MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

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.

Prospective students, please click here to find a listing of our current reorganized GSBS Programs, including the new Biochemistry and Cell Biology Program.

Contact Person

               Dr. Jeffrey Frost

Course Requirements

In addition to the general GSBS course requirements, the CRB Program requires the following courses:

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:

A student’s performance will be regarded as satisfactory only if the student:


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 ( 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:

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.