Graduate School. Applications must be supported by an official transcript from each institution attended since high school, official Graduate Record Examination scores, at least two letters of recommendation from persons able to assess the applicant’s potential to successfully complete the academic and research requirements of a doctoral degree program of study, and an essay (1-2 pages) from the applicant describing their future career goals. Foreign applicants who do not use English as their native language must take the “Test of English as a Foreign Language” (TOEFL) examination and should achieve a score of 100 or higher with no individual score below 20. Inquiries regarding admission to the graduate program in Microbiology and Immunology should be referred to the Chair of the Graduate Program Committee.
II. Information for First Year Students
A. Advisors and Internships for New Students
During the first year of study, students will conduct research internships with graduate faculty members whose research areas are of interest to them. These internships provide students with the opportunity to work closely with faculty to gain laboratory experience in a field of their choice. All faculty who are eligible to accept students into their laboratories will present a 10 minute summary of their research during the orientation period for new graduate students (mid-August). This will be scheduled by the Chair of the Graduate Program Committee and all new students must attend. During the next week, students are expected to meet individually with faculty with whom they would like to perform a research internship. After meeting with the faculty, students must turn in the Laboratory Internship Request form (GPC-2) and discuss their internship choices with the Chair of the Graduate Program Committee. Students will then submit the Laboratory Internship Request form to the Graduate Program Committee identifying their first and second choices for internships. The Graduate Program Committee also requires a letter from the proposed faculty members indicating a willingness to provide an internship. Assignment of internships is made by the Departmental Chair on recommendation by the Graduate Program Committee. Following approval by the Graduate Program Committee and Departmental Chair, each student will enroll in the approved faculty member’s section of MCBI 7498 Problems in Microbiology for 4 credit hours per internship. The first internship will begin by September 1 and will end before the Christmas holiday break. The second internship begins during the first week of January and ends a week before final exams. At the end of each internship, students will present their data in a poster session held during the normal MIF time slot. Second year students are also expected to participate in this event. Posters are to be as professional as possible and students will stand and discuss data until all interested parties leave. During the latter half of the first internship, students will identify two proposed internships for the next semester and repeat the selection process as described above.
With the approval of the Graduate Program Committee, students may take a third internship in the summer following the second internship, or perform two internships with the same advisor. While performing two internships in the same laboratory is permitted, it is not advised and will be allowed only under special circumstances. Application for the second or third internship is made on the GPC-3 form. The Graduate Program Committee will serve as a temporary advisor to all students until they have a Dissertation Advisor.
B. Selection of a Dissertation Advisor
Following the completion of the internship or internships, a Dissertation Advisor will be selected by the student. The Chair of the Graduate Program Committee, in consultation with the Chair of the department, will be responsible for assisting the student in selecting a Dissertation Advisor appropriate to the research interests and professional goals of the student, and consistent with the resources of the proposed Dissertation Advisor and the Department.
All full-time students in the graduate program in Microbiology and Immunology should select a Dissertation Advisor within a year after their enrollment – in most cases this must be completed by May 1 (or August 1 if entering the program in January). In the event that a student does not have a Dissertation Advisor at this time, the Graduate Program Committee will recommend a Dissertation Advisor to be assigned by the Departmental Chair. The assignment must be mutually agreeable to the student and to the prospective Dissertation Advisor.
Upon selection of a Dissertation Advisor, the student will notify the Graduate Program Committee of their choice in writing. The faculty member selected as Dissertation Advisor will concurrently notify the Graduate Program Committee in writing of their willingness to assist the student and to accept the responsibility of directing the doctoral dissertation. After reviewing the request, the Graduate Program Committee will make a recommendation to the Departmental Chair who shall make the appointment. The capacity of an advisor to support the student and the dissertation research will be carefully considered by both the Graduate Program Committee and the Department Chair. To change the Advisor-Advisee relationship, a written recommendation from the Graduate Program Committee and consent of the Departmental Chair is required.
