Due to our program reorganization, the Cell and Regulatory Biology (CRB) Program is being phased-out -- the information below applies only to students who joined the program prior to Fall 2017.
Dr. Jeffrey Frost
In addition to the general GSBS course requirements, the CRB Program requires the following courses:
- Molecular Basis of Cell Signaling
- Seminar in Cell Signaling and Regulation (new name: Design and Delivery of Advanced Research Seminar)
- Seminars in Integrative Biology and Pharmacology (new name: Seminars in Life Sciences) or Signal Transduction Group
- Note: MD/PhD students are strongly recommended to take the CRB courses above. However, decisions regarding coursework for both PhD and MD/PhD students are ultimately made in conjunction with the student’s mentor and thesis advisory committee.
Candidacy Exam Information -- Format: On-Topic Exam
The purpose of the candidacy examination is to test a student’s breadth and depth of knowledge in the biomedical sciences. It entails the defense of a research proposal centered on the student’s thesis topic, and a written answer to a pre-selected breadth topic. Preliminary data on the thesis topic is not required and is not a criterion to be considered in arriving at the exam result. However, data can be included in the proposal if it is directly relevant to the aims and justifies the research direction. Specifically, the candidacy examination will provide the student an opportunity to demonstrate:
- Understanding of the research area in which he or she is working.
- Ability to formulate a novel research question and to communicate its significance.
- Ability to design appropriate experimental approaches to answer the research question.
A student’s performance will be regarded as satisfactory only if the student:
- Demonstrates adequate knowledge of the field in which he or she is being tested.
- Formulates a research question that addresses a significant gap in existing biomedical knowledge.
- Makes sound judgments in proposing an experimental design that will permit conclusive interpretations of anticipated results.
- Demonstrates that the proposed methods are appropriate for answering the experimental questions posed.
The candidacy exam should be taken during the first term of the student’s 3rd year and must follow the “on-topic” format. An on-topic exam is one in which the student designs a research proposal based on his or her thesis project. As stated above, preliminary data on the thesis topic is not required and is not a criterion to be considered in arriving at the exam result. However, data can be included in the proposal if it is directly relevant to the aims and justifies the research direction.
Prior to the final Advisory Committee meeting, the student should forward to the Advisory Committee members a Specific Aims page describing the student’s proposed dissertation project. The Specific Aims page should be no more than one page in length, and should contain the background, hypothesis, specific aims and significance of the project (in that order). For each specific aim the student should include 2 or 3 sentences describing the approaches to be taken. At the last Advisory Committee meeting, the Committee is responsible for approving the petition for candidacy, including approval of the Specific Aims Page.
Upon consent of the Advisory Committee, the student identifies the membership of the Examining Committee. Members must be chosen from the roster of CRB faculty in the CRB Exam Committee list:
2016/17 Examining Committee
Guangwei Du, Chair (2013-2016)
Hesham Amin (2013-2016)
Joe Alcorn (2013-2016)
Rebecca Berdeaux (2013-2016)
Shane Cunha (2013-2016)
Catherine Denicourt (2013-2016)
Jeff Frost (2013-2016)
Alex Gorfe (2013-2016)
David Loose (2013-2016)
Heinrich Taegtmeyer (2013-2016)
Karen Uray (2013-2016)
Kartik Venkatachalam (2013-2016)
Terry Walters (2015-2018)
The Chair of the student’s Exam Committee will be the same faculty member for all CRB students in the given academic year. In addition, one Examining Committee member must be from outside the CRB program. The student then must formally petition the GSBS to be allowed to take the candidacy exam. The appropriate form is available on the GSBS website.
Upon approval of the student’s petition by the GSBS Academic Standards Committee (ASC), the Exam Committee will prepare three breadth questions. The student will inform the Exam Committee chair as to which breadth question he or she chooses to answer. Upon approval of the breadth question, the student will have a minimum of 6 weeks to write a 6-page research proposal and 3-page response to the breadth question. References are expected for both the proposal and the breadth question, and are not included in these page limits. Both documents should be submitted to the Examination Committee members 2 weeks prior to the oral exam. Word files of each document should also be submitted to Bunny Perez (Lourdes.V.Perez@uth.tmc.edu) at the GSBS for Turnitin plagiarism analysis.
It is the responsibility of the student to schedule a time and place for the oral exam. The exam must be taken by the end of the Fall semester of the student’s 3rd year. It is strongly suggested that the oral exam is scheduled promptly after agreement on the breadth question, as examining faculty have many constraints on their time. Please make sure the exam room has a projector as well as an option for writing during the exam, such as a wipe board or chalkboard.
Candidacy Exam Proposal Preparation
The Research Proposal should be prepared by the student without assistance from any faculty member. Students are allowed to get help from other students and postdoctoral fellows. The proposal is to be roughly patterned after an NIH NRSA F31 pre-doctoral fellowship and should include:
- Abstract(350 words or less)
- Specific Aims page: Use the Specific Aims page that was submitted to the Advisory Committee and ASC.
- Background and Significance: Briefly describe the background to the proposal, critically evaluate existing knowledge, and specifically identify gaps which the research is intended to fill. State concisely the importance of the research to the biomedical research problem.
- Research Design: Explain the experimental design and the procedures that will be used to accomplish the specific aims. Describe and discuss the interpretation and significance of possible outcomes of the experiments. Discuss important potential pitfalls and alternative strategies.
- Not counting references, the Background/Significance and Research Design sections combined may not exceed 6 pages.
Examples of successful NRSA F31 proposals can be found here and here. (Please note that these examples are longer than our current format, but their organization is largely correct.) Also note that students should not feel restricted by limitations placed on them in their thesis labs. The aim is for the student to propose the most logical and efficacious manner in which to prove their hypothesis.
Candidacy Exam Oral Presentations
The oral presentation should be prepared by the student in PowerPoint. It should be 20-30 minutes in length and should cover the most important parts of the research proposal. Assistance by faculty members is not allowed. However, students may seek direction from other students and postdoctoral fellows. Students are encouraged to practice their presentations before an audience of other students and/or postdoctoral fellows, as this usually provides invaluable feedback.