model of molecular structure

PhD Program

Program Expectations & Forms

Year 1

During the first year, students complete a comprehensive core curriculum offered by the College of Graduate Studies that lays the groundwork for advanced coursework and research training in specific Ph.D. programs. Students also complete three 10-week laboratory rotations before selecting a Mentor who will oversee their dissertation research. Prior to appointment, students should discuss the Student-Advisor Compact with their prospective Mentor.

By the end of the first year, students should meet with their Mentors to develop a personalized program of study based on their research project, scientific interests, and career goals. As part of the program, students are required to attend and present annually at the Departmental Research and Methods seminar series and attend at least two thirds of the MCBP seminar series.

Year 2

In the second year, students complete additional coursework and conduct research that will establish the basis of their dissertation. Students also select their Dissertation Advisory Committee, comprising their Mentor and four additional faculty members (with two members from the Department and two members whose primary appointment is outside the Department). Students are required to meet with their Committee at least once a year and complete a summary of recent progress as part of the Committee Evaluation form. Changes to the Dissertation Advisory Committee must be submitted to the College of Graduate Studies for approval.

By the end of the second year, students should schedule and prepare for the Qualifying Examination, which is to be completed by October 15 of the third year.

Admission to Candidacy

To qualify for admission to Candidacy, Ph.D. students must pass both the written and oral components of a Qualifying Examination. For the written exam, students will write two documents that are submitted to the Committee at least two weeks before the oral exam: (1) a fully referenced literature review 2,000 to 3,000 words in length, and (2) an NIH-style research proposal based on their proposed dissertation project (Specific Aims – 1 page, Research Strategy – 6 pages, single-spaced text, excluding references). Students will present their dissertation proposal as a public seminar, followed by a closed-door oral defense administered by their Dissertation Advisory Committee and attended by the Director of Graduate Training. After passing all components of the Qualifying Examination, a student is certified as a Candidate for the Ph.D. degree. Please refer to the guidelines below for more information about the Examination instructions and requirements. 

Year 3 & Beyond

After admission to Candidacy, a student’s primary effort is devoted to the completion of their research dissertation. Students should complete any additional course or program requirements, and continue to meet annually with their Committee to ensure adequate progress toward their degree.

Dissertation Defense

Students should consult with their Mentor and Committee to establish an appropriate timeline for completing all program requirements and scheduling the Defense. Students are required to publish at least one first-author research article in a peer-reviewed journal prior to graduation. A signed Notification of Defense Form must be submitted to the College of Graduate Studies at least three weeks in advance of the proposed Defense date. In common with all Ph.D. students at MUSC, a Candidate presents the dissertation research at a public seminar, followed by a closed-door Defense administered by the Dissertation Advisory Committee. All requirements must be complete and submitted by the last day of class for the degree to be conferred that term. Please refer to the College of Graduate Studies graduation page for more information about the Defense and Commencement.