Ph.D. Dissertation proposal

The dissertation proposal will contain

a) a written portion in which the student prepares and submits a proposal describing the dissertation research, and

b) an oral defense of the research proposal, focusing on the proposed directions and methods of the study.

The goal of this work is to clearly define a plan for a Ph.D. project, to help students prepare a productive project, and allow completion in a timely manner. Obviously, especially exciting or negative results might change the dissertation path later, which is fine. However, the key element of this requirement is to start students thinking about how their research fits into a larger field of study, defining good questions to ask, and identifying the best techniques for answering these questions. Another, equally important, goal of the proposal is to show that the thesis committee understands and agrees with the proposed contents of the thesis. The proposal is not intended to present a completed or fully analyzed body of work.

Timing of the Dissertation Proposal

Students are expected to finish their coursework at the beginning of the graduate program. The dissertation proposal should be presented soon after the comprehensive exam. For most students, the comprehensive exam will occur in semester four and the dissertation proposal should be completed by the end of semester five; students entering with a MS degree will undertake each step sooner. Students may choose to do the exams earlier if desired. Ideally, students should complete the proposal after starting their research projects, but prior to making considerable progress (significantly before graduation is planned/desired). The latest permissible date for the proposal defense is the end of the summer following the third year of graduate work; after this date the student will be placed on academic probation for the fall term of their fourth year. If the proposal is not completed by the end of the fall term, the student will be dismissed from the program.

Dissertation Proposal Committee

Dissertation committees should be chosen by the student by the beginning of the second year of study. The committee will consist of at least four members, including at least three members of the UMSL graduate faculty. All members of the committee may come from the Biology department, but outside members are certainly welcome. The director of the committee is the students doctoral advisor. This committee will serve as an advisory group for the student, monitor the student through the dissertation proposal process, continue to meet annually following a successful proposal defense, and serve as the thesis defense committee.

CMB Emphasis Area

Guidelines for preparing the Research Proposal

This document is a proposal, which should describe the research plans for a student’s dissertation and should be reasonable for accomplishing in the appropriate time frame. The expectation is for a 15 page document (single spaced) written in a grant-style format.  A proposal intended for submission to a federal agency for funding is acceptable as a dissertation proposal. The proposal should include an overview of the research field, the goals of the individual research study, a concise description of current progress that has been made towards these goals, the rationale and methods for future investigations, and what the outcomes of each experiment might reveal about the field in general. The techniques being used should be included, but extensive descriptions of methods are not necessary. For instance, you would say that you will use western blotting with a particular antibody to look at protein accumulation in a certain sample following this treatment, but you do not need to include what buffer you will use or the number/length of the wash steps. Suggestions for document headings are included on the last page of this document, although obviously all projects and fields are slightly different and may result in variation in the final product. Example documents from previous students are available for students to examine.

Review of the Research Proposal

A final draft of the research proposal MUST be submitted to the committee no less than one week prior to the defense date. Students are responsible for scheduling a defense meeting at a time agreeable to all committee members.

Oral Examination

The student will prepare a presentation describing the dissertation proposal. Combining the presentation with the annual required journal club presentation is desirable; otherwise, a 30-45 minute presentation should be prepared for the committee. Presentations only for the committee will not take the place of a journal club presentation. The presentation is somewhat independent of the written document data may be shown on slides that was not included in the document, for instance. A closed committee meeting should immediately follow, where the student will answer questions raised by members of the dissertation proposal committee. The student should be able to answer questions about the field of study, defend the rationale for the directions of the study, describe the techniques to be used in the study, and the significance of potential results.

Outcomes of the Dissertation Proposal

The committee will deliberate, in the absence of the student, and decide if the proposal and defense was satisfactory. The student must complete the specific components of this proposal to the satisfaction of th e advisor and the committee.

Ongoing Review

Following successful completion of the dissertation proposal, students will continue their work, aiming for a timely completion of the Ph.D. degree.Students must have an annual presentation, completely describing their progress to date, in the Cell/Molecular Journal club setting.Following these presentations (or shortly thereafter), students are required to have a meeting with the committee members to discuss current progress, short- and long-term goals, publication potential, and defense plans.Students should take the initiative to schedule these meetings, in advance, at a time satisfactory for all committee members.Students may request meetings with committee members on a more frequent basis if desired.Failure to meet with the dissertation committee to discuss progress will result in a hold being placed on registration.

Alterations for the MS dissertation proposal

MS students should prepare a similar proposal for defining the planned work, although obviously this work will be less comprehensive than a Ph.D. proposal.MS students should present the proposal no later than the third semester.MS students are also expected to follow a plan of annual presentations in journal club followed by committee meetings.

Example headings for a dissertation proposal might include:

I. Introduction/Background

II. Hypotheses and Specific Aim summary (1 page maximum)

Each specific aim should clearly and concisely state what hypothesis is being tested, how this will be accomplished, and what information would be gained.

III. Aim I

A.Rationale

B.Current progress (if applicable)

C.Future plans (including goals, approaches, feasibility, and back-upplans)

D.Significance of findings

IV. Aim II

A.Rationale

B.Current progress (if applicable)

C.Future plans (including goals, approaches, feasibility, and back-upplans)

D.Significance of findings

(repeat as necessary)

V. Overall conclusions and significance of research

IV. Proposed time frame of dissertation work

EES Emphasis Area

This document is a proposal, which should describe the research plans for a students dissertation and should be reasonable for accomplishing in the appropriate time frame. The length of the proposal is not fixed. However, it is common for students to apply to NSF for a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant in November of their third or fourth years. A DDIG proposal (currently limited to 8 single-spaced pages) is acceptable as a dissertation proposal. Whether or not the proposal is written to conform to NSF guidelines, it should cover the following aspects:

1. The big picture. What general topic will you address and why is it of interest to biologists?

2. The specific questions or aims of the project.

3. Background information.

4. Methods.

5. Preliminary data.

Review of the Research Proposal

A final draft of the research proposal MUST be submitted to the committee no less than one week prior to the defense date. Students are responsible for scheduling a defense meeting at a time agreeable to all committee members.

Oral Examination

The student will prepare a 30-45 minute presentation describing the dissertation proposal. This can be presented to the department as part of Biolunch, or to the committee alone. The presentation is somewhat independent of the written document data may be shown on slides that was not included in the document, for instance. A closed committee meeting should immediately follow, where the student will answer questions raised by members of the dissertation proposal committee. The student should be able to answer questions about the field of study, defend the rationale for the directions of the study, describe the techniques to be used in the study, and the significance of potential results.

Outcomes of the Dissertation Proposal

The committee will deliberate, in the absence of the student, and decide if the proposal and defense was satisfactory. The student must complete the specific components of this proposal to the satisfaction of the advisor and the committee.

Ongoing Review

Following successful completion of the dissertation proposal, students will continue their work, aiming for a timely completion of the Ph.D. degree. Students must have an annual meeting with the committee members to discuss current progress, short- and long-term goals, publication potential, and defense plans. Students should take the initiative to schedule these meetings, in advance, at a time satisfactory for all committee members. Students may request meetings with committee members on a more frequent basis if desired. Failure to meet with the dissertation committee to discuss progress will result in a hold being placed on registration.