C. Graduate Advisory Committee
Within three months of appointment as the Dissertation Advisor, it is the responsibility of the student’s Advisor to recommend the composition of the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee to the Graduate Program Committee. The student’s Dissertation Advisor will normally serve as the Chair of the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee. This Committee is composed of at least five graduate faculty members. Three of these must be members of the Graduate Faculty in Microbiology and Immunology (at least two of whom must be fiscal members of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology). At least one Committee member must be a member of the Graduate Faculty of another department. In selecting committee members, the student and the Advisor should avoid constructing a committee with a narrow range of academic interests. The Graduate Program Committee will review the proposed committee (submitted on the Appointment of Student’s Graduate Advisory Committee -Form GPC-7) and make a recommendation to the Advisor and the Departmental Chair of the suitability of the committee composition.
The student’s Graduate Advisory Committee is responsible for establishment of the student’s program of study in final detail, approval of the research program, counseling the student, monitoring the student’s progress, administration and evaluation of the doctoral candidacy research proposal examination, criticism of the dissertation, and administration and evaluation of the dissertation defense. The final program of study for the Ph.D. degree (submitted on the Approval of Graduate Student’s Program of Study- Form GPC-8) shall be formulated and approved by the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee (in consultation with the student) and must be reviewed by the Graduate Program Committee which, in turn, will forward the final program to the Departmental Chair for approval. The proposed program of study must be submitted within four weeks after approval of the Graduate Advisory Committee.
The student’s Graduate Advisory Committee must meet at least twice a year. The student should be present for at least a part of all meetings. The chair of the Graduate Advisory Committee will submit a written summary of each meeting to the Graduate Program Committee and provide copies to the student and to each committee member. The meeting summary must cite any deficiencies that the committee has identified, as well as the relevant action the committee has prescribed to correct the problem. At least once a year, this report shall include a description of the overall achievement and development of the student. This report will be forwarded to the Departmental Chair by the Graduate Program Committee and kept in the student’s permanent file.
If the Dissertation Advisor leaves this institution, the Advisor and the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee must insure that the student’s progress toward the degree can continue at this or another institution. If the Dissertation Advisor goes on sabbatical or becomes incapacitated, another faculty member must assume the role of Acting Chair of the Graduate Advisory Committee with the approval of the Graduate Program Committee and the Departmental Chair.
III. Graduate Curriculum in Microbiology and Immunology
A. Research Requirements
All graduate students in Microbiology and Immunology are required to conduct an original, independent research project under the supervision of their Dissertation Advisor. The research project is a major component of the graduate curriculum. The student is expected to make research presentations at regional, national or/and international scientific meetings, and prepare at least one manuscript which the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee deems worthy of submission to a peer-reviewed journal. Upon completion of the research project, a dissertation describing the research project and the results must be prepared under the direction of the student’s Dissertation Advisor as specified in the Graduate Catalog.
B. Course Requirements
Students enrolled in the Microbiology and Immunology doctoral program must meet all requirements specified in their approved program of study in order to obtain a degree. However, the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee may modify the approved program requirements when such changes are beneficial to the student. Recommended changes in the program of study must be submitted in writing to the Graduate Program Committee for review and forwarded to the Departmental Chair for approval.
All doctoral programs of study must include the following (or provide evidence of having successfully completed equivalent courses):
- Medical Microbiology & Immunology I (MCBI 7400)
- Medical Microbiology & Immunology II (MCBI 7401)
- Biochemistry I (BIOC 7301)
- Molecular Biochemistry (BIOC 7310)
- Topics in Microbiology and Immunology (Research Skills) (MCBI 7490)
- Molecular Cell Biology (MCBI 7410)
- a minimum of 4 semesters of Seminars in Microbiology & Immunology (MCBI 7480)
Students are expected to attend Microbiology and Immunology departmental seminars and Microbiology and Immunology Forum (MIF) throughout their course of study whether or not they are enrolled for credit in any given semester. Additional credits in graduate courses chosen from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, as well as from other departments’ offerings, are required for a total of 76 credits. Maximum credit for MCBI 7498, Problems in Microbiology and Immunology, is limited to 12 credits; MCBI 7490, Topics in Microbiology and Immunology, to 5 credits; and MCBI 7480, Seminars in Microbiology and Immunology, to 5 credits. Students may enroll for more than the maximum credits for these courses and these will appear on the transcript; however, only the above limits will be counted toward the 76 credits required for the degree and used for calculating grade point averages. The details of an individual student’s approved program of study are the responsibility of the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee.
