Jun 06, 2020  
2018-2019 Graduate Catalog 
    
2018-2019 Graduate Catalog [Not Current Academic Year. Consult with Your Academic Advisor for Your Catalog Year]

Biology, PhD


College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics   > Department of Biology and Biochemistry  > Biology, PhD


The Department of Biology and Biochemistry offers programs of research and study leading to a PhD degree in Biology.

For more information, please see http://www.uh.edu/nsm/biology-biochemistry/graduate.

Admission Requirements


In addition to the College of Natural Science and Mathematics Admission Requirements, applicants should have a Baccalaureate Degree (B.S.) in Biology, Biochemistry, or an equivalent discipline. Evaluation of applicants involves a broad range of criteria including undergraduate preparation, GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and relevant scientific experience. International students should visit http://www.uh.edu/graduate-school/admissions/international-students/ for information on additional requirements, including a $75 application fee.

Degree Requirements


Minimum credit hours required for this degree:

PhD students entering with a Bachelor’s degree: 54.0
PhD students entering with an MS degree: 24.0

There are two degree tracks in the Biology PhD program, Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB) Degree Track and Ecology and Evolution Degree Track.

Cell and Molecular Biology (CBM) Degree Track


The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree will be awarded after students have successfully completed the following requirements. Students may satisfy the degree requirements by completing at least 54 approved semester hours if entering the program with a bachelor’s degree, or 24 hours if entering with a Master’s degree; satisfactorily completing the laboratory rotations and formal graduate level course requirements including seminars; enrolling in at least six semester hours of dissertation courses; and completing and defending a dissertation acceptable to the dissertation committee. All students must be continuously enrolled full time until the degree requirements are completed.

Course Requirements


Core Courses

All PhD students are required to successfully complete the following courses at the first opportunity.

Additional Course Requirements

In addition, all PhD students are required to successfully complete at least one formal Seminar course per year (either fall or spring semester). The departmental seminar (BIOL 6110) does not apply to this requirement. PhD students must successfully complete at least three other formal graduate level lecture courses (2-3 credit hours each) to be decided in conjunction with the student’s dissertation committee. PhD students may petition the department for modification of required courses.

Course Transfers

Transfer credits for electives are limited to 4 approved credits towards a PhD. A grade of B or better is required for transfer of course credit. Transferred courses must be at the graduate level but not have been taken in the context of an earned degree. They must not be older than 10 years by the time of graduation at UH. Moreover, credits cannot be transferred to replace a core course without the approval of the CMB advising committee and will be limited to one 2-credit module. Students may appeal this process by submitting course information and a written statement justifying the transfer of specific course credits to the CMB Divisional Leader and the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs. Course information should include a syllabus that covers course material, and a letter from the course instructor that addresses course content and student performance. A successful appeal will require a 2/3rds majority vote by the primary CMB faculty.

Scholastic Requirement

Graduate students must maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0 in all course work to be considered in good standing. Students not in good standing cannot receive a graduate degree and can be declared ineligible for support with a graduate assistantship (IA, TA, RA/TE or RA). Graduate students who receive grades of C+ or lower in 12 or more semester hours of course work attempted for graduate credit are ineligible for any advanced degree at this institution. Semester hours of “U” grades in S/U-graded courses apply toward the above 12-hour total.

Courses Taken Outside the Department

  • Courses that do not promote the student’s academic development in Biology & Biochemistry, or do not contribute directly to the current research program of the student, will not be allowed.
  • Students who wish to take courses outside the Department need the approval of their thesis or dissertation committee.
  • Students may not pursue another degree program concurrently with a PhD in Biology.
  • Students taking approved courses at other institutions need to notify the Graduate coordinator prior to the start of the term in order for the appropriate paperwork to be processed in time by the Registrar’s Office and the Graduate School.

Graduate Student Rotations


The CMB faculty requires that all graduate students enrolled in a PhD program complete at least two rotations in research labs during the first year, and prior to selection of the major professor. Rotation periods are flexible, but must last at least six weeks. At the end of each rotation, students will submit a short report to their rotation advisor, which will include the initial goals, the procedures used and techniques learned, and the results achieved. A written evaluation of each rotation will be completed by the rotation advisor and submitted to the Division Graduate Committee (DGC). Rotation reports and evaluations must be submitted to the DGC before the next rotation can begin. Any exceptions to the rotation policy must be approved by the DGC. Exemption from a second rotation may be granted by petition to the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs, and will require justification and approval by the student’s advisor. If a student has applied to our Graduate Program with the explicit goal of working with a specific advisor and does not wish to carry out a second rotation, he or she may request an exception, outlining the rationale for declining the second rotation. This request must be accompanied by a letter from the prospective major professor explaining why the decision not to participate in a second research rotation is in the best interest of the student.

