MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

I.  Advisory Committee

The student’s Advisory Committee composition and requirements are the same as described by the GSBS. The student, in consultation with their mentor, chooses the Advisory Committee. The Advisory committee consists of at least five members including the faculty sponsor/mentor and the co-mentor, if any. At least three of the five committee members must be faculty affiliated with the Immunology Program. Students should consult with Immunology Program Directors prior to assembling the Advisory Committee. The committee must meet with the student at least once every six months to monitor research and academic progress and to ensure that the Program’s standards of excellence are maintained. The committee is assembled by the student and must be approved by the GSBS Academic Standards Committee and is responsible for administering the dissertation defense.

 II.  Requirements for Completion of Graduate Studies in Immunology

 A. Eligibility and Requirements

1. Students wishing to claim affiliation with the Immunology Program must satisfy the entrance requirements of the GSBS for the MS, PhD, or MD/PhD degree, matriculate, and affiliate with a laboratory as well as with the Program.

2. During the first year of studies, the student should fulfill the following requirements: (a) completion of research tutorials consistent with the GSBS requirements, (b) identification of a potential research sponsor within the Program by mutual agreement with the faculty member, and (c) begin coursework, as outlined below.

3. Students enrolled in the MD/PhD Program are required to first satisfactorily complete medical school coursework prior to entrance into the Immunology Program.

B. Course Requirements

1. The minimum required coursework for Immunology PhD students is determined by the Curriculum Committee of the Immunology Program and will be consistent with the GSBS requirements. This requirement includes Fundamental Immunology, Emerging Concepts in Immunology, and elective course(s) totaling 4 credit hours. Electives are selected in consultation with the research advisor and the advisory committee and can be taken during any semester.

2. Students pursuing the MD/PhD are required to successfully complete Fundamental Immunology and Emerging Concepts in Immunology, in addition to any GSBS requirements.

3. Students pursuing a Master’s degree or a second Area of Research Concentration in Immunology must complete the Fundamental Immunology and Emerging Concepts in Immunology courses.

4. Recommended Schedule for Completion of Required Coursework:

Year 1, Fall

-Foundations of Biomedical Research

-The Ethical Dimensions of the Biomedical Sciences

Year 1, Spring

-Fundamental Immunology

-Elective (optional)

Year 2, Fall

-Emerging Concepts in Immunology

-Elective (optional)

Year 2, Spring

-Scientific Writing

C. Doctoral Candidacy Exam

1. Program students must submit their candidacy exam documents (abstract, GSBS form) to the GSBS Academic Standards Committee (ASC) before the end of their second year. Once the abstract has been accepted by the ASC, the student is given a timeline for preparation of their full written proposal and a timeframe for the oral defense administered by the candidacy exam committee, which is selected by the student and advisor.

2. Immunology Program students must complete the Scientific Writing requirement before taking the candidacy exam. If the grant-writing course is used to fulfill the requirement, the subject of the course proposal is expected to be different from the subject of the student's candidacy examination.

3. The examining committee should be comprised of five faculty members as detailed by the GSBS guidelines for the Examining Committee. The examining committee must include a minimum of two Immunology Program Faculty and cannot include the primary mentor or co-mentor. Immunology Program students should consult with Program Directors prior to forming the examining committee.

4. The candidacy exam can be off-topic or on-topic as described below.

a. On-topic exams must comply with General GSBS requirements and the following Program-specific requirements:

i.  Proposal

A written on-topic proposal will follow the NIH NRSA F award format per GSBS guidelines. Students are required to write one page of specific aims and 6 pages of research proposal, which includes Significance, Innovation and Approach; these page limits do not include the bibliography. The topic of the research proposal will be related to the students' research project and the advisors should not supply the student with their own grant proposals. The proposal should contain original material developed by the student and written independently by the student.

ii. Depth of Knowledge

The Examining Committee is expected to question the student about the background knowledge, general concepts and methods related to the proposal. The student's understanding of the proposed research strategy, approach and techniques will be assessed during the oral examination, along with the student's ability to interpret the results and develop a hypothesis and alternative approaches.

