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.
- Courses: 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. Almost all of our principal investigators are active participants and lead the modules, allowing our 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: Genetics and Evolution, Cell Biology, Cell Dynamics and Developmental Biology, Genomics, Imaging, Proteomics, and Transcription and Chromatin. Interactive and dynamic, these seminar courses include significant lab work, lectures, critical reading, and discussion of relevant papers.
A concurrent fifteen-week seminar series is devoted to the development of the necessary proficiency in critical reading, thinking, and proposal writing, and introduces predoctoral researchers to fundamental concepts in modern molecular biology.
Attendance is required for each of the seven two-week modules. 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: Undistracted by coursework, expectations for rotations are extremely high for predoctoral researchers who focus almost exclusively on a short-term research project. As a result of laboratory rotations, predoctoral researchers are in a position to enter a thesis laboratory, with consent of the principal investigator.
Following the courses, predoctoral researchers engage 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.
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, 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 laboratories to engage in full-time research, predoctoral researchers are expected to develop and execute a research project that addresses a significant biological question in order to complete their doctoral degree.
By the end of June of the first year, predoctoral researchers will have entered their thesis laboratories with their primary thesis mentor. Under the guidance of their mentor and Supervisory Committee, they are expected to develop and execute a research project or projects. Following successful completion of the Assessment (more on the Assessment below), 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 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.
- 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.
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 Assessment is presented within the first three years of their program, which consists of a written thesis proposal and an oral presentation.
- Core Competencies: Predoctoral Researchers will demonstrate competency in each of these areas upon completion of their degree program.
- 1. Identifying and attacking a significant biological problem
Predoctoral researchers will manage a scientific project by identifying interesting biological problems, formulating hypotheses, considering alternative experimental approaches, interpreting data from experiments using knowledge gleaned from literature, and discussing their ideas and results with other scientists.
- 2. A strong capacity for critical thinking
Predoctoral researchers will demonstrate critical thinking by reading, analyzing, and critiquing scientific articles. Using this knowledge, they will be able to identify gaps in knowledge and open questions and experiments to address them.
- 3. Possession of 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 and perform appropriate statistical tests, and trouble-shoot experiments as necessary.
- 4. Develop a broad basis of scientific knowledge
Predoctoral researchers will acquire strong scientific knowledge in their area of research and will use evidence from primary literature to demonstrate their knowledge of concepts, methods and models, including how they were derived and used. An ability to exhibit general knowledge about other areas of research is also expected.
- 5. Demonstrated ability for scientific writing
Predoctoral researchers 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. They will incorporate the expected contents for each section, include the scientific language necessary for accurate presentation, and will develop and refine their own writing through editing.
- 6. Ability to make a successful research presentation
Predoctoral researchers will create and present a scientific talk that includes introduction, results and conclusions. They will use effective graphics and slide contents, will communicate their research effectively, and will be able to answer scientific questions.
- 7. Understanding of and capacity for ethical behavior
Predoctoral researchers will demonstrate knowledge of appropriate professional and ethical behavior as a scientist. 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.
- 1. Identifying and attacking a significant biological problem
Program Completion Requirements
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.
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 Supervisory Committee's consent, serve as teaching assistants either in the first-term modules or in courses taught by faculty.