The predoctoral research program of The Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research stresses critical thinking and the rapid development of experimental prowess. The program also focuses on in-depth understanding of the latest methodologies and approaches. In an average time of five years from matriculation, predoctoral researchers are expected to develop and execute a research project that addresses a significant biological question, which will result in a Ph.D. in Biology. The program culminates with the expectation that each predoctoral researcher is able to identify interesting biological problems, devise interdisciplinary approaches to those problems, and execute investigations using the best tools available.
The program of The Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research stresses critical thinking and the rapid development of experimental prowess, instead of traditional didactic coursework.
In September, the predoctoral research program starts with a series of intensive all-day modular seminars with topics ranging from Transcription and Chromatin to Developmental Biology to Advanced Imaging. A concurrent fifteen-week seminar series is devoted to the development of the necessary proficiency in critical thinking, reading, and writing. Attendance is required for each of the seven, two-week modules, which include significant lab work, as well as lectures and critical reading and discussion of relevant papers.
In the spring of their first year, predoctoral researchers engage in three consecutive, two-month rotations in labs of their choice. Undistracted by traditional coursework, expectations are extremely high for predoctoral researchers to focus almost exclusively on a short-term research project.
Predoctoral researchers enter their dissertation research labs in June of their first year and undergo an assessment of knowledge, performance, and research progress in December of their second year.
Most critically, doctoral candidates are expected to develop and execute a research project that addresses a significant biological question in order to complete the degree.
The program strives for the completion of a research project in an average time of five years. The minimum requirement for the successful completion of the Ph.D. research program at The Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research is the attendance of all modules and the defense of a written thesis on original research. No credit is given for hours earned at other institutions. No module may be taken for credit more than once.
The introductory period is structured around a fifteen-week seminar series that provides an intensive experience in critical reading, thinking, and proposal writing, and introduces predoctoral researchers to fundamental concepts in modern molecular biology. In addition, predoctoral researchers are immersed in modular seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology, Cell Division and Chromosome Biology, Genomics, Imaging, Neuroscience, Proteomics, and Transcription, which include significant lab work, lectures, critical reading, and discussion of relevant papers.
Predoctoral researchers participate in three consecutive two-month rotations in labs of their choice. Each rotation immerses predoctoral researchers in the research program of a single laboratory where he or she addresses a specific research question under the direction of an advisor and senior laboratory staff. Predoctoral researchers are expected to fully commit to the rotation lab and to successfully complete a short-term research project requiring substantial experimental effort. As a result of these three rotations, predoctoral researchers are in a position to enter a dissertation laboratory, with consent of the principal investigator. While the primary focus during laboratory rotations is on research work, predoctoral researchers are also expected to attend lab meetings, seminars, and journal clubs.
Predoctoral researchers begin their dissertation research in June of the first year. They are expected to develop and execute a research project that addresses a significant biological question to satisfy the requirements of a Ph.D. degree. Following successful completion of an assessment, predoctoral researchers devote the remainder of their time in the program fully to laboratory research. They are also expected to participate in lab meetings, seminars, and journal clubs.
In December of their second year, predoctoral researchers undergo an assessment, which consists of a written thesis proposal and an oral presentation. The written proposal may be conceived with the assistance of a research advisor but should represent the predoctoral researcher's own plan. The written proposal contains the specific aims of the research, detailed background, preliminary data, and planned experimental approaches. The oral component of the assessment includes the discussion of the project with the Thesis Committee, which is comprised of Stowers principal investigators but may also include an approved expert in the field outside of the Stowers Institute. The Thesis Committee critically evaluates the proposal, offers criticism and redirection where warranted, and suggests ideas for additional approaches to the research project.
The primary aim of the assessment is to provide the predoctoral researcher with an invaluable opportunity to receive constructive feedback in order to strengthen his/her proposal. Predoctoral researchers are expected to fully prepare for this assessment, and failure to adequately do so will require a second assessment. Failure to adequately prepare for a second assessment is grounds for dismissal from the program.
Research Integrity Course
Predoctoral researchers are expected to complete the Stowers Research Integrity Course during their first year. The course uses select case studies to encourage predoctoral researchers to think about the principles of research integrity; to appreciate the devastating effect of scientific misconduct on public trust, institutional reputation, and individual careers; and to understand why the Stowers Institute has zero tolerance for material deviation from commonly accepted standards for proposing, conducting, and reporting research.
Program Completion Requirements
The completion of a body of research that addresses a significant biological problem and is likely to result in at least one publication in a high-impact journal is required for the successful completion of the Ph.D. research program. The publication forms the main body of a thesis. A detailed literature review precedes the thesis and a discussion of the possible next steps in the research follows the thesis. Presentation of an open seminar also is required to complete the research program.
The faculty of The Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research provides each predoctoral researcher with guidance and encouragement to support his or her success in a research program and assists with the next step in the young scientist’s career.
At the time of admission, each predoctoral researcher is matched with a principal investigator as a mentor. The mentor follows the predoctoral researcher’s academic and research progress and provides advice throughout the program. When a predoctoral researcher enters his or her dissertation laboratory, the Stowers investigator who leads that laboratory becomes the predoctoral researcher’s advisor. The advisor supervises the predoctoral researcher’s independent research and provides guidance. If the mentor is chosen as the advisor, a new mentor is selected. Having two Stowers investigators focused on each predoctoral researcher’s progress provides varying and insightful perspectives and also reinforces ideas and research directions.