First Year Evaluation


At the end of the second term in residence (not counting summers) all students will undergo a first year evaluation administered by the DGC. A positive evaluation must be received for the student to remain in good standing. The evaluation will consider the student’s progress and take into account the following:

  • Courses taken and grades.
  • Seminar class performance.
  • Attendance at departmental seminars.
  • Reports from rotation advisors.
  • Student’s acceptance into a research lab.
  • Other information as required by the DGC.

Committee Meetings


All students must form and meet with their thesis/dissertation committee no later than the third term following admission (not counting summer sessions). For PhD students, the first meeting will focus on the qualifying exam topic. After passing their qualifying exam, PhD students must meet with their committee during their 5th term (not counting summer sessions) to discuss their research plan. In addition, all students must convene a meeting of their committee, at which a majority of the members are present, at least once per calendar year to discuss their progress until graduation.

PhD Qualifying Examination


The Cell and Molecular Biology Division requires graduate students to pass a qualifying exam in their second year. This exam serves to develop and reinforce the skills required for developing experimental programs to test hypotheses and to communicate scientific ideas in a concise manner. Students unable to successfully demonstrate these skills will fail the examination and will not remain as doctoral candidates in the program. The exam has three components: 1) a written thesis proposal, 2) an exam to test general foundational knowledge that is necessary for a successful career in cell and molecular biology research, and 3) an oral defense of the written proposal. The dissertation committee will evaluate the student’s performance. At any point during these three exam components, the committee may decide that the student has an unconditional pass and can move on to the next component; a conditional pass in which the student needs to go back and make improvements before moving on or that the student needs to take extra coursework; or in rare situations, the student has failed without recourse. Details and due dates of the qualifying exam can be found here. Students who do not complete all three qualifying exam components by the end of their second year shall receive an unsatisfactory grade for their research hours for that second term of their second year. The student will continue to receive an unsatisfactory grade for research hours for every following term until they complete the exam or change degree plans to a Masters in Science. A student who accumulates a total of 12 credits of unsatisfactory grades in courses and research hours will be automatically dismissed from the University. Students who are given the option to retake the qualifying exam, but are unable to reschedule or retake in the second term of their second year will be given a grade of incomplete for their research hours. The grade will be changed to an “S” or “U” depending on whether the student retakes or does not retake the exam in the following academic session (summer or spring term). Every effort should be made for the student to retake the exam by the end of their second year in the program. If prolonged absence of a committee member would make it impossible for a student to meet this requirement, that committee member will be replaced.

Preparation of the Dissertation


Each student whose objective is the PhD degree is expected to commence graduate research as soon as possible. It should be recognized that research is an integral component of the degree requirements and that failure to maintain an adequate program of research constitutes unsatisfactory progress toward a degree.

  1. Permission to write and defend the dissertation
    PhD students will need to obtain formal permission to write and defend their dissertation from their dissertation committee. The “Dissertation Committee Permission Form” will need to be signed by all committee members and turned in to the Graduate Coordinator no later than the end of the term prior to the anticipated term of the defense. It is recommended, but not mandatory, that the student have a committee meeting at that time in order for the committee to be aware of the student progress and make final recommendations before the defense. It is expected that the student make progress towards graduation within a year of filing the form.
  2. Submission and Defense of the Dissertation
    Each student must submit and defend the dissertation when it is in final form. Part of the defense will include the presentation of a seminar open to the public. Following this seminar, a formal defense/examination will take place, which is open to any faculty member of the University community. Despite the open nature of the defense, the thesis or dissertation committee has sole responsibility in deciding whether or not the examination is passed. In order for a student to pass the examination, an affirmative vote by the major professor and no more than one negative vote by other committee members must be recorded.

