University of Nebraska Medical Center

Completing the Program

Q: What are the requirements to graduate with a PhD from the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department?

A: You must complete the coursework that was originally approved by your Supervisory Committee—your Program of Study. You must write/defend/pass your comprehensive exam. After passing your comprehensive exam, you must fill out the paper work and receive approval to become a PhD candidate. After you have received candidacy approval, you should defend no sooner than seven months from that date and no later than three years beyond that date. (You can receive permission from your committee to extend candidacy beyond the three-year deadline.) You must write/defend/submit your dissertation. You must have at least one first-author manuscript submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.

Note that the criteria for determining whether your research projects are “completed” are established by your advisor and your Supervisory Committee, not by a specific number of articles authored or length of time served as a PhD student.

The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology requires participation in Journal Club/Seminar throughout your graduate career and at least two oral presentations of your research to the department within the seminar series. These presentations are generally given after passing your comprehensive exam (the fourth year) and at the time you are ready to defend your dissertation.

Q: When must I have a first-author paper submitted in order to graduate and what documentation is required to establish this?

A: According to current Graduate Studies policy, a student must submit their proof of submission by the time they turn in their dissertation (usually a week prior to graduation). They must hand in the first page of the published document, or proof of submission (email or letter from the agency acknowledging their submission) with the first page of document.

Q: I think I’m ready to graduate. What should I be doing?

A: The first thing to do if you think you are ready to graduate is to discuss this with your adviser. Often the student’s perception of readiness does not necessarily match the views of their adviser or committee on the subject. If your adviser agrees that the time to finish is approaching, it is wise to schedule Supervisory Committee meetings at greater frequency (three to four meetings during the finishing year is common). Everyone involved in the decision-making process needs to be kept updated on your research progress and your ultimate post-graduation plans.

Q: When can I start getting my dissertation materials assembled?

A: Even without permission from your committee or adviser, you can start to organize yourself to prepare for finishing your degree. Get your references in order for your dissertation. Organize your data into topics/chapters for the dissertation. Make sure you have the data analyzed, formatted, etc., so that it is ready to go into your dissertation. You can start to outline your dissertation into chapters, start to keep track of the abbreviations to be used in your dissertation, and have all of your methods in order to write your Methods chapter. If you have not already done so, you should obtain and learn to use a reference manager software package such as EndNote ProCite or Reference Manager. Download PDF versions of the important papers in your field, organize them in folders, and keep hard copies of the most critical ones on hand. All of these steps will save you a tremendous amount of time and stress when you are ready to start the writing process.

Q: When should I begin preparation for the next phase of my career - the post-doctoral period?

A: If you think you are within 12 months of projected date of completion, you should be thinking about post-graduate plans. You should discuss possible career alternatives with your advisor. Do you want a research career, and if so, are you targeting academia or industry? Or are you looking for a faculty position with a teaching focus in a small college or a position in government? Whatever your decision, give yourself at least 6-12 months to apply and prepare.

If your intention is to do post-doctoral research, line up a roster of faculty to write recommendation letters for you and, with the help of your adviser, start sending your CV out to the appropriate places. The PIs that you are contacting are well aware that completion dates for PhD work are not always exact and they will likely be flexible with deadlines. Starting to look early will give your contacts time to contemplate grants, funding, and room in the lab when considering you as a post-doctoral candidate. Looking at positions and having a post-doctoral plan will also show your committee that you are committed to a graduation timeline and will help to get your work organized in seminar format as a preview of your defense of dissertation.

Q: When can I start writing my dissertation?

A: Contrary to popular belief, you do not need your committee’s permission to start writing. If you are finishing up your last experiments and have some “spare time,” use it to start gathering references, outlining your dissertation chapters, formatting and analyzing your data, and even write part or all of your Introduction and Methods chapters.

Q: What does my Supervisory Committee need to tell me before I know that I can graduate?

A: Towards the end of your graduate career, your meeting frequency will increase - don’t fight it, as this is a good thing for you. Better communication between you and your committee will allow you to have a good idea of what is expected of your final experiments. Once these experiments have been completed, you will be given permission to cease experimentation. You may have already started writing by this point. Your committee members will expect an outline of your dissertation (about three to five pages) and will give you verbal permission to write the dissertation as outlined. It is important to recognize that the committee will follow the lead of your adviser on this big decision, so maintaining good communication and having frequent discussions with your adviser will smooth the way to the finish. Under the “important dates” question below, you will see the timeline for handing in materials to your committee once you have started the writing process.

Q: What does graduation cost?

A: There is a fee to apply for your degree ($25 currently). This fee needs to be paid by a specific date for each semester (usually in February for May graduation and September/October for December graduation). Contact the Office of Graduate Studies for the specific dates in the semester you are targeting. This fee is non-refundable if you apply for graduation but do not end up graduating that semester. If you choose to attend the graduation ceremony, there are fees to rent you gown and buy your cap and tassel. You must have permission from the Dean of Graduate Studies NOT to attend the graduation ceremony. There is also a charge for binding of your dissertation if you intend to make personal copies (currently $10/book) and an abstraction fee of $55 (to the library). Some of the costs need to be discussed with your adviser, such as who will purchase the special paper necessary for the library and Graduate Studies copies, pay the binding fees, etc.

Q: What are the important dates that I need to know?

A: See the timelines below. The first date that you need to be concerned with is the application for graduation for the specific dates within your target semester, which can be found on the Registration Forms sent out each semester by Graduate Studies. You also need to know the final date in the semester that materials and paperwork will be accepted by Graduate Studies (usually late April for May graduation and early December for the December graduation). By this date you need to have:

  1. Written your dissertation
  2. Given your final seminar
  3. Orally defended your dissertation
  4. Filled out the defense paperwork
  5. Made the revisions to your dissertation as outlined by your committee members
  6. Printed the copies of your dissertation
  7. Handed in the dissertation copies to the library
  8. Turned in all forms, signatures, and other necessary paperwork to the Graduate Studies Office.

Most of these dates and deadlines can be found in the packet of graduation forms and guidelines provided by Graduate Studies. Keep in mind that the Graduate Studies’ posted schedule for final dates for the defense and turning in these documents is usually only one to two days - not enough time in many cases to complete all the revisions on the dissertation, so give yourself at least a week’s time for this work.

It is a good idea to allow a minimum of one to two weeks prior to the final submission date to schedule your seminar and defense to allow time for revisions and the rest of the paper work. You need to check with your committee members to schedule your seminar and defense. Once scheduled, you should hand in your dissertation to the committee four weeks prior to that date to allow time for the members to look at your dissertation. Two weeks prior to your defense, you need to have approval from your committee members that your dissertation is defendable. This form has to be signed by your advisor and submitted to Graduate Studies.

Q: What forms do I need to fill out and where do I get them?

A: At the beginning of the semester during which you will defend your dissertation, obtain the packet of forms and guidelines from Graduate Studies. This packet will contain all of the required forms and outline the organization of your dissertation. You will want to look at these forms as soon as you get them to avoid missing any deadlines or making errors in format. For your convenience, Karen Hankins has Word templates for all of these paper documents. Some documents, e.g., signature pages to insert in your dissertation, can be obtained from the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology office. Keeping close contact with department staff is important throughout this process. You will be very grateful to them by the end of the semester!