Upon completion of the core curriculum, students request acceptance by a GSBS program to pursue advanced course work and thesis research. Students may enter the program with a program of specialization in mind (biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, biomedical engineering & medical physics, cell biology, cellular & molecular physiology, immunology & virology, interdisciplinary graduate program, molecular genetics & microbiology and neuroscience), or make that decision before completion of the core curriculum. Advanced courses offered by the programs, interdisciplinary courses, laboratory rotations and courses available through the Colleges of Worcester Consortium can be applied to the requirements for specialization. Opportunities are also available for students to participate in grand rounds, clinical seminars and conferences and clinical science research programs.
Prior to initiating formal doctoral thesis research and no later than the start of their third year, students are required to pass a qualifying examination. This examination is a defense of an original research proposal made before a committee representative of the area of specialization. The examination is used to evaluate the ability of students to pose meaningful scientific questions, to propose experimental methods for answering those questions, and to interpret the validity and significance of probable outcomes of these experiments. Some programs also require students to pass a comprehensive examination in their area of specialization before taking the qualifying examination.
Research and Advisors
Research toward the PhD dissertation may be done under the direction of a GSBS faculty member actively engaged in basic or clinical research. Dissertation research in certain disciplines also can be done with an approved faculty sponsor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Students select a research advisor and research problem no later than the end of academic year 1. The GSBS Dean approves the appointment of the research advisor. In addition, a detailed thesis research proposal must be approved by each student's thesis research advisory committee, which is appointed by the dean, taking into account the recommendations of the research advisor and the program faculty. This committee consists of the advisor and at least two other faculty members, and, if particularly knowledgeable in the research topic, an additional member who may be appointed from the Colleges of Worcester Consortium or the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth or Lowell. The student presents annual (or more frequent) progress reports until the committee authorizes the writing of the dissertation. The research advisory committee also provides continuing guidance to the student.
The final examination in the program is a defense of the completed dissertation. Candidates for the PhD degree present a public seminar on the dissertation project and defend the dissertation before the final dissertation examination committee. Passing of the final examination, satisfactory completion of all program requirements, and submission of the finished and ready-to-be-bound dissertation to the dean result in the award of a PhD degree. Advanced courses and dissertation research are expected to occupy four to five years. On the average, students should require between five and six years to complete the program.
All candidates for the PhD degree must demonstrate teaching skills by preparing, presenting and being evaluated on a teaching exercise. This may involve a research seminar, lecture, demonstration or conference in the context of a Graduate School basic science course. The presentation and associated materials are critiqued and evaluated by faculty members, while the student's dissertation advisory committee evaluates the teaching exercise. Formal parts of the presentation may be videotaped as appropriate. The teaching requirement can be fulfilled at any time during the program, and there is no limit to the number of attempts a student may make to fulfill this requirement. It must be completed successfully before the dissertation defense can be held. This requirement does not limit the prerogative of programs to set additional teaching requirements.