Ph.D. Program Academics
Foundational research is the essence of our program
Designed to provide exceptionally talented researchers with the mentoring and hands-on experience required to prepare them for careers as independent scientists
Pursuing innovative and creative research in the biological sciences
Predoctoral researchers are an integral part of our vibrant scientific community, conducting research in state-of-the-art facilities at the Stowers Institute alongside scientists who are leaders in their fields.
Within one year of starting the program, predoctoral researchers begin full-time research in thesis laboratories where they develop and execute research projects that address significant biological questions.
Prior to completing the program, predoctoral researchers demonstrate proficiency in the Core Competencies, a set of standards which ensure graduates are prepared for their next steps in pursuit of innovative and creative investigations in the biological sciences.
Stowers Graduate School at a Glance
Module courses introduce predoctoral researchers to the core disciplines represented at Stowers while exposing them to the technological capabilities of the Institute. Subsequently, rotation courses and thesis labs provide high-quality, hands-on research experiences. Together, these experiences position predoctoral researchers for success in the program and beyond.
Module courses are designed to introduce predoctoral researchers to a wide range of conceptual and practical topics relevant to research at the Stowers Institute and the wider scientific community.
Stowers’ Principal Investigators are active participants and lead the modules, allowing the predoctoral researchers to learn directly from leaders in the field and to make connections with potential thesis advisors.
For the first four months (August-December of the first year), predoctoral researchers complete their course requirements with a series of intensive all-day modular seminars. Each two-week modular seminar course covers a topic: Cell Biology, Cell Dynamics and Developmental Biology, Evolution and Model Systems, Genetics, Genomics, Neuroscience, and Gene Expression. Interactive and dynamic, these seminar courses include significant lab work, lectures, critical reading, and discussion of relevant papers.
Predoctoral researchers complete an additional 15-week course in their first year that provides an intensive experience in critical reading, thinking, and research proposal writing.
Attendance is required for each of the module courses. No credit is given for hours earned at other institutions. No module may be taken for credit more than once.
Expectations for each of the three rotations are extremely high for predoctoral researchers, who focus almost exclusively on a short-term research project.
During the spring semester of the first year, predoctoral researchers complete three consecutive two-month rotations in labs of their choice. Each rotation immerses predoctoral researchers in the research program of a single laboratory where they address 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.
While the primary focus during laboratory rotations is on research work, predoctoral researchers are also expected to attend lab meetings, seminars, and journal clubs.
Rotations last six months, from January to June of the first year. By the end of this period, predoctoral researchers will have spent less than one year in the program and are ready to enter their thesis laboratory.
After completing three laboratory rotations, predoctoral researchers select a thesis laboratory and can begin their thesis project with consent of the Principal Investigator.
Upon entering their thesis laboratory to engage in full-time research, predoctoral researchers develop a project that addresses a significant biological question to satisfy the requirements of a Ph.D. degree.
Predoctoral researchers begin thesis research immediately following the completion of the laboratory rotations by the end of their first year. With guidance from their mentor and Supervisory Committee, they are expected to develop and execute a research project or projects. Following successful completion of the Qualifying 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.
Successful completion of our Ph.D. program requires 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 peer-reviewed journal. A supervisory committee comprised of Stowers faculty ultimately assesses whether this criteria is met during the thesis defense. To defend the thesis, a predoctoral researcher presents an open seminar and subsequently is examined by the supervisory committee. A Ph.D. degree in Biology is awarded upon satisfactory defense of the thesis and fulfillment of all requirements.
As the thesis project develops, predoctoral researchers present their work in a milestone supervisory committee meeting, called the Qualifying Assessment.
This component of the program is key to the advancement of the research and is a guide to focus the predoctoral researcher towards completion of their thesis project.
The Qualifying Assessment consists of a written thesis proposal and an oral presentation and occurs within the first two years of thesis research. The Supervisory Committee provides the predoctoral researcher with comprehensive and constructive feedback to strengthen their research strategy and thesis proposal.
Predoctoral Researchers will demonstrate competency in each of these areas upon completion of their degree program.
1. Research Leadership
Predoctoral researchers will manage a scientific project by identifying significant biological problems, formulating hypotheses, considering a variety of experimental approaches, interpreting data from experiments using knowledge gleaned from literature, and discussing their ideas and results with other scientists.
2. Critical Thinking
Predoctoral researchers will demonstrate a strong capacity for critical thinking by reading, analyzing, and critiquing scientific articles and by critically assessing scientific talks. Using this knowledge, predoctoral researchers will identify gaps in knowledge and develop questions and experiments to address those gaps.
3. Scientific Knowledge
Predoctoral researchers will acquire strong scientific knowledge in their area of research and will use evidence from primary literature and laboratory expertise to demonstrate their knowledge of concepts, methods and models, including how they were derived and used. Predoctoral researchers will exhibit a broad basis of knowledge about other areas of research.
4. Experimental Skills
Predoctoral researchers will independently research appropriate scientific methods suitable for a biological question, devise applicable experiments with controls, execute the experiments in an organized and precise fashion, interpret the experimental results, perform appropriate statistical tests, and trouble-shoot experiments as necessary.
