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Guidelines for Graduate Study

The PhD Program Timeline outlines the process and provides a detailed structure for the first two years of the Ph.D. program. Thereafter, the time to completion of the Ph.D. varies largely on the progress and nature of the research project.

PhD students:  (4-5 years is typical)
Year 1 - IGPBS course work, select a mentor and Student Advisory Committee (SAC).

Year 2 - Conduct research, have 1st SAC meeting by September 15, Abstract for Written Proposal due May 1, Final approved abstract for Written Proposal due June 1, Written proposal due August 15, Response to proposal critique due October 1, Oral Exams - November 1-15.*

Year 3-5 - Continue research, have mandatory Dissertation Committee meetings every 6-9 months, prepare and defend dissertation.       

MD/PhD students:
Enter the PhD program after completing their first two years of medical school, during which time they select their mentor.  Students typically spend 3-4 years completing their PhD before returning to finish their final two years of medical school.

Year 1 - Conduct research, select Student Advisory Committee (SAC) and have 1st meeting by September 15, Abstract for Written Proposal due May 1, Final approved abstract for Written Proposal due June 1, Written proposal due August 15, Response to proposal critique due October 1, Oral Exams - November 1-15.*

Year 2-4 - Continue research, have mandatory Dissertation Committee meetings every 6-9 months, prepare and defend dissertation.

*A petition process to reconsider this timeline is available for students that don't fulfill the Graduate School Enrollment and Academic Requirements by the end of their 2nd fall semester or who encounter unforeseen personal issues.  The Departmental GSAC will evaluate submitted petitions.  Transfer students will follow a similar timeline, but will be initiated at a date consistent with Graduate School requirements.


Faculty Oversight: Student Advisory and Dissertation Committees.


The student selects a Student Advisory Committee (SAC) with mentor assistance and a meeting is scheduled during the first months of joining the lab.  The Graduate Program Director must be notified of these members once selected to determine their eligibility. The committee will evaluate progress, sets future goals, and identifies and addresses issues/concerns during the course of the student's graduate program. The committee consists of the Mentor and at least four faculty members selected by the student. The makeup of this committee is described in the Supplement to Guidelines for Graduate Study. The SAC typically becomes the Dissertation Committee following successful completion of the comprehensive exam.  Rules governing faculty membership in these committees are provided in the Supplement to Guidelines for Graduate Study.  The student will provide faculty names and update the Physiology Graduate Program Director of changes in the Dissertation Committee when they occur.  


The Comprehensive Examination


Oral Comprehensive Exam will typically be completed during the 2nd Spring Semester of graduate school (or 2nd Fall Semester of graduate school for M.D./Ph.D. students). It consists of two parts: a written proposal (Departmental requirement) and an oral examination (University requirement).  The written portion is composed of an abstract and a NIH style grant proposal, both of which require committee approval of completion before proceeding on to the oral exam. The process of preparing the abstract and research proposal is designed to mimic the process of writing and revising a NIH grant.  The proposal typically describes the research project that will be the dissertation research project; however, by no means does this require that the student ultimately follow this plan for their dissertation.


Abstract:  The student prepares an abstract that describes the overall concept of the proposal and submits it to their SAC and the Graduate Program Director by May 1. The SAC will review the abstract to determine whether it constitutes a good basis for a proposal.  The SAC will request changes such that by June 1 an approved abstract can be attained.   Upon committee approval (via email) the Final Abstract will then be forwarded to the Graduate Program Director before June 1. The abstract should:

•1)       State the broad, long-term research objectives.

•2)       Explain what the research in the application is intended to accomplish.

•3)       State the hypotheses to be tested. 

•4)       Include 2-3 specific aims.   

•5)       Avoid general excessive experimental details.

•6)       The abstract must be double-spaced and less than 500 words in length with 0.5 inch margins; Arial 11pt font).


Written Proposal: The scientific problem and general research approaches are identified, developed, clarified and refined by frequent discussions with the mentor, the SAC, other faculty and students, and reading of relevant literature. The written proposal must be the student's own work, though the direction of the research will be determined in conjunction with the mentor. The student can and should seek feedback from faculty and other students regarding the written proposal.

                The student will submit their NIH style grant proposal to the Graduate Program Director by August 15.  The Graduate Program Director will forward the proposal to the Oral Examination Committee (makeup described below). The student will receive a summarized written critique of the proposal during the 3rd week of February.  The student is encouraged to discuss the critique with the mentor, but must revise the written proposal independently. The revision of the proposal will include a preface (<2 page) with replies to each of the comments in the critique and changes to the proposal must be identified using the Track Changes option.  The student will submit this revised proposal to the Graduate Program Director by October 1.  The proposal will be approved within a couple of days and the Comprehensive Exam date will be set by the Graduate Program Director to occur between November 1-15.  (If the proposal is not approved - then the Oral Exam may be postponed).


