PhD in Genetics & Genomics

The Graduate Program in Genetics & Genomics aims to teach our students not only how to apply the approaches of hypothesis-testing genetics and hypothesis-generating genomics to biomedical research, but also how to function as active members of the scientific community who can clearly communicate ideas, critically evaluate biomedical research, and mentor others in scientific scholarship. Toward this end, we have designed a complementary set of degree requirements to meet these goals consisting of traditional coursework, journal clubs, seminar series, and a research proposal–based qualifying examination for PhD students. The coursework will be completed during the first two years of study. The rest of the academic program is described below.

Please see the general description of the MD/PhD program for combined degree requirements.

Course Requirements

  • GMS GE 701 Principles of Genetics and Genomics
  • GMS FC 701 Foundations in Biomedical Sciences I: Protein Structure, Catalysis, and Interactions
  • GMS FC 702 Foundations in Biomedical Sciences II: Structure and Function of the Genome
  • GMS FC 703 Foundations in Biomedical Sciences III: Architecture and Dynamics of the Cell
  • GMS FC 704 Foundations in Biomedical Sciences IV: Mechanisms of Cell Communication
  • GMS FC 705 Foundations in Biomedical Sciences V: Translational Genetics and Genomics or GMS MM 710 Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
  • GMS FC 764 Professional Presentation Skills
  • GMS FC 708 Professional Development Skills
  • GMS GE 703 and 704 Genetics and Genomics Colloquium I and II
  • GMS GC 716 Social, Cultural, and Ethical Issues in Genetics
  • GMS FC 720 Statistical Reasoning for the Basic Biomedical Sciences

See Courses for detailed descriptions.

Laboratory Rotations

Our PhD candidates participate in a minimum of three laboratory rotations to ensure exposure to a variety of scientific approaches. These rotations will last 10 weeks each, with one during the Fall Semester and two during the Spring Semester. The rotations are organized during the first year of study while the students are PiBS students and before they officially join the Graduate Program in Genetics and Genomics. Due to time constraints, MD/PhD students will have the option of joining a dissertation laboratory after two rotations.

Teaching Requirement

Upon successful completion of the core courses, PhD students will be required to serve as teaching assistants (TAs) for one of the program’s courses. The TAs will serve to lead discussion and review sections as well as support exam and homework grading. The TA assignments will be made according to academic performance in the courses in question. Acting as a TA for one semester will satisfy the teaching requirement for the PhD degree, but further teaching opportunities will be available for students who are interested in developing these skills.

The Qualifying Process

Successful completion of the coursework and rotations during the first two years of graduate study will prepare the PhD students to advance to PhD candidacy through the qualifying process. This process depends on the following sequence of events:

  • Completion of all required core and elective courses with a passing grade (A to B average for all courses with the exception of 900-level courses [research credits] which are graded on a Pass/Fail scale).
  • Skilled preparation of a 5–10-page, written, grant-style dissertation proposal based on the thesis research as well as a written critique of a paper on an unrelated topic in genetics and genomics. The inclusion of a written component in the qualification process will serve to normalize the process across the student body and to allow reserved personalities to demonstrate their aptitude. Furthermore, this portion of the qualifying process will satisfy the written qualification requirement of the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences.
  • Skillful performance in an oral examination based on the written proposal and critique. This forum will test the student’s ability to think critically about the area of their thesis research and about biological problems in general. The examining panel will also be free to explore outside topics in order to assess the student’s knowledge of genetics and genomics broadly. The examining panel will be chosen by the student and dissertation advisor based on related areas of expertise to the proposed dissertation research. The panel will be composed of five faculty members, three members who must be faculty of the Graduate Program in Genetics & Genomics and two additional members who are faculty members at Boston University but outside the program. The examining panel will be required to adhere to the written guidelines of the Qualifying Examination Format Committee to ensure equitable administration of the exam.

These milestones will be completed by June 30 of the second year.

Dissertation Research

Upon advancing to PhD candidacy, graduate students will focus on their dissertation research. This research will be conducted under the supervision of their chosen graduate advisor. The student will be responsible for conducting a rigorous, in-depth program of investigation into an area of research that is within the scope of their graduate advisor’s expertise and interests. The student’s progress will be assessed continuously by the graduate advisor and annually by a Dissertation Advisory Committee. This committee will be composed of the student’s advisor and at least four other faculty members with a minimum of two faculty members from the Graduate Program in Genetics & Genomics and one division faculty member from an outside program. The Dissertation Advisory Committee will serve to provide outside perspectives on the research program.

While the student is conducting dissertation research, they are expected to actively participate in program seminar series, lab meetings, and other research activities of their thesis lab. It should be noted that the Boston University Genome Science Institute hosts seminars, including talks from prominent scientists from other institutions as well as talks from scientists with overlapping interests to the program here at BU. Students also have the opportunity to interact more privately with visiting seminar speakers through organized student lunch forums. Students and post-docs also participate in a Research in Progress series of seminars that gives trainees an opportunity to share their research and to learn more about the science going on in the Genetics & Genomics community of Boston University. Furthermore, students will be expected to complete the certificate program in “The Responsible Conduct of Research” that is currently available to the Boston University School of Medicine through a series of four 2-hour workshops.

Although the period of dissertation research will not be limited in maximal duration, it is the job of the Dissertation Advisory Committee to facilitate expeditious progress towards the PhD degree, usually within 5 to 6 years. Once the research has developed into several chapters of publication quality work, the advisory committee will ask the student to begin compiling her written thesis, and a date for the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences public seminar and formal dissertation defense will be scheduled. The public seminar will be delivered to a general audience of Division of Graduate Medical Sciences faculty, students, and researchers. Later that day, the public seminar will be followed by a formal dissertation defense which will occur behind closed doors in the presence of the Dissertation Advisory Committee. This committee will evaluate the student’s thesis defense for satisfactory completion of the degree requirements.