Graduate Program Guidelines

Admission Requirements

Students accepted into the graduate program must pass the entrance requirements as defined by the College of Graduate Studies. Students are expected to have a general background in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. Specific deficiencies in background education can be rectified with courses taken as part of the graduate program. Students will be accepted into the graduate program based upon their potential to be scientists and teachers. Transcripts of the student's undergraduate record, three letters of recommendation, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, and personal interviews are required for admission into the program except in unusual circumstances.

Program Overview:
          The major focus of the program in Cell and Developmental Biology is graduate education at the doctoral level.  The various requirements are intended to prepare each student to be both scientist and teacher and to give the training necessary to begin a research career.  The curriculum provides a broad background in basic biomedical sciences in the first year, followed by more specialized coursework in the second year depending on the student’s interests and needs.  Research is begun in the first year of the program, and career skills such as grant and manuscript writing, teaching, and oral presentations of scientific data are emphasized.  For the first year of research, students work in several different laboratories during research rotations, and often participate in research training programs offered at other institutions (e.g. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole; Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory).  "Techniques courses" to gain different points of view or ancillary techniques that broaden the student's research training are also encouraged.

Course Requirements:
          A total of 30 didactic credit hours are required for the PhD.  Along with all graduate students at SUNY Upstate Medical University, all first year students in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology are required to participate in the graduate Core Curriculum to include Foundations in Molecular and Cellular Biology (GS616), Introduction to Applied Statistics and Research Design (GS617), Responsible Conduct of Scientific Research (Ethics) (GS618 and GS619) and Journal Club (GS892). Students electing to complete a PhD in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology are also required to take Grant Writing (GS605 or equivalent) and additional Departmental or non-Departmental courses to complete the 30 didactic credit hour requirement, as recommended by the student's sponsor or the Departmental Graduate Student Advisor.

Research Rotations:
          Students performing laboratory rotations or undertaking prequalifying exam research in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology will receive credit under Methods in Cell and Developmental Biology (A617) or Biomedical Sciences Laboratory Rotations (GS612) if undeclared at the time.  Credit hours for A617 are variable (12 maximum) at the discretion of the research mentor in consultation with the Departmental Graduate Student Advisor.

Graduate Student Presentations:
          Students electing to complete a PhD in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology are required to present a seminar on their research to the department within 6 months of successful completion of their qualifying exam.  Students are also encouraged to present their research at local, national and international scientific meetings and in-house symposia.

Departmental Seminars:
          Students are required to attend all Departmental seminars during their graduate career.

Teaching Opportunities:
          No formal requirement for teaching exists in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. However, as an opportunity to gain teaching experience, students working towards a PhD in the Department who have satisfactorily completed Human Anatomy (A505), Microscopic Anatomy (A517), or Neuroanatomy (A621) may elect to serve as a teaching assistant for that course at the discretion of the student, mentors, and course director. Graduate credit for teaching is given through Special Topics in Anatomical Science (615A1,2,3)) "Teaching in ..." (Gross Anatomy = 4 credits; Microscopic Anatomy = 3 credits; Neuroanatomy = 3 credits).  Letter grades for teaching are assigned by the course coordinator, following consultation with the appropriate faculty members.

Maintaining Good Academic Standing:
          Continuation in the program and permission to take the College of Graduate Studies qualifying examination are contingent upon satisfactory performance in didactic course work and development of research potential through laboratory research.  In accordance with the guidelines of the College of Graduate Studies, all graduate students in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology are required to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0 (B average) or better in classroom based didactic coursework, teaching and research (includes 615A1,2,3 and A617 but excludes GS612).  If a student does not meet these minimum performance standards, the student's overall performance will be reviewed by the Department faculty and the Graduate Council and the student may be placed on academic probation.  Failure to improve a poor academic performance usually results in dismissal from the Program and the College of Graduate Studies.