Ecology and Evolution Degree Track


The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree will be awarded after students have successfully completed the following requirements. Students may satisfy the degree requirements by completing at least 54 approved semester hours; satisfactorily completing the formal graduate level course requirements including seminars; enrolling in at least six semester hours of dissertation courses; and completing and defending a dissertation acceptable to the dissertation committee. All students must be continuously enrolled full time until the degree requirements are completed.

Major Professor and Dissertation Committee


  1. During the first year, each student is required to select, by mutual agreement, a tenured or tenure-track member of the faculty of the Division of Ecology and Evolution as a major professor who, with the dissertation (PhD) committee, will supervise the student’s graduate studies. The student’s choice of faculty advisor must be approved by the graduate committee chair. If a student wishes to work jointly with more than one professor, an understanding as to who is primarily responsible for supervision of the student’s graduate studies should be reached.
  2. In consultation with the major professor the student shall select, by mutual agreement, faculty members to serve on their committee. The committee shall be chosen before the end of the second semester of residence. Details on the committee composition are given in the section “Academic Policies” below.

Course Requirements


  1. The minimum semester hour requirements, based on University regulations, are 54 hours if entering the program with a bachelor’s degree, or 24 hours if entering the program with a Master’s degree:
  2. PhD students are required to take or have taken a course in Biostatistics or equivalent. Students must take at least one formal graduate level course during their first year, and a total of at least 4 formal graduate level courses, for at least 12 hours of credit. All students are required to take at least one seminar course per year in addition to the departmental seminar (typically, BIOL 7367 Population Biology Seminar). Additional courses may be required by the committee.
  3. Transfer credits for electives are limited to 6 approved credit hours toward a PhD degree. For transfer of course credit, a grade of B or better is required, the credits must not have been taken towards a prior degree and they must be have been taken within 10 years of the time of graduation at UH. Students may initiate the transfer process by submitting course information and a written statement justifying the transfer of specific course credits to the E&E Division Policy Leader and the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs. Course information must include a syllabus that covers course material. A successful transfer will require unanimous support by the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs, the E&E Division Policy Leader, the E&E members of the Graduate Committee and the student’s thesis/dissertation committee if it has been formed.
  4. The minimum cumulative grade point average in course work, exclusive of thesis, dissertation, research, and special problems, must be 3.00. Graduate students who receive grades of C+ or lower in 12 or more semester hours of course work attempted for graduate credit are ineligible for any advanced degree at this institution. Semester hours of “U” grades in S/U-graded courses apply toward the above 12-hour total.
  5. Courses that do not promote the student’s academic development in Biology and Biochemistry, or do not contribute directly to the current research program of the student, will not be allowed. Students who wish to take courses outside the Department need the approval of their thesis or dissertation committee. Students may not pursue another degree program concurrently with a PhD in Biology. Students taking approved courses at other institutions need to notify the Graduate coordinator prior to the start of the semester in order for the appropriate paperwork to be processed in time by the Registrar’s Office and the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies.

First Year Evaluation


During the second long semester all students will undergo a first year evaluation administered by faculty in the division (typically, division members of the Graduate Committee). A positive evaluation must be received for the student to remain in good standing. The evaluation will consider the student’s progress and take into account the following:

  • Courses taken and grades
  • Seminar class performance
  • Attendance at departmental seminars
  • Research progress
  • Report from research advisor(s)

