Experimental Pathology Graduate Program

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination in the Experimental Pathology Graduate program requires that the student proposes, writes and orally defends an NIH-style F31 research proposal, which will be evaluated by a faculty committee. The graduate student preliminary (qualifying) examination (often referred to as “Prelim’s” or “Qualifiers”) must be successfully completed in order to pursue your graduate research and to advance to doctoral candidacy in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS)/Program according to the timeline set forth in the GSBS bylaws. The purpose of this examination is to test your understanding of the BBSC (Basic Biomedical Science Curriculum) course work, program-specific course work, general science and critical thinking, the basis of research methods and, to evaluate your aptitude for scientific research. The examination will ordinarily be completed by the end of April of the second year of study, including for those admitted through the direct admission mechanism, and is a prerequisite for admission to candidacy to the PhD program. Students who fail the examination cannot enter candidacy and are eligible to repeat the exam once in the following year. However, the following stipulations apply:

(i) the student’s mentor must agree to support the student for the extra year (that is pay for the student’s stipend and tuition fees);

(ii) the student must retake the grant-writing course. If the student fails again, s/he is subject to dismissal from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) and s/he must be prepared to submit a Master’s thesis.

Advancement to Candidacy

Students seeking the degree of Doctor of Philosophy must submit an application for admission to candidacy and an approved research proposal. Each student must have an overall 3.0 grade point average or better at the time of admission to candidacy. Admission to candidacy requires the fulfillment of all program requirements, including passing the qualifying examination, and must be approved by the Dean of the graduate school. The qualifying examination will ordinarily be completed by the end of the second year of study and is a prerequisite to admission to candidacy.

GSBS bylaws state:

  • All students are required to advance as a doctoral candidate within 12 months following the completion of their preliminary examinations or be subject to dismissal from the GSBS.
  • Experimental Pathology Year 3 trainees are required to submit a draft of their dissertation proposal (10-13 pages) and a list of proposed supervisory committee members (with alternates) for approval by the Program Director and SEAC by February 1.
  • Students will then have three months in which to defend the proposal, obtain supervisory committee approval, and formally file an application for candidacy (no later than June 1).
  • The supervisory committee is required to complete their evaluation of the submitted dissertation proposal within one month. Should the proposal require significant alterations, the student will be given a maximum of one month to rewrite their proposal.

Dissertation Supervisory Committee Selection

Prior to admission to candidacy, the student (in consultation with the mentor) shall select a dissertation supervisory committee which, after approval by the ExPath Program Director and SEAC and, ultimately, the GSBS Dean, will be in charge of the candidate’s doctoral dissertation. The faculty mentor will serve as chair of the dissertation supervisory committee and the supervisory committee will consist of four UTMB Health GSBS faculty members and one external member. A typical committee will consist of the following members and affiliations:

Mentor (Committee Chair; ExPath)
Two members (Dept. Pathology; ExPath)
One member (Other Dept.)
One external member (outside institution)

Dissertation Proposal Defense

Students are responsible for contacting all members of their committee and coordinating the time and location of their proposal defense (typically in Mary Moody Northern Pavilion Pathology Education Conference room reserved through the Program Coordinator). Meetings, vacations, and external commitments by faculty can make this scheduling difficult, so students should be proactive and not leave it to the last minute. The length of the dissertation proposal defense is variable, but should last no more than three hours. The format can be discussed and agreed upon by the student and committee members, but usually consists of a one hour student presentation followed by discussion and a question/answer session. Students should be prepared to fully explain details and limitations of technical approaches, experimental design, justification of animals, statistical analyses, and alternative approaches and hypotheses.

Semi-annual Meetings with the Dissertation Supervisory Committee

Students are required to formally meet with their dissertation supervisory committees twice annually. This process is in place to help provide oversight to the graduate process and ensure that each student is progressing as expected, and to provide an opportunity and forum for committee members to evaluate progress and provide constructive input on a regular basis. This is an important component of the graduate education process and cannot be neglected. Normally, this translates to five committee meetings during a typical dissertation project (1-Year 3, proposal defense; 2-Year 4; and 2-Year 5; last one being the final oral defense). After each meeting, a written summary of the committee recommendations will be provided to the student who must provide a written response to the committee and Pathology Education office within 1 week following the meeting.