What does it mean to be a doctoral “candidate”?

Doctoral students typically spend the first and second years taking courses. When they are about to finish all required coursework, they may request to take the qualifying exam. Once passed the exam, students move onto “advanced candidacy” and are considered a “doctoral candidate.” For more information on the qualifying exam, the doctoral program guidelines can be found here.

Where can I find more information on my program? 

Biology Doctoral Program Guidelines

Biology MS Plan A Program Guidelines

Biology MS Plan B Program Guideliens

You can also contact the Graduate Coordinator or the Director of Graduate Affairs if your question is not answered in the online material.

Help, I’m approaching my qualifying exam! What needs to get done when?

A general timeline for taking the qualifying exam is as below –

At least 2 months before the exam: email the chair of the Committee on Graduate Affairs (CGA) with the names of your proposed committee members, the area of biology you’ll be examined in (so that the CGA knows if those committee members are appropriate), and three proposal abstracts.

At least 1 month before the exam: give your committee members a detailed outline of your proposal to approve.

Once the CGA has approved your abstracts and committee and assigned you a CGA representative, schedule a meeting with your committee and the CGA rep to discuss the scope of the exam. Be sure to tell the Graduate Coordinator that you’ve had this meeting. Also tell them your exam date.

Sometime before the exam, give a talk on your proposal to your committee members and anyone else who wishes to attend.

At least 10 days before the exam, send your proposal to your committee members.

The day of the exam: remember to bring all paperwork to the exam. The Graduate Coordinator can tell you what you’ll need.

What’s expected in the meeting with my committee before I advance to candidacy/take my master’s exam?

The meeting should only take about half an hour. Unless necessary, you should not give a presentation on your research. Instead, each of your committee members will let you know the scope of their questions for the comprehensive portion of the exam and may say something about what aspects of the proposal/thesis they will question you about. Take notes and email your committee members and CGA representative with your understanding of the scope of the exam. It is also a good time to schedule your exam while your committee members are present.

Could I see some examples of appropriate proposal abstracts?

An example can be found here:  Proposal abstract example 2

Can I take my exam during winter/spring/summer break or does it need to be during the semester?

In theory it can be during a break, but since many faculty are out of town during breaks, it’s not wise to count on being able to do this.

What is the difference between BIOL 599, BIOL 601, BIOL 651, and BIOL 701?

BIOL 599: Independent study. When no other formal coursework is available, a graduate student may take BIOL 599 with advisor approval.

BIOL 601 Research Credits are available for master’s and doctoral students with advisor’s approval. Doctoral students can use up to 3 or 6 cr. of 601 toward your required coursework, depending on whether you enter the program with a master’s degree. Plan A master’s students are allowed to take no more than 3 credits of 601.

BIOL 651: Master’s Thesis research. Masters students should take 6 to 9 credits of BIOL 651. Note that once you start taking BIOL 651, you must register for it each semester.

BIOL 701: Doctoral Dissertation research. Normally doctoral students take 701 after they’ve advanced to candidacy; however, Postdoctoral Standing allows students to take 701 credits after they complete all required coursework and before acquiring candidacy – students who have not advanced to candidacy may begin registering for up to 6 credit hours of course 701 at the discretion of the department and upon written notification to the School of Graduate Studies. WARNING: once you’ve taken your first semester of 701, you have 5 years to graduate. Also note that once you register for 701, you need to keep registering for 701 every semester until you graduate. A minimum of 18 credits of 701 are required for the doctoral degree.

How many credits should I take (doctoral students)?
If you haven’t advanced to candidacy yet, nine credits is considered a typical full load. Note that tuition waivers cover up to nine credits, so if you want to take more than that, you will need to cover the difference yourself. If you have advanced to candidacy, you should 1 to 9 credits of BIOL 701 until you graduate. You MUST complete at least 18 credits of 701 to graduate with a doctoral degree. 

How many credits should I take (MS students)?

MS students typically take 9 credits each semester until you finish all required coursework. After that MS Plan A students register for BIOL 651 Thesis credits until graduation. Talk to your advisor or the Graduate Coordinator about the number of 651 credits to enroll.

Can I continue to take courses after I’ve advanced to candidacy?
Once you’ve advanced to candidacy, the department expects you to take 1 to 9 credits of BIOL 701 each semester. If you want to take other coursework after candidacy, the School of Graduate Studies offers fellowship courses. Contact SGS for application instructions. If you have any questions about credits/coursework, talk to your advisor or the Graduate Coordinator.