5. Scientific Communication
Predoctoral researchers will communicate their research through writing and presenting. They will write hypothesis-driven research proposals and descriptions of scientific discoveries, such as a scientific manuscript and/or a thesis of their own original research contributions, and develop and refine their own writing through editing. Predoctoral researchers will create and present scientific talks that include an introduction, results and conclusions, effective graphics and slide content, and will respond to scientific questions.
6. Professional & Ethical Behavior
Predoctoral researchers will conduct themselves professionally and ethically as scientists. They will record and manage data with scientific integrity, comply with safety standards in the laboratory, communicate about situations when they observe unethical or unsafe behaviors by others, and be a collegial and reliable lab member and colleague.
The Ph.D. program strives for the completion of a research project in an average time of five to six years from matriculation.
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 minimum requirements for successful completion of the Ph.D. program are the passing of all modules, successful completion of a minimum of 126 credit units (although a predoctoral researcher completing five years of study and research will have a total of 196 hours), a passing grade on the Qualifying 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 Graduate School has identified specific co-curricular programs as learning activities essential to the curriculum. These programs align with and augment the curricular goals stated in the Core Competencies. These co-curricular programs serve to enhance the academic program, are assessed with learning objectives based on the Core Competencies, and are not credit bearing.
Scientific Conferences and Courses
Predoctoral researchers attend scientific conferences and courses around the world. Conferences and courses provide a wider platform to discuss and disseminate scientific findings and emerging techniques. In addition to bolstering the current research of predoctoral researchers, conferences and courses provide a networking opportunity for predoctoral researchers to meet leaders in their field from the U.S. and around the world. The Graduate School provides funding for one conference or course per year to every predoctoral researcher. In addition, attendance to additional conferences and courses are funded by individual laboratory budgets and conference awards.
Predoctoral researchers are expected to attend a weekly Science Club where Stowers early career scientists present their research. Predoctoral researchers are required to present at least one time (and preferably more) during their tenure in the lab.
Stowers Lecture Series
Predoctoral researchers are expected to attend the Stowers Lecture Series. The Lecture Series brings renowned scientists from around the world to Stowers to give talks about a variety of scientific topics. The advisor may require a predoctoral researcher to attend other seminars throughout the year.
Laboratory Safety, Radiation Safety, and Biosafety Level 2 Trainings
These laboratory safety training sessions occur early in the program and consist of lectures and a tour. Stowers, while maintaining regulatory compliance with several federal, state and local agencies, has the responsibility to provide a safe and healthy working environment for all individuals associated with Stowers and to minimize the environmental impact of performing foundational medical research. These courses are designed to give predoctoral researchers the tools necessary to conduct science in a safe manner at Stowers by discussing the regulatory requirements of OSHA, EPA, MDNR, NRC, and other regulatory agencies and applying them to real research scenarios.
Responsible Conduct of Research Course
The course is required for all predoctoral researchers. The course lasts for nine weeks and meets weekly. Each course meeting is led by a panel of faculty and uses selected case studies to encourage practicing scientists to think about the principles of responsible conduct in research; to appreciate the devastating effect of scientific misconduct on public trust, institutional reputation, and individual careers, and to understand why the Graduate School and Stowers have zero tolerance for material deviation from commonly accepted standards for proposing, conducting, and reporting research.
Other Co-Curricular Opportunities
Graduate School Course Teaching Assistant
Predoctoral researchers can serve as teaching assistants in the module courses. Teaching assistants participate in planning, assessment, and teaching components of the module courses. Teaching is not a requirement of the Ph.D. program.
The Crossroads organization fosters a sense of community among predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers at the Stowers Institute. Crossroads activities are organized by a volunteer committee and include a variety of career-related and professional development workshops covering topics such as funding and grantsmanship, effective oral presentations, and scientific writing. The annual Crossroads Research Conference is one of the major scientific and social events that Crossroads organizes. The conference provides predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers with the opportunity to present their research to their peers with oral and poster presentations and to socialize with Stowers scientists. Crossroads also organizes career development workshops that provide resources for predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers to help them reach the next stage of their careers.
Predoctoral researchers organize weekly or biweekly meetings where they present their data or a recent journal publication to their fellow predoctoral researchers. Other researchers at Stowers whose work is relevant to the presenter can be invited to join. The meetings are informal and are designed to help support predoctoral researchers’ scientific progress and their community.
Groups of Stowers laboratories that have similar interests or are in similar fields often form a “Supergroup.” The formation of these groups is spearheaded by the heads of the laboratories (the Principal Investigators) or other senior scientists. Predoctoral researchers in the relevant labs attend the meetings of the supergroups, which generally occur bi-monthly, and present their research and data. This is an opportunity for the predoctoral researchers to gain further experience presenting to colleagues, listening to and responding to questions and feedback, and communicating with audiences.
Open Mic Science Club
Predoctoral researchers organize, attend, and participate in a seminar series that occurs over the summer months. Predoctoral researchers and Stowers researchers present their work to their colleagues and get feedback from those in attendance. Like the Friday Science Club, which is suspended during the summers, Open Mic Science Club is an opportunity for predoctoral researchers to present to the wider Stowers community.