Graduate students in Microbiology and Immunology are expected to develop a working knowledge of laboratory safety, including the handling and use of radioactive, biohazardous, and hazardous materials. Students are also expected to acquire a working knowledge of the use of personal computers and the principles of statistics. The Graduate School requires that candidates for the Doctor of Philosophy degree demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language, statistics or computer science (the “research skills” requirement). A working knowledge of statistics or computer literacy, both appropriate to the student’s research interests, and successfully completing MCBI 7490 TOPICS in Microbiology & Immunology (Research Skills) satisfy the research skills requirements of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Graduate School. Certification in the form of a letter from the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee that the student has successfully acquired these skills must be made to the Graduate Program Committee prior to the dissertation defense.
C. Teaching Responsibilities for Graduate Students
All students will serve a minimum of one year as Teaching Assistants for MCBI 7400 and 7401. Teaching assignments are made by the Chair of the Department in consultation with the Graduate Program Committee. The Laboratory Director of these courses will provide direction and define each student’s teaching responsibilities. Additional teaching assignments may be made as deemed appropriate by the Chair of the Department. Most students will be Teaching Assistants for two years in the Medical Microbiology and Immunology I and II courses.
Satisfactory completion of the teaching assignment is an important part of the student’s academic development. At the end of each teaching assignment, the Laboratory Director, in consultation with the Course Director, will provide the Graduate Program Committee a written evaluation of the performance of each Teaching Assistant. The evaluation will be included in the student’s file and a copy sent to the student’s Advisor. The written evaluation of the student’s performance is an important component of the semi-annual Progress Evaluation.
D. Transfer of Graduate Coursework
Transfer of credit is subject to approval by the Graduate Program Committee, the Departmental Chair, the Graduate School Administrative Board, and the Dean of the Graduate School. With the approval of the Graduate Program Committee and Departmental Chair, the doctoral candidacy examination requirement may be waived for transfer students who have successfully passed an equivalent candidacy examination in their former graduate program.
IV. Admission to Candidacy for the Doctoral Degree
Admission to candidacy is conferred upon successfully passing the doctoral candidacy examination. A student’s eligibility for the examination will be determined by the Graduate Program Committee upon receiving a recommendation from the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee. Every effort should be made to complete the examination process by the end of the fourth semester (summer sessions excluded). The examination will be administered in one part and addresses the student’s ability to write and defend an original research proposal. Upon passing the examination, the student will be recommended for admission to candidacy for the degree, Doctor of Philosophy (GPC Form 10).
A. Comprehensive Preliminary Examination
The Doctoral Candidacy Examination will involve the preparation and defense of an original research proposal developed by the student in an NIH or NSF grant format. The objective of preparing a research proposal is to evaluate the student’s ability to develop an original research proposal, formulate specific aims, organize research plans, demonstrate critical thinking, and write with clarity. Students may seek advice from faculty members not serving on the committee in areas regarding format and readability but not in regards to their experimental design or hypothesis. The proposal must reflect the student’s ideas and independent judgment. The student will submit three unrelated research topics to their Graduate Advisory Committee. The topics must not be the student’s dissertation research, must not be a topic on which the Dissertation Advisor has written a grant proposal and must not be a topic of ongoing research in Dissertation Advisor’s laboratory. The research topics should include at least three specific aims. The Graduate Advisory Committee will select the topic and the specific aim(s) which the student will address. The student will compose an original research proposal developed by the student in the format of a National Institutes of Health. The student’s research proposal should not exceed 12 pages single-spaced (including abstracts, tables, and figures but not references). The final version of the research proposal will be submitted to the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee within six weeks of approval of the topic. The student’s Graduate Advisory Committee will have a minimum of two weeks to critically evaluate the grant application. If the written application is acceptable, the student will present the research proposal in a public seminar. An announcement of the seminar must be distributed no less than 1 week prior to the seminar. If the written application is unacceptable, this will be communicated to the student’s advisor and a Graduate Advisory Committee meeting will be called to discuss the deficiencies. In the event that the written application is not acceptable, the Graduate Advisory Committee must provide the student with a written critique of the application and the seminar will not be scheduled. The critique should communicate the general nature of the problems without giving the student specific detailed instructions to correct the defects. The Graduate Advisory Committee will then set a date for receipt of a revised application. If the revised application is acceptable, the public seminar will be scheduled. If the revised application is still not acceptable, the Graduate Advisory Committee may elect to schedule the public seminar or to fail the student. The oral examination will consist of a defense of the research proposal and may include related topics. Following the seminar, the Graduate Advisory Committee and student will meet in a session at which time the student will defend their grant application and the scientific principles upon which it is based.