iii. Breadth of Knowledge

The Examining Committee members will meet/communicate to identify three breadth areas that are not directly related to the student's proposal within 10 days of committee formation. The Committee Chair will provide students with bullet-point subtopics and sample questions to help the student to prepare for the breadth questions at least 4 weeks in advance of the exam. Students are responsible for communicating with the Committee Chair regarding this timeline to ensure that sufficient time is allotted to the student for preparation in advance of the examination. The student's breadth of knowledge will be assessed during the last third of the candidacy exam based on the student's response to questions in all three areas.

b. Off-topic exams must comply with General GSBS requirements and the following Program-specific requirements:

i. Approval for Advancement

At the last Advisory Committee meeting, the student should request permission to proceed to the candidacy examination. If granted permission, the student then needs to provide each member of the Advisory Committee with two off-topic abstracts within two weeks of their meeting; this can be done via e-mail after the meeting. Each abstract should be no more than one page and provide the background, significance and hypothesis of the proposal. Once the Advisory Committee agrees that both topics are appropriate, the student needs to obtain the signatures of the Advisory Committee members indicating that the student has approval to petition for candidacy with the chosen topics. If the Advisory Committee does not feel that either proposal topic will generate a good proposal or the subject matter is truly off-topic, the Advisory Committee can request the student to provide two more alternative or revised abstracts.

ii. Selection of Exam Topic

The Advisory Committee members will recommend which of the two topics they believe will provide a stronger proposal; however, the student will ultimately choose the proposal topic. The student should use the Advisory Committee to receive feedback on the perceived strengths and weaknesses of each proposal topic. These suggestions can then be used to formulate a better proposal. Once the recommendations are received by the student, the student will choose the proposal topic.

D.  Thesis Research

Given a positive outcome on the candidacy exam, the student registers for dissertation research and proceeds with their thesis research while continuing to meet at least every six months with their advisory committee. The advisory committee plays an active role in monitoring the progress of each student. A thesis defense date is scheduled in consultation with the research mentor and faculty advisory committee. Thesis document format and timelines are prescribed by GSBS Academic Affairs.

E.  Scientific Engagement

1. Student Retreat

Every year the Immunology Program sponsors a student-organized Research Retreat, which includes student talks, poster sessions, and a keynote speaker. The retreat is considered to be valuable time away from the laboratory, allowing students and faculty to become better acquainted with each other. All students are required to actively participate in retreat activities and present their research consistent with expectations for the year of their studies.

2.  Immunology Club

Each month the GSBS Immunology Program students hold an Immunology Club meeting to discuss subjects relevant to cancer immunology, graduate school, and career advancement. Topics presented by speakers in the past include developing effective fellowship proposals, non-traditional career opportunities, and cutting-edge research in immunology. A number of social events for students are also held at this time. Students are strongly encouraged to attend these events.

3. Seminar Series

Students are encouraged, but not required, to attend immunology-related seminars. Several seminar series are offered by the Center for Cancer Immunology Research (CCIR) and the Center for Inflammation and Cancer (CIC); both Centers are based at MD Anderson and specialize in translational immunology research. The seminars provide opportunities for students to learn about research led by accomplished scientists. The CCIR also holds seminars in which students, postdoctoral fellows, and PhD-level research staff give talks about their projects, and in return they receive feedback regarding presentation style, experimental design, and interpretation of results from faculty.

III. Incentives

A.  Travel Award

The Immunology Program will provide financial awards to students attending scientific meetings subject to available funding. The Program will award money for meetings where the student will be presenting either a poster or talk. The student can receive funds from both GSBS and Immunology for the same meeting. Each student can request travel funds for one meeting each academic year. Students requesting support to attend conferences and symposia are asked to submit:

  1. letter of application
  2. proof of acceptance of the abstract
  3. written consent from the mentor

Disbursement of award is contingent upon receipt of a proof of attendance.

B.  Fellowship/Grant Award

The Immunology Program has established an incentive program to encourage PhD students to apply for relevant nationally or internationally competitive individual fellowships. Subject to available funding, and eligibility details, this program will provide students with an award for those who successfully submit a fellowship application and an additional award for those who are successfully funded. Details on eligibility, application instructions, and award are maintained in the Program’s Individual Fellowship Incentive Program document.

Date of last revision: 3/2/2021