​Genetics and Development


First-year trainees choose their rotations following faculty presentations and talks at the annual retreat. Rotations may be in the laboratories of training faculty members or can be done in any lab outside the training faculty. If a student wishes to do more than one outside rotation, or to do their doctoral research in a lab other than that of training faculty, consultation with the training committee is required. Following the third rotation, trainees will enter a lab by mutual agreement with the mentor to begin their thesis research at the end of June or early July.

Required Courses

  • First year fall semester: Genetic Approaches to Biological Problems I, Molecular Genetics, and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology of Eukaryotes I
  • First year spring semester: Genetic Approaches to Biological Problems II, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology of Eukaryotes II, and Principles of Developmental Biology
  • Second year fall semester: Advanced Eukaryotic Molecular Genetics
  • Second year spring semester: Ethics and Policy of Scientific Research and Statistics for the Basic Sciences

Seminar Series

The course G9321x/9322y Seminars in Genetics and Development is organized and run by the students and postdocs in the department and features their work. It provides a forum to meet with peers and gain experience presenting and critiquing ongoing research. Faculty members are generally excluded from these sessions without special invitation. Thesis defense seminars, which are open to faculty and students, are scheduled as part of this seminar series. Attendance is mandatory for registered students, although two unexcused absences per term are allowed. The department has an active weekly seminar series with speakers from around the world. As part of this series, first- and second-year Genetics and Development students, as well as advanced students, have the opportunity to select and host speakers.

Qualifying Exams

The qualifying examination in the Department of Genetics and Development is a two-part process involving a presentation to a committee of the student's research activities in the laboratory: Part I should be completed by April 1st of year two. Part II must be completed by October 31st of year three. The qualifying exam has as its major goal determining whether a student is capable of PhD thesis research. The qualifying committee is concerned with two questions in this regard: 1) Is the student expert enough in his/her field of research interest to pursue thesis research? and 2) Is the student qualified to do the laboratory bench research required for a PhD project?

The exam itself is an oral presentation (usually PowerPoint) to the committee with questions and discussion. Following the presentation of Part II, the student will receive a grade of pass, contingent pass, contingent upon satisfying prescribed conditions, or fail. In the event of a failing grade, the training committee, in consultation with the qualifying exam committee and mentor, will determine whether the student leaves the program or is allowed a reexamination. There is no requirement for completion of a specific research project to pass the qualifying examination. The qualifying committee must simply be convinced that the student is capable of undertaking thesis research by virtue of their evaluation of the student's research plan, laboratory work, and understanding of the thesis research area. The program director may solicit information from the student’s mentor prior to Part II of the qualifying exam.

The qualifying committee should consist of three members of the Genetics and Development training faculty, excluding the mentor. In exceptional circumstances, one faculty member may be chosen from outside the training faculty, subject to prior approval by the training committee. The qualifying committee should include members who will afford the broadest service to the student as well as enough expertise in the area of the student's research to adequately evaluate the student's knowledge and laboratory progress. The qualifying committee is chosen by the student and his/her mentor.

Thesis Research Advisory Committee

After completion of the qualifying examination, the student will meet at least once per year with a monitoring committee, the Thesis Research Advisory Committee (TRAC), that will advise on the thesis work and monitor progress. The committee will include the mentor/adviser and two other members. One member may be chosen from outside the training faculty, subject to prior approval by the training committee. The compositions of the qualifying committee and the TRAC need not be identical.

The annual TRAC meeting should be held between September 1 and November 30. For the meeting, the student will submit, at least three days in advance, a one-page summary of the previous year’s work and a one-page outline of proposed work for the following year. Notebooks with supporting data can be brought to the meeting, and other materials (papers, recent posters, etc.) may be presented at the discretion of the TRAC. The student will usually present an oral progress report with slides (PowerPoint or similar). Additional meetings may be scheduled at the request of either the student or the TRAC and should be scheduled more frequently (i.e., every 4-6 months) once the student enters his/her sixth year.

Five to seven months prior to the anticipated thesis defense, there must be a meeting of the TRAC to approve the thesis outline. One of the annual TRAC meetings may serve this purpose if the timing is appropriate. Each member of the committee should be provided with an outline of the chapters one week in advance. Any disagreement between student and adviser on thesis content will be mediated by the TRAC.

Thesis Defense Committee

The thesis defense committee is composed of five members. Three must be from the training faculty or the TRAC and usually include the committee chair, the mentor/sponsor (who is the first reader), and a second reader who reads the thesis prior to its distribution to the thesis defense committee. In addition, there should be two outside examiners from other GSAS departments and/or other universities. It is usually advantageous to have TRAC members serve on the thesis defense committee.