Any faculty member may attend and participate in the grant application defense; however, the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee is responsible for the administration and evaluation of this examination. Approval of the student’s performance will be by a roll call vote of the Graduate Advisory Committee with no abstention. A passing vote consists of no more than one negative vote. The student’s Graduate Advisory Committee Chair will be responsible for submitting the forms: “Results of Doctoral Candidacy – Comprehensive Preliminary Examination” (GPC-9) and “Doctoral Candidacy Examination Report” (GPC-10) to the Graduate Program Committee before the end of the next working day following the examination.
V. Doctoral Dissertation
A. Dissertation Proposal
Following the requirements of the Graduate Catalog of East Carolina University, each Candidate will prepare a dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal must meet the guidelines specified in The Graduate Catalog, Section 7, School of Medicine, Doctoral Dissertation, including:
- a review of the literature pertinent to the research
- a short statement on the nature of the project and the objectives of the proposed research
- an outline of a feasible research program
The dissertation proposal must be approved by the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee and a copy must be forwarded to the Graduate Program Committee. The dissertation proposal may be modified as needed by the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee. The dissertation proposal should be completed before the end of the semester following completion of the doctoral candidacy examination.
B. Dissertation Requirements
The student will write a dissertation under the direction of their Advisor. The dissertation must reflect original, independent research which contributes new knowledge to the candidate’s major field. A high quality of experimental design, research technique, and communication must be demonstrated along with a clear perception of historical foundations, strengths, weaknesses, and implications of the results. At least one manuscript, based on the dissertation research and first-authored by the candidate, must have been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal by the time of the dissertation defense.
With the Graduate Advisory Committee’s approval, the student will submit a complete typed draft of the dissertation to each Graduate Advisory Committee member. The Committee will have a minimum of two weeks to critique the dissertation draft and return it to the student. The student will prepare and distribute a complete, revised draft that reflects consideration of the Graduate Advisory Committee’s critique. After reviewing the revised draft, each committee member shall convey to the student’s Advisor whether the dissertation is of sufficient quality to schedule the oral defense. The Advisor shall inform the Graduate Program Committee by submitting the “Request to Schedule Student Defense” form (GPC-11) and submitting an announcement of the date, time and location of the oral defense. With the written approval of the Graduate Program Committee, the announcement will be distributed via Email from the Office of Research and Graduate Studies to all School of Medicine faculty. Simultaneously, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology will distribute hard copies to all Microbiology & Immunology faculty and other pertinent faculty. The announcement must be distributed no less than 1 week prior to the oral defense.
Details pertaining to the preparation, binding, and distribution of the dissertation are specified in the Graduate Catalogue. Bound copies of the dissertation will be provided for the Advisor and the Department.
C. Dissertation Defense
The dissertation defense will consist of an oral presentation of the dissertation research in a publicly-announced Departmental Seminar to which all interested persons are invited. The candidate should successfully defend the research findings by responding to all questions and criticism. Time will be allowed at the end of the presentation for all faculty and students to ask questions. Immediately following the open question session, the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee will convene with the student to ask additional questions and to vote in the absence of the student whether or not to approve the student’s dissertation. Voting shall be a roll call vote with no abstention. A successful defense requires no more than one negative vote. The vote will be recorded.
Recommendation to award the degree will be made by the Graduate Advisory Committee to the Graduate Program Committee on the form “Report of Defense of Ph.D. Dissertation and Recommendation to Award the Degree” which will be provided by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies. The Graduate School’s representative will bring this form to the dissertation defense. The Dissertation Advisor is responsible for signing the form and for transmitting the form to the Chair of the Graduate Program Committee on the same day as the defense. The Chair of the Graduate Program Committee will forward the recommendation to the Departmental Chair who will submit the original and copies to all required persons.
