Ph.D. Program

Graduate Advisors

Graduate academic advisors are members of the Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (BMCDB) Graduate Group faculty whose role is to advise students about all aspects of their graduate education. This includes selection of labs for rotations, selection of a major professor, selection of courses, preparation for the qualifying exam and annual reviews of progress. The academic advisor is the person to whom a student turns should there be a problem with a major professor.

Students meet with advisors upon entering BMCDB, quarterly for advice during the first year, and at least once a year to review progress and complete reports to Graduate Studies.

Transfer Students

All students admitted to the BMCDB Graduate Program from other institutions are required to take a Qualifying Examination. While course waivers of required courses may be granted by academic advisors, all transfer students must demonstrate proficiency in general subject matter equivalent to BMCDB students already enrolled at UCD.

Choice of a Dissertation Advisor

Selection of the dissertation advisor (major professor) is normally accomplished by the end of the winter quarter, first year. The chair of BMCDB sends a letter to each first year student requesting that the student find a major professor with whom the student wishes to work and who is willing to take the student into the laboratory and to provide the necessary financial support. Students submit their requests to the BMCDB Student Affairs Committee, which approves and makes final assignments. Satisfactory progress in the BMCDB program is dependent upon assignment of a dissertation advisor by the end of spring quarter in the first year.

Qualifying Exam

A Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology student must pass an oral qualifying examination before being advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. To be eligible for the exam, the student must have completed all BMCDB course requirements, must have removed any deficiencies on the transcript, and must have at least a B average in all work undertaken while in graduate standing. The student must be registered during the quarter in which the qualifying exam is taken.

The purposes of the qualifying examination are two-fold: 1) to determine that the student has acquired sufficient knowledge, in breadth and depth, of biochemistry, molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and related areas and 2) to determine that the student has identified a dissertation research topic that asks a significant question in biochemistry, molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. The latter includes demonstration that the student has completed a literature review of that topic, has identified a set of achievable goals and has designed appropriate experimental approaches to accomplish those goals. The dissertation research part of the exam is meant to be a proposal, not a research progress report. Finally, the student's previous academic record, performance on specific parts of the examination, and overall performance/potential for scholarly research will be evaluated in determining the outcome of the examination.

Qualifying examination committees will consist of five faculty members who are recommended to Graduate Studies by the BMCDB Student Affairs Committee in the Winter quarter of the student's second year. The BMCDB Student Affairs Committee will select three members of the committee with solicited input from the major advisor and student, who will be asked to recommend names of members - ideally two of these faculty members will also serve on the student's dissertation committee. The remaining two faculty members will be selected to ensure coverage of the core areas of BMCDB (i.e., Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology and Developmental Biology). Qualifying examination committees are submitted to Graduate Studies and appointed in accordance with the Academic Senate regulations. The chair of the qualifying examination committee is expected to ensure that the student receives a fair examination. Qualifying Examination Committees may not include the major professor who will serve as chair of the student's dissertation committee. The area of the student's dissertation research will be considered so that at least one individual with expertise in this area is a member of the qualifying examination committee.

Students will be informed of the prospective composition of the qualifying examination committee (i.e. the recommendations of the Student Affairs Committee), and will be asked to confer with their major professor to inform their graduate advisor of any concerns with the committee composition. With this input taken into account, the advisors formally recommend to Graduate Studies the composition of the qualifying examination. Committees will be submitted to Graduate Studies and appointed in accordance with the Academic Senate regulations. Copies of the approved petition are sent to the student, the chair of the examining committee, and the BMCDB Program Coordinator. Students must notify all members of their examination committee that they have been appointed. This is important - for example, if a faculty member will be on sabbatical and unable to serve, the exam committee must be reconstituted through the BMCDB Student Affairs Committee and Graduate Studies.

Scheduling the qualifying examination

All Ph.D. candidates are expected to take their Qualifying Examination in their sixth quarter following admission into the program (i.e., the Spring Quarter of the second year), unless a prior waiver is approved in writing by the BMCDB Student Affairs Committee.

Qualifying Examination Format

The qualifying examination will consist of a dissertation research proposal that covers general background and an examination in the core subject area(s) identified by the core course instructors recommendations to the Student Affairs Committee. Candidates will be expected to submit a written dissertation proposal to their committee at least one week prior to the oral examination (see below). The qualifying examination will be administered on a chalk/white board only. The exam should last no longer than 3 hours.

Qualifying Examination Evaluations

There are three possible outcomes of the examinations - pass, not pass, and fail. Pass advances the student to candidacy for the Ph.D. Fail means that the student is disqualified. Not pass means that the student is required to retake all or part of the examination OR to satisfy another requirement. If requested, the second examination is to be scheduled at the earliest possible date and will be administered by the same committee. Satisfactory completion of this examination (or completion of the new requirement) will result in Advancement to Candidacy. Failure will result in disqualification. Note: To officially advance to candidacy, a fee must be paid to the Cashiers Office and the fully endorsed Advanced to Candidacy Petition can then be submitted to Graduate Studies.

