Graduate Studies
Graduate Program Details

Graduate Program and Highlights

The following information is to provide you specific instructions about what is expected of you as a graduate student and the sequence of events that must be completed to successfully complete your degree program.

Graduate Assistantships and Summer Support: A competitive support package

SMB provides an especially competitive research package for incoming graduate students, based in part on the lower cost of living in Pullman, WA area. Incoming graduate students are appointed academic-year research assistantships (RAs). Suitable applicants may also be offered Fellowships in Biotechnology by an interdisciplinary committee representing the Biotechnology Training Program, which is funded by extramural funds. The RA and Fellowship appointments include payment of tuition, a stipend, and comprehensive health insurance coverage.

Students are required to teach at least two semesters in their graduate career. A teaching assistantship (TA) appointment requires approximately 20 hrs/week, which includes class contact time as well as time for preparing and cleaning up labs, writing and grading quizzes and exams, and grading notebooks. Assignments are made by the SMB Associate Director for Graduate Studies for teaching sections of undergraduate biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology or biology courses. The TA appointments also include payment of tuition, a stipend, and comprehensive health insurance coverage.

Faculty having research assistantships (RAs) on their research grants usually reserve such appointments for the more senior graduate students. All graduate students making satisfactory progress are provided summer support. Students making satisfactory progress will be supported until they complete their degrees.

All graduate students making satisfactory progress are provided summer support. Students making satisfactory progress will be supported until they complete their degrees.

Coursework and Research

The Graduate Core Curriculum - Combining breadth with opportunities to specialize: Students are required to take core courses as well as discipline specific courses that provide them with a depth and breadth of scientific knowledge. Additional training in effective communication is provided by two written proposals and three seminar presentations. These are important components of the SMB graduate educational experience.

During the first semester students will take a fundamental core curriculum to prepare them for thesis research and scientific discussions. After the first semester, students