If the dissertation defense is unsatisfactory, the defense will be re-scheduled. If the research findings contain major weaknesses, the candidate will be offered an opportunity to obtain additional data before re-scheduling a defense. The Dissertation Advisor is responsible for communicating the negative decision to the chairman of the Graduate Program Committee. A letter describing the reasons for the decision, remedial efforts recommended by the Graduate Advisory Committee, and a proposed date for the re-scheduled examination should be delivered to the Chair of the Graduate Program Committee on the next working day after the defense.
The doctoral degree program must be completed before the end of the twelfth semester following initial enrollment, excluding summers. Under special circumstances, a student may request an extension from the Graduate Program Committee with endorsement from their Graduate Advisory Committee. The Graduate Program Committee will review the request and make a recommendation to the Departmental Chair. Only one extension of not more than two semesters, summers included, will be approved.
The doctoral degree program is considered complete when the dissertation has been successfully defended, approved by the Graduate School, and a copy of the signed, final version has been forwarded to the Graduate School. This process is verified by completion of the form “Report of Final Submission of Dissertation” (GPC-12).
VI. Academic Performance
A. Grade Point Average
Students in the doctoral program must maintain a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 for graduate courses. The GPA will be calculated in the Department based on courses in the student’s program of study that do not exceed the maximum credits allowed for courses that may be repeated for credit (see III. B.). At the discretion of the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee, the Graduate Program Committee, and the Department Chair, additional course work may be added to the program of study to allow the student to bring the cumulative GPA to 3.0. A cumulative departmental GPA of 3.0 is a prerequisite for the administration of the Doctoral Candidacy Examinations. Only graduate level courses with a grade of “B” or better may be used to satisfy the minimum 76 credit hours required for the Ph.D. degree. A grade less than “B” in a course defined by the department as being essential for the doctoral degree may result in program termination. Continuation in the program will require approval of the Graduate Program Committee. The Graduate Program Committee will review the performance of all students who earn a grade less than “B”. After consulting with the student’s Dissertation Advisor, the Graduate Program Committee will recommend a course of action. Continuation of the program may depend on the outcome of a remediation program specified by the Graduate Program Committee. A second grade less than “B” will result in termination.
If a student receives a grade of “F”, the student must initiate a petition to continue their program. The petition must be approved by the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee, the Graduate Program Committee and the Departmental Chair to continue in the program. If approved, the student must repeat the course and earn a grade of “B” or better before the dissertation defense. The course (credits and grade) can be counted only once for graduation. If the petition is denied, the Graduate Program Committee will request the Graduate School to terminate the student’s enrollment in the doctoral program.
B. Progress Evaluations
The Graduate Program Committee bi-annually reviews each student’s progress. (GPC-5 and GPC-6) The reviews consider all aspects of a student’s performance. Examples of unsatisfactory performance include poor grades, non-compliance with regulations, irresponsibility, insufficient effort on dissertation research, unsatisfactory progress in writing the dissertation, scientific misconduct, and unethical behavior. If the student’s progress is unsatisfactory, the Graduate Program Committee, in consultation with the Advisor, may require that remedial action be taken or recommend to the Departmental Chair that the student be terminated from the Microbiology and Immunology graduate program.
C. Vacation Policy
Graduate students receive 20 working days of vacation a year. Prior to taking vacation leave, graduate students must complete a Graduate Student Absence form (GPC-13) available in the Departmental office and give the form to their Advisor for approval and to the Departmental office manager.
D. Honor Code
While enrolled in the Doctoral Program in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, graduate students must obey and support enforcement of the Doctoral Student Honor Code. A copy of the Code is given to all new students at orientation. Copies may be obtained from the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, School of Medicine.
Students or faculty members who witness any violation of the Doctoral Student Honor Code are required to report the infraction to the Student Attorney General or to the Dean for Research and Graduate Studies.
Adopted: January 12, 1987
Amendment on Dissertation Approval Adopted March 18, 1987
Revised: November 1, 1991
Second Revision: March 1, 1996
Third Revision: December 18, 2000
Fourth Revision: January 7, 2005
Fifth Revision: December 2, 2011
Sixth Revision: August 3, 2012