The Dissertation Proposal

The goal of the dissertation research proposal is to provide a substantial and original contribution to the fields of biochemistry, molecular, cellular, and developmetal biology. The scope should be similar to that of a grant proposal. Written versions of the dissertation research proposal are to be prepared by the student and distributed to the committee at least one week prior to the examination. The format is that of an NIH postdoctoral fellowship proposal. Organize sections 1-5 of the research proposal to answer these questions: (1) Specific aims. What do you intend to do? (2) Background and significance. Why is the work important? (3) Preliminary studies. What have you already done? (4) Research design and methods. How are you going to do the work? (5) References. DO NOT EXCEED 5 PAGES FOR SECTIONS 1-4. The following distribution for length is recommended:

  1. Specific aims. State briefly the broad, long-term objectives of the work. Then state the specific purposes of the proposed research. One-half page is recommended.
  2. Background and significance. Briefly sketch the background to the proposal. Critically evaluate existing knowledge, and identify the gaps that the project is intended to fill. State concisely the importance of the proposed research by relating the specific aims to the broad, long-term objectives. One page is recommended.
  3. Preliminary studies - dissertation research only. Describe the work you have already accomplished that is relevant to the proposal. A maximum of one page is recommended.
  4. Research design and methods. Outline the experimental design and the procedures to be used to accomplish the specific aims. Include the means by which data will be collected, analyzed and interpreted. Describe any new methodology and its advantage over existing methodologies. Discuss the potential difficulties and limitations of the proposed procedures along with alternative approaches to achieve the aims. Provide a tentative sequence for the investigation. Although no specific number of pages is recommended for this section, the total for sections 1-4 should not exceed 5 pages.
  5. References. Each citation must include the names of all authors, title of the article, name of the book or journal, volume number, page numbers and year of publication.

BMCDB students may meet with each committee member to discuss his or her expectations for the examination. This meeting should not be a pre-examination of the research proposals. Students should not ask for, nor should the committee members provide, comments on weaknesses, potential problems and errors in the research proposals.

Advancement to Candidacy

After the qualifying exam is passed, a student must file an application for advancement to candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. In advancing to candidacy, the student is asked to identify a dissertation committee, provide a dissertation title, obtains signatures of the major professor and graduate advisor, pay a fee, and file the form with Graduate Studies. Graduate Studies requires that students must be advanced to candidacy by the end of the 9th quarter of academic enrollment to be eligible for continued appointment as a graduate student researcher or teaching assistant.

Dissertation Committee

Upon advancement to candidacy, a committee of three faculty members is submitted to Graduate Studies and appointed in accordance with Academic Senate regulations to direct the student in the dissertation research and to approve the dissertation. The chair of the dissertation committee, the student's major professor, must be a member of the BMCDB Graduate Group.

The other two members need not be members of the BMCDB Graduate Group. Members of the graduate program faculty are recommended by the Graduate Advisor to serve on advanced degree committees for students in BMCDB. If proposed members of the dissertation committee are not members of the BMCDB Graduate Group, their service must be approved by the BMCDB Student Affairs Committee.

Under certain circumstances, it is possible to suggest a committee member from outside the University of California who has special expertise and qualifications. The Graduate Advisor must submit a brief statement indicating the appointee's affiliation and title, degrees held, and describing the special expertise that cannot be duplicated on the campus. A curriculum vitae and letter from the nominated person indicating willingness to serve must also be submitted.

Yearly meetings of the student and dissertation committee are required. A written report must be filed with the BMCDB Coordinator after each meeting; it includes the appended form and a 2-3 page progress report.

Annual Progress Reports

Graduate advisors must file an annual report with Graduate Studies on each graduate student's progress towards a degree. A report indicating that a student's progress is satisfactory informs the student of the remaining steps necessary to attain the degree. A BMCDB checklist of progress towards the Ph.D. is filled out in parallel. BMCDB requires that the student be making satisfactory progress toward the degree for continuation of financial support.

If a student's progress is unsatisfactory, Graduate Studies places the student on academic probation. The BMCDB Student Affairs Committee reviews a situation in which a student is not making satisfactory progress and decides upon a course of action. The Dean of Graduate Studies and the BMCDB Student Affairs Committee send the student a notice delineating the work that must be completed to obtain a satisfactory evaluation and a time limit in which to complete the work. If the student fails to meet these requirements, the student is subject to disqualification.

To keep track of students' progress, the BMCDB Graduate Coordinator keeps a computer database of information. This includes the student's name, year in BMCDB, laboratory, telephone number, email address, major professor, qualifying examination members, date and result of qualifying exam and dissertation committee members. Periodic updates are provided to advisors. Major professors may obtain information upon request.


The research conducted by the student must be of such character as to show ability to pursue independent research. The dissertation reports a scholarly piece of work of publishable quality that solves a significant scientific problem. It must be approved and signed by the dissertation committee before it is submitted to Graduate Studies for final approval of formatting.

The dissertation must be submitted to each member of the dissertation committee at least one month before the student expects it to be signed. Keeping the committee informed of progress as research proceeds helps committee members to read it in a timely fashion.

Exit Seminar

Each student must present a seminar on the dissertation research before the dissertation is signed and filed with Graduate Studies. The seminar is arranged through the major professor and advertised by the BMCDB Graduate Group Office.

Time to Obtain a Ph.D.

A minimum of three years is required for the Ph.D. but ordinarily, a student should plan on four to five years to satisfy all requirements of the degree. Normative time, measured from the time a student begins graduate study at any level at UCD, is 5-6 years for the BMCDB Graduate Group.