Format of written proposal:  Specific Aims (< 2 pages, double spaced) will precede the Research Strategy Section of the proposal (< 22 double spaced pages) and is comprised of the following sections - Significance, Innovation, and Approach (total length <24 pages).  The student should not feel compelled to use the full 24 pages permitted; conciseness and clarity carry far more value than length in judging these proposals; note the title page, abstract page, and references, do not count in the 24 page count.  The NIH provides useful information for writing a good grant proposal at The proposal contains the following sections: (All documents - 0.5 inch margins; Arial 11pt font).

•1.    Title page.

•2.    Abstract page - SAC approved version.

•3.    Specific Aims (< 2 pages) - Should state concisely: 1) The broad, long-term research objectives, 2) what the research in this application is intended to accomplish, 3) hypotheses to be tested, and 4) rationale for research.

4.  Research Strategy (< 22 pages)

•a.    Significance (4-6 pages) - Briefly, describe the existing knowledge, and specifically identify gaps, which the project is intended to fill. State concisely the importance of the research described in this application by relating the specific aims to the broad long-term objectives and to health relevance.

•b.    Innovation (< 1 page) - Describe how the application challenges and seeks to shift current research paradigms by using novel concepts, approaches, methods. Are concepts, approaches, methods, new to the field of study, or is a refinement, improvement, or new application of theoretical concepts, approaches, or methods being proposed?

•c.     Approach (15-18 pages) - Describe the research design and the procedures to be used to accomplish the specific aims of the project. Include the means by which the data will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted. Describe any new methodology and its advantage over existing procedures. Include alternative approaches to achieve the aims. The student's own unpublished data cannot be included in the written proposal.  For each specific aim, the aim should be restated and include subsections Overview/Rationale, Experimental Design, Expected Results and Interpretation, Potential Pitfalls and Alternative Approaches.

•5.    References - Include complete references to all cited literature (does not count in page limits).

•6.    Introduction to the Revision (1-2 pages) - The student will answer questions, address concerns and resolutions to concerns based on the critique from the Oral Exam Committee and submit this with the changes tracked on the original proposal to the Graduate Program Director by October 1.


Proposals not following these guidelines will be rejected by the Graduate Program Director and returned to the student for immediate correction. 


Oral exam: The purpose of the oral examination is to test the student's ability to defend the written proposal and knowledge of appropriate background material, including IGPBS and/or medical school course work, advanced graduate courses, and command of the relevant scientific literature. The Oral Examination Committee (5 members) will consist of several members of the SAC, in particular the outside Departmental SAC representative (dependent upon availability), the balance will be members of the University of Kansas Medical Center Graduate Faculty. The Graduate Program Director appoints a tenure track Physiology faculty member to serve as the Examining Committee Chair typically a Departmental Graduate Student Advisory Committee member. The student will be informed of the date, time and makeup of their oral examination committee by the Graduate Program Director in January.   During the examination, the Examining Committee Chair acts as an impartial mediator.  Students should discuss with members of the Oral Examination Committee those particular areas of knowledge for which they will be held responsible. Students are strongly encouraged to practice their presentation during a mock exam using fellow students as examiners.


Conduct of the exam: Prior to the start of the oral examination, the student is excused and the Examination Committee meets with the student's mentor, who reviews the academic history and laboratory experience of the student. The mentor is then excused and the Chair of the Examination Committee instructs the student as to the manner in which the examination is to be conducted. The student begins with an oral presentation in which the essence of the proposal is presented to the examining committee; audiovisual aids are encouraged. The objective of the examination is to ascertain the student's facility with the chosen area of research and the ability to defend the rationale and scientific approach of the proposed research. It is fully appropriate for the examining committee to explore the depths of the student's knowledge of basic science relevant to the research proposal. The examination is not open to the public.

At the conclusion of examination, the student is excused. The examination committee evaluates the student's performance with respect to the following components: the written proposal, the formal presentation, the defense of the proposed research, and the general knowledge of science exhibited by the student during the examination period. Next, committee members cast votes of satisfactory or unsatisfactory to determine the student's performance.  The Committee Chair votes only in the case of a tied vote. The Committee Chair writes a brief summary of the performance after a decision has been reached. The student and mentor return and are informed of the grade but not the distribution of voting. The Chair provides feedback regarding areas of strength or any deficiencies.  In the case of an unsatisfactory grade, the student may apply for reexamination on a date no less than 90 days or more than 180 days from the date of the previous examination. The Qualifying Examination Committee determines the nature of the reexamination. In the event of a second failure, the student will not be allowed to continue in the Ph.D. program. The student must maintain continuous full time enrollment until completion of all requirements for the Ph.D.


