Skip to content Skip to navigation

Academics

The Graduate School is designed to provide exceptionally talented predoctoral researchers with mentorship and hands-on experience to prepare them for a career as independent biological scientists.

  • The primary component of our program is basic research.
  • With our exceptional faculty and state-of-the-art facilities, we focus 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.

Predoctoral researchers conduct research in state-of-the-art facilities alongside scientists who are leaders in their fields and become an integral part of a vibrant scientific community.

Program

  • Courses: 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. Almost all of 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 Transcription. Interactive and dynamic, these seminar courses include significant lab work, lectures, critical reading, and discussion of relevant papers.

    Predoctoral researchers complete an additional fifteen-week course in their first year that provides an intensive experience in critical reading, thinking, and 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.

    See our Handbook and Calendar.

  • Rotations: Expectations for rotations are extremely high for predoctoral researchers who focus almost exclusively on a short-term research project. As a result of three laboratory rotations, predoctoral researchers are in a position to enter a thesis laboratory of their choosing, with consent of the principal investigator.

    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 already be entering their thesis laboratory.

  • Thesis Research: Upon entering their thesis laboratories to engage in full-time research, predoctoral researchers are expected to develop and execute a research project that addresses a significant biological question to satisfy the requirements of a Ph.D. degree.

    Predoctoral researchers begin their thesis research immediately following the completion of the laboratory rotations requirement at 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.

    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 Supervisory Committee will ultimately assess 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. Satisfactory defense of the thesis and fulfillment of all requirements of GSSIMR results in the granting of the Ph.D. degree in Biology.

  • Qualifying Assessment: 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.

    Within the first two years of their thesis research, predoctoral researchers undergo a Qualifying Assessment, which consists of a written thesis proposal and an oral presentation. The primary aim of the Qualifying Assessment is to provide the predoctoral researcher with an invaluable opportunity to receive intensive and constructive feedback in order to strengthen their thesis proposal.

  • Core Competencies: 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 troubleshoot experiments as necessary.

    • 5. Scientific Communication

      Predoctoral researchers will communicate their research by 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.

 

Program Completion Requirements
The program strives for the completion of a research project in an average time of five 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 at GSSIMR 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.


Co-Curricular Programs

GSSIMR has identified specific co-curricular programs that are learning activities essential to the curriculum. The programs identified as co-curricular 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.

  • Co-Curricular Requirements

    Scientific Conferences and Courses
    Predoctoral researchers attend scientific conferences and courses domestically and 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 as predoctoral researchers meet leaders in their field from the US and around the world. GSSIMR provides funding for one conference or course per year to every predoctoral researcher. In addition, attendance to conferences and courses are funded by individual laboratory budgets and conference awards.

    Science Club
    Predoctoral researchers are expected to attend a weekly Science Club where GSSIMR’s predoctoral researchers and SIMR’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.

    SIMR Lecture Series
    Predoctoral researchers are expected to attend the SIMR Lecture Series. The Lecture Series brings renowned scientists from around the world to SIMR 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 (12 hours)
    These laboratory safety training sessions occur early in the program and consist of lectures and a tour. SIMR, 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 SIMR and to minimize the environmental impact of performing basic medical research. These courses are designed to give predoctoral researchers the tools necessary to conduct science in a safe manner at SIMR 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 (9 weeks; 2 hours per day, 1 day per week)
    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 at GSSIMR and SIMR there is zero tolerance for material deviation from commonly accepted standards for proposing, conducting, and reporting research.

  • Other Co-Curricular Opportunities

    GSSIMR Course Teaching Assistant
    Predoctoral researchers enrolled in the GSSIMR program can serve as a teaching assistant in GSSIMR module courses. Teaching assistants must participate in planning activities, assessment activities, and teaching components. However, teaching is not a requirement of the program.

    Crossroads Programs
    The Crossroads program at SIMR fosters a sense of community among predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers. Crossroads activities are organized by a volunteer committee and include a variety of career-related and professional development workshops covering skills such as funding and grantsmanship, oral presentation skills, and effective manuscript writing. The annual Young Investigator Science Retreat (YISR) is one of the major scientific and social events that Crossroads organizes. YISR provides predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers with the opportunity to present their research to their peers with oral and poster presentations and to socialize on an Institute-wide level. Crossroads also organizes career development workshops that provide career resources for predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers to help them reach the next stage of their careers.

    Data Clubs
    Predoctoral researchers organize weekly or biweekly meetings where they present their data or a recent journal publication to their fellow predoctoral researchers. Other researchers in the SIMR community whose work is relevant to the presenter can be invited to join. The meetings are informal and are designed to help support the GSSIMR predoctoral researchers’ scientific progress and their community.

    Supergroup Participation
    Groups of SIMR 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 SIMR 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 SIMR community.