Advancement to PhD Candidacy


  • A student advances to candidacy for a PhD degree after completion of a qualifying exam. The qualifying exam will be administered by the student’s dissertation committee, and will consist of three parts: (1) a written exam, (2) a dissertation proposal, and (3) an oral exam. Details and due dates of the qualifying exam can be found here.
  • The qualifying exam must be completed by the end of the fourth term following admission (not counting summer sessions). In exceptional circumstances, a student may petition to take the proposal and/or oral parts of the qualifying exam in the fifth term. A successful petition will require unanimous support by the student’s dissertation committee and the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs.
  • If the student fails any part of the qualifying exam, the dissertation committee will prescribe a course of action. This may include (a) remedial courses; (b) repetition of the exam; or (c) termination of the student from the PhD program. In the case of the oral exam, such a prescription shall be given verbally immediately after the examination and followed by a written notification within one week. Any retakes must be completed by the end of the subsequent long term. Each exam may be taken no more than twice. Failure after the second try will result in either award of a terminal MS degree or dismissal from the graduate program.
  • A student who fails to attempt the qualifying exam within the fourth term will receive a grade of “U” (unsatisfactory) in 2 credit hours or research. A student who is allowed to take the proposal and/or oral parts of the qualifying exam in the fifth term, but fails to complete the qualifying exam within the fifth term, will receive a grade of “U” in 2 credit hours or research. Any further delay will result in additional “U” grades in 6 research credit hours per long term (or 3 credit hours in the summer). Once a student who has not yet taken his/her qualifying exam has accumulated 12 hours of “U” grades, he/she will be automatically dismissed from the University. 
  • Students who fail to pass part of the qualifying exam in one term and were given the recommendation to retake the exam but were unable to reschedule within the same term will receive a grade of “I” (incomplete) for 2 credit hours or research. The grade will be changed to an “S” or “U” depending on whether the student retakes or does not retake the exam in the following term (not counting summer sessions). Note that the “S” or “U” grades reflect only whether or not the student has taken the exam in the given term. Failure to pass the qualifying exam will not result in a “U” in these research hours.

Committee Meetings


All students must form and meet with their thesis/dissertation committee no later than the third term following admission (not counting summer sessions). The first meeting will focus on the student’s initial research progress and plans for future research. For PhD students, the first meeting will also include some discussion of which committee members will conduct the written part of the qualifying exam, and the topics that will be covered. For PhD students, the second committee meeting will typically be the oral exam. After the first meeting, all students will meet with their committees (from which no more than one committee member may be absent), at least once per calendar year to discuss their progress towards completion of the degree. At any time the committee may decide that additional meetings should take place. At least one week before every committee meeting, the student will distribute a 2-3 page progress report to each committee member (see exception for qualifying oral exam in section D). After the first meeting, the student will bring a copy of the Committee Status Report from the previous meeting. At the end of each meeting, the chair of the committee will summarize the meeting and make recommendations to the student using a Committee Status Report form. If a committee member is absent from a meeting, the student will meet him/her within two weeks of the meeting.

Final Examinations


PhD students will need to obtain formal permission to write and defend their dissertation from their dissertation committee. The Dissertation Committee Permission Form will need to be signed by all committee members and turned in to the Graduate Coordinator no later than the end of the term prior to the anticipated term of the defense. It is recommended, but not mandatory, that the student have a committee meeting at that time in order for the committee to be aware of the student progress and make final recommendations before the defense. It is expected that the student make progress towards graduation within a year of filing the form.

Each PhD candidate must submit and defend the dissertation when it is in final form. Although any member of the University community may attend the final examination, the committee has sole responsibility in deciding whether or not the examination is passed. In order for a student to pass the examination, an affirmative vote by the major professor and no more than one negative vote by other committee members must be recorded. The examination will emphasize research achievements. In addition, competence in the candidate’s field of research and in the field of ecology and evolution in general will be expected. If the candidate fails to successfully defend his/her dissertation the committee may, 1) outline additional work to be completed and reassessed by the committee or, 2) recommend award of a terminal MS degree. PhD candidates shall have at least one manuscript based on their dissertation submitted for publication before their defense.

Academic Policies


Whether they follow the Cell and Molecular Biology degree track or the Ecology and Evolution degree track, students in the Biology PhD program must specify a dissertation committee and have the names on file in the Office of the Dean at least one term before their graduation. The committee must consist of at least four members, to include three faculty members who have their primary appointment within the department of Biology and Biochemistry and one approved member external to the department. Further details on committee composition can be found here. Additionally, specific requirements for each degree track apply as follows.

Cell and Molecular Biology Degree Track

At least two of the committee members must have their primary appointment in the Cell and Molecular Biology Division of the Department of Biology and Biochemistry. Research faculty may serve on the committee in addition to the core of four committee members who are tenured or tenure-track faculty.

Ecology and Evolution Degree Track

At least three of the committee members (advising or non-advising) must be tenured or tenure-track faculty members with a primary appointment in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry. The three non-advising members must include one member with a primary appointment in the Ecology and Evolution Division of the Department of Biology and Biochemistry and one member from outside the Department of Biology and Biochemistry. At least two of the committee members (advising or non-advising) must have their primary appointment in the Ecology and Evolution Division. Committee decisions can only involve one dissenting vote from a committee member.

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