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Doctoral Program Overview


The length of time necessary to complete the requirements of the Ph.D. degree is markedly influenced by the student's preparation, particular research interest, and prior experience in the field selected. Four to five years of study beyond the bachelor's degree or three to four beyond the master's degree are commonly expected.

Courses and Subject Matter Required

The Ph.D. degree is awarded principally on demonstrated ability to conduct significant and original scientific research. Each doctoral student is required to take 17 credits of core classes and 9 credits of elective courses across 3 competency areas. For students entering the program with a bachelor's degree 96 credit hours of coursework and research credits are required to earn a PhD, and 64 credit hours are required for those with a master's degree. Based on the typical curriculum, most students complete the didactic coursework during their first five semesters of enrollment to acquire the fundamental knowledge of genetics and supporting fields that Ph.D. candidates in genetics are required to possess. Each doctoral student in genetics must demonstrate mastery of the area selected for research specialization as well as general proficiency in the broad field of genetics by satisfactorily completing written and oral preliminary examinations prior to being admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.

The Advisory Committee

An Advisory Committee supervises a student's coursework and research, ensures research progress of the student, and approves all documents required for the PhD degree. The Advisory Committee, chaired by the Faculty Advisor, is the primary source of direction and support for a student's research and academic program. The Advisory Committee should be constituted soon after the choice of Faculty Advisor to provide the student with maximum input on course choices. The Advisory Committee must have at least three members in addition to the Faculty Advisor. At least one member must come from a department outside your "home" department. Your Faculty Advisor must be a full member of the Faculty of Genetics. Students should familiarize themselves with the members of their Advisory Committee as soon as possible as these individuals also become excellent sources for references. This Advisory Committee will approve the degree plan, read and critique the proposal and dissertation, and administer the preliminary exam and oral defense. Committee selection must therefore be completed before the degree plan is filed.

Teaching Experience

All students are required to participate as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for two semesters, typically during the second and third semesters. All students regardless of source of funding must complete this requirement, as it is an important aspect of professional training. Previous teaching experience at the University level can be used to fulfill this requirement, at the discretion of the Chair of the Faculty of Genetics. Students with this type of experience should submit a written description of the course(s) they taught, what duties were required, and the name and telephone number of the faculty member in charge of the course. All incoming graduate students must complete TA training. Texas A&M University provides a mandatory TA training called Teaching Assistant Training and Evaluation Program (TATEP). All new graduate students will be registered during orientation and must attend. Additionally, Genetics TA's must register for one credit of GENE 697 (Teaching Genetics Labs) every semester they TA.

The Research Program

The student should begin planning a suitable project for dissertation research during his or her first year of graduate study. A proposal describing the planned research should be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies for approval no later than the end of the second year of enrollment. It is desirable that the research program be started during the early semesters; however, the student should balance the time and effort on the special field of dissertation research with the larger areas of knowledge covered by the preliminary examination. The proposal must be approved by the student's Advisory Committee, the Chair of the Faculty of Genetics, the Head of the student's academic department, and the Office of Graduate Studies.

Written and Oral Examinations/Admission to Candidacy

The student's Advisory Committee shall administer these examinations as prescribed by the Office of Graduate Studies. Normally, the students should expect to take written examinations from each committee member and an oral examination from the committee as a whole. However, with the approval of the committee Chair and the representative from the Office of Graduate Studies, a student may also be required to take written departmental examinations in fields other than genetics if the student's degree plan and research area indicate that this would be appropriate. You must have current cumulative and degree plan GPR's (grade point ratio) of at least 3.00 to be eligible for the exam. The exam is given no earlier than a date when you are within six credit hours of completion of the formal course work (i.e., all course work on the degree plan except 681, 684, 690, 691, and 692 courses) or no later than the semester following the completion of the formal course work on the degree plan. The preliminary examination checklist can be found on the OGAPS website.

Before taking the preliminary examination, the student should devote considerable time to the study of technical literature in the broad field of genetics and related subjects in order to obtain an integrated grasp of the science as a whole. The examination is oriented toward evaluating the student's ability to correlate facts, observations, and experimental results in order to make appropriate inferences. The student will be expected to know the principles of genetics as well as the factual material usually taught in the courses in his or her specialized subject areas. In addition, a student should demonstrate a broader understanding of basic principles and a greater ability to synthesize than is ordinarily required in individual courses.

The members of the Advisory Committee are usually unanimous in their recommendations regarding a student's preliminary examination performance and the recommendations of Advisory Committees are usually accepted by the Office of Graduate Studies. Upon successful completion of the preliminary examination, a student who has filed an approved dissertation proposal and has completed his or her formal coursework becomes a 'candidate' for the Ph.D. degree. After passing the required preliminary examination, you must complete all remaining requirements for the degree within four calendar years. Otherwise, you must repeat the examination. If you fail the preliminary examination, there is no obligation for a re-examination. At their discretion, the Advisory Committee (with no more than one member dissenting) may allow one re-examination when adequate time has passed to allow you to address inadequacies emerging from the first examination (normally six months).

The Ph.D. Dissertation

The major requirement for the Ph.D. degree is the completion of a dissertation that meets the approval of each member of the student's Advisory Committee. Such approval implies that an organized investigation which provides research of significance has been completed and demonstrates the ability of the candidate to execute independent investigations in an effective manner. Each student is expected to present a formal seminar on his or her dissertation research and must successfully defend the dissertation before the Advisory Committee. The presentation is followed by an oral examination of the candidate by the Advisory Committee. The final defense must be held within four years of advancement to PhD candidacy. For all students, the defense should be scheduled at least four weeks prior to the OGAPS deadline for submission of manuscripts to the Thesis Clerk. This will allow adequate time for revisions and two weeks for the Chair of the Faculty of Genetics signature.


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