The Graduate School is designed to provide exceptionally talented predoctoral researchers with mentorship and hands-on experience to refine their abilities to carry out independent biological research. Our emphasis is on research as the primary component of the program. Indeed, we seek out applicants with strong records of research as undergraduates and postgraduates. In addition, it is important that the predoctoral researchers come to The Graduate School with a high level of general knowledge or are willing to pursue that general knowledge on their own time.
The function of the module courses is to introduce the predoctoral researchers to the core disciplines and expose them to the core capabilities of the Stowers Institute. Further, through the rotation courses and the thesis labs, the predoctoral researchers are provided the opportunity to have high quality, hands-on experiences in the research of the Institute. Having exposure to the core capabilities and participating in the hands-on experiences positions the predoctoral researchers for success both in the program and beyond.
Our module courses are meant to orient the researcher before they enter the laboratory full-time. Instead of didactic coursework, our modules have laboratory components and are rich in the reading and discussion of primary journal papers.
The second six months of the program are dedicated to three two-month rotations. By the summer, predoctoral researchers will be full-time in their laboratory of choice.
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.
In August, 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.
In the spring of their first year, predoctoral researchers engage in three consecutive, two-month rotations in labs of their choice. Undistracted by 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 within two years of joining their thesis laboratory. 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 five years. The minimum requirements for successful completion of the Ph.D. program at The Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research are the attendance of all modules, successful completion of a minimum of 114 credit units (although a predoctoral researcher completing five years of study and research will have a total of 186 hours), a passing grade on the assessment, a written thesis on original research, and the defense of the written thesis. No credit is given for hours earned at another institution. No course 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. 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. No credit is given for hours earned at other institutions. No module may be taken for credit more than once.
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 thesis 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 thesis 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 the Assessment, predoctoral researchers devote the remainder of their time in the program to laboratory research. They are also expected to participate in lab meetings, seminars, and journal clubs.
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.
Within the first three years of their program, predoctoral researchers undergo an Assessment, which consists of a written thesis proposal and an oral presentation. 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 or her proposal.
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 should contain the specific aims of the research, detailed background, preliminary data, and planned experimental approaches for the thesis project being pursued or a closely related project (as determined in consultation with the predoctoral researcher’s research advisor). An additional part of the proposal is a brief summary (two to three pages, double spaced) of the objectives for the meeting, similar to what is prepared for any Supervisory Committee meeting.
The oral component of the Assessment includes the discussion of the project with the Supervisory Committee. The research advisor should be present for the discussion of the project but may not be present when the Supervisory Committee votes on a grade of Pass or Fail.
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.
Additional Opportunities for Career Enhancement
The following experiences supplement the theoretical and practical lab work requirements:
Lecture Series and Seminars
Predoctoral researchers are expected to attend the Stowers Institute's Lecture Series. The Lecture Series brings renowned scientists from around the world to the Stowers Institute to give talks about a variety of scientific topics. The advisor may require a predoctoral researcher to attend other seminars throughout the year. No credit units are offered for attending seminars.
Predoctoral researchers are expected to attend a weekly Science Club where the Institute’s junior scientists present their research. Predoctoral researchers are required to present at least one time (and preferably more) during their tenure in the lab. No credit units are offered for attending Science Club.
The Graduate School participates in the Crossroads program at Stowers. Crossroads exposes pre- and postdoctoral researchers to discussions about career options and assists in preparation for their next career move. Crossroads sponsors seminars with outside researchers and representatives from industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations; provides assistance with curriculum vitae preparation and interviewing skills; creates opportunities for predoctoral researchers to make presentations about their research to groups of peers and/or advisors; and is a vehicle for interaction and collaboration among junior scientists.
Crossroads hosts an annual Young Investigator Research Day for pre- and postdoctoral researchers, which gives them the opportunity to present their work in lectures and posters.
The Graduate School pays the travel expenses for predoctoral researchers to attend a scientific meeting or course each year.
Teaching is not a requirement for completion of the program. Predoctoral researchers with an interest in teaching may, with their Thesis Committee's consent, serve as teaching assistants either in the first-term modules or in courses taught by faculty.