Ph.D. Candidates


Dissertation Committee Meetings: After passing the exam, the student, now a Ph.D. candidate, must convene a meeting of the Dissertation Committee at minimum once a year, more frequent Committee Meeting is at the discretion of the Dissertation Committee.  Members of the SAC typically become members of the Dissertation Committee, the Physiology Graduate Program Director should be notified who the members of the Dissertation Committee members are and when changes in membership occur.  In those cases where the Mentor is not a Departmental Representative as per University regulations, the Departmental Representative must serve as a co-chair.


Dissertation Defense: The student is eligible to proceed to prepare their dissertation and for a defense when 1) they have one manuscript accepted on which they are first author, and 2) their SAC has given approval to proceed. The student writes their dissertation under the advisement of their mentor.  The mentor is responsible for reviewing/critiquing the document prior to it being submitted to the Student Advisory Committee (SAC).  The student sends the mentor-approved dissertation (along with the signed Mentor Dissertation Approval Form) to each member of the SAC and the Physiology Graduate Program Director. Within 3 weeks of receiving the dissertation, each committee member will provide corrections and suggestions for improvement to the student and mentor via email. The student will subsequently revise the dissertation and the review process by the SAC will be repeated. Once all members approve the dissertation (and sign the SAC Dissertation Approval Form), the student submits a request to the Physiology Graduate Program Director to apply for the Final Defense*.  The student will provide the following:

   1.    Signed SAC Dissertation Acceptance form.

   2.    Title of the dissertation.

   3.    Date**, time and place for the defense (1 hr for the seminar and ~3 hr for questioning by the committee; work through iASC Education to schedule this and to put together your defense flier).

   4.    Names of all members of your dissertation committee.  

The student must provide this information to the Director at least 3-4 weeks prior to the defense in order to file the Progress-to-Degree Form or the defense will have to be postponed. The Defense will consist of a 50-minute public presentation and 1.5-3 hours of questions by the Dissertation Committee.   

Information regarding the defense can be found in the KU Graduate Catalog (university rules) 

* The Graduate Director will not submit a Progress-to-Degree Form until the SAC has accepted the dissertation and signed the acceptance form.

**The defense must be scheduled to occur at least one week prior to the Graduate Studies deadline for electronically filing the dissertation.

Dissertation Defense Timeline                                    

Dissertation Format:  The product of the student's research forms the basis of the dissertation.  The dissertation typically contains several manuscripts (published, submitted, or are in preparation) that describe the student's research. Each manuscript forms a chapter in the dissertation.  Additionally, the student provides an introductory chapter that provides the background and significance of the research project, and a final chapter that summarizes the conclusions of the studies.  The KUMC Office of Graduate Studies has a number of documents that explain formatting, academic calendar, graduation checklists, etc.  Additional resources include the Director of Graduate Studies for KUMC, Marcia Jones (8-4876 or 8-1238) and the Department has a Graduation Checklist that describes the process at its website.


Enrollment and Other Departmental Requirements


1. Students must meet all Graduate School Enrollment and Academic Requirements (i.e., Graduate School English Requirement, not on academic probation) such that they can complete their Oral Exam before the end of 2nd year in graduate school.

2. Students are required to attend the weekly Physiology Departmental seminar. 

3. Students are expected to participate in the Student Research Forum after the first year in the laboratory.

4. Students are required to present one departmental seminar as part of PHSL 851 Course.


Course requirements: 

1. Pre-comprehensive exam students must enroll in a minimum of 6 credit hours during the Spring and Fall semesters, and 3 credit hours during the Summer semester (courses dictated by the SAC and/or PHSL 850).

2. Students are required to take Comprehensive Human Physiology (PHSL 842), a five credit hour course.

     (MD/PhD students are exempt as their medical school curriculum covers this).

3. All students are required to take Physiology of Disease (PHSL 843), a three credit hour course. 

4. All MD/PhD students are required to enroll in an Ethics course.  This can be GSMC 856 (Introduction to Research Ethics, 1 cr) or the ethics course administered at Stowers.

5. Any other course work will be determined by the student, student's mentor and advisory committee.

6. Post-comprehensive exam students must enroll in PHSL 851 Seminar, for 1 credit hour in the Fall and Spring semesters, with the balance of credits (see #1 above) in PHSL 850 or another course of choice.

7. Prior to the start of their sixth year, students should complete an approval form to allow them to enroll in less than the normally required hours. This form is available at the Office of Graduate Studies web site and will require a signature by the Graduate Program Director. Once approved the student must enroll in 1 credit hour of PHSL 999 Dissertation Research thereafter.  

8. If a student is going to graduate prior to year six, they must enroll in 1 credit hour of PHSL 999 Dissertation Research during the semester of graduation.






Michael Wolfe, Ph.D., Director of the Graduate Program

Lane Christenson, Ph.D.

Paige Geiger, Ph.D.

John Stanford, Ph.D.

Steve LeVine, Ph.D.

Vargheese Chennathukuzhi, Ph.D.

Kausik Si, Ph.D.

Ashley Cloud, Student representative

Last modified: Oct 08, 2020