Qualifying Examination for the Ph.D. Degree:
          The qualifying examination to continue for the Ph.D. degree will be taken before the end of the fall semester of the third year, and will be administered according to the Guidelines of the College of Graduate Studies.  This examination is intended to determine whether the student has the creative and critical intellectual skills and a sufficient information base to create new scientific knowledge.  The Qualifying Examination Committee consists of six persons appointed by the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies, on recommendation by the student's thesis advisor.  Faculty from three or more departments of this or other qualified institutions are represented on the committee, and not more than half of the committee may have a primary appointment in the same department.  The chair of the Qualifying Examination Committee cannot be a member of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, but must be a member of the Graduate Faculty Organization. 

Examination Format
The examination format will consist of both written and oral components.  The student will write a research proposal detailing his/her intended thesis project, using the format of an NIH (NRSA) or equivalent Predoctoral Fellowship application. The application should be no longer than 15 pages, excluding bibliography. The proposal must include at least one Specific Aim and associated Background/Experimental Plan that incorporate either an alternative model system or experimental strategy, that is not directly related to the student’s main thesis focus and is beyond the product of any previous formal grant-writing course.
Following the submission of the written proposal, the student's committee will conduct an oral examination that will cover the research proposal and any additional material the committee feels is appropriate.  If either the written or oral examination is judged to be inadequate, the committee may delay final action for further examination or in order to take other action deemed appropriate by the examining committee.  If a student fails the qualifying examination, the student may be reexamined by a new committee after a minimum of 60 days.  Failure on two qualifying examinations results in automatic dismissal from the doctoral program at the end of the current semester. 

Graduate Student Advisors:
          In the first year of the PhD program, undeclared Biomedical Sciences students will be under the guidance of the Graduate School Advisory Committee.  Once a doctoral laboratory has been selected, students will be under the guidance of the mentor and the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology Graduate Advisor until the student completes the qualifying exam.  Commencing with identification of a doctoral laboratory and continuing until the completion of the doctoral degree, the mentor shall provide an annual evaluation of the student to the Department.
          In addition, following completion of the qualifying examination, the student and thesis advisor will choose a Thesis Advisory Committee consisting of at least three faculty members, including the thesis advisor.  Typically, this committee will consist of faculty who served on the student's Qualifying Examination Committee, since these faculty members will already be familiar with the student's proposed thesis research. However, they are not required to be members of the Department.  This committee will meet with the student twice a year to monitor the student's progress in his/her thesis research.  After each meeting, a written evaluation of the student's progress will be submitted by the committee to the Department Chair, the Department Graduate student advisor, the Dean of Graduate Studies and to the student.  In addition, the Department Chair and Department Graduate Student Advisor will continue to monitor the progress of students throughout the program to ensure that all requirements are met.

 

Doctoral Dissertation:
          The Ph.D. dissertation will represent the culmination of an extensive and scholarly original research project(s), which furthers knowledge in the field.  The format will include an introduction, research chapters (usually in the form of completed manuscripts published or ready for publication) and a summary section.  For the thesis defense, the student is required to present his/her research at a Departmental seminar, which will be open to the public.  The examination by the formal Thesis Committee will immediately follow this seminar and will conform to the requirements of the College of Graduate Studies.

 

Masters Degree Requirements:

          A Master's degree is offered to students by the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.  Students will be required to complete 20 didactic credits and 10 research credits (A617).  Didactic credit will consist of at least Foundations in Molecular and Cellular Biology (GS616) and Responsible Conduct of Scientific Research (Ethics) (GS618 and GS619). The student will be required to maintain a minimum overall GPA of 3.0). A written thesis will be prepared by the student based upon data derived from experimentation originating with the student in conjunction with his/her mentor.  In addition, at the completion of the Masters thesis, the student will present his/her research at a Departmental seminar, which will be open to the public. This presentation will be followed by an oral examination by the Thesis Committee.

 

wild-type paxillin cells
wild-type paxillin cells


paxillin lacking LD4 cells
paxillin lacking LD4 cells

Cells expressing wild-type paxillin (top) or paxillin lacking LD4 (bottom) were scratch-wounded followed by fixation 12 hours post-wounding. Tubulin (Green) and alpha-mannosidase II (Red) were labeled to note cell polarization and Golgi orientation. Cells expressing paxillin lacking LD4 are unable to reorient the Golgi towards the wound edge. From the lab of Christopher Turner, PhD.

lab assistant examining bottles