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Academic Program

What courses are first year students required to take?

All first year PhD students take the following courses:

  1. Foundations of Molecular and Cell Biology, which covers fundamental and advanced topics in biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology.
  2. Introduction to Applied Biostatistics and Research Design, which introduces the basic principles of biostatistics and experimental design for research in the biomedical sciences.
  3. Responsible Conduct of Scientific Research (Research Ethics) I, which covers core information in the responsible conduct of scientific research for early-stage graduate students.
  4. Graduate Student Research Opportunities in which representatives from each of the 6 Biomedical Sciences Programs describe the research interests of their faculty.
  5. Journal Club, which provides practice in analyzing published research papers and giving oral presentations.
  6. Three Research Rotations, which provide students with diverse research experiences to help them select a lab in which to carry out their thesis research.

What courses are required beyond the first year?

During the second year, students take the second part of the Responsible Conduct of Scientific Research course, which examines the moral and philosophical issues confronting scientists. Students continue to take electives based on their research interests as well as courses required by their program.

By the end of the 2nd year, students pass a qualifying exam to go on as candidates for the doctoral degree. By this time, most students have completed all of their coursework and are devoting full time to their dissertation research.

What is a qualifying exam?

The qualifying exam is a written/oral exam, covering areas appropriate to the student's training and research interests, given by a committee of 6 faculty members representing at least 3 different departments. The specific exam format is set by the student's degree-granting program, but typically, the exam involves writing a thesis research proposal and doing a literature search to answer a question outside the student's main area of interest. The written exam is then defended in an oral exam before the examining committee. All PhD students must pass this exam by the end of their 2nd year in order to go on as candidates for the doctoral degree.

How much time do first year students have for research?

Most first year courses are scheduled for mornings so that afternoons and evenings are available for research rotations.

How many years does it take to earn the PhD degree?

The average time to degree for PhD students at Upstate is 5.5 years.

Can I pursue a PhD degree as a part-time student?

This is discouraged because completing an independent research project requires full-time effort.

Will I have my summers off during graduate school? Will I get vacation time?

The academic and stipend calendars run for a full year, which includes the summer. There are scheduled breaks noted on the academic calendar that first year students typically take. Additional time off can be taken with the approval of the Advisory Committee. Once students have entered their dissertation labs, time off is determined in consultation with the dissertation advisor.

Are students required to do any teaching? Are teaching opportunities available to students who want some teaching experience?

Most of our PhD students are NOT required to teach. However, there are numerous opportunities to gain teaching experience; for example, graduate students may assist in medical school laboratory courses such as Gross Anatomy, Histology, Neuroanatomy, and Microbiology.

Can I take courses at Syracuse University and SUNY ESF?

At the request of the faculty advisor, students may take courses at Syracuse University and SUNY ESF. Students must meet the prerequisites set by S.U. and SUNY ESF for taking courses.

Message from the Dean

Mark E. Schmitt, PhD
College of Graduate Studies,

SUNY Upstate Medical University has a strong base of scientific researchers and a relevant clinical setting which provides students with an excellent environment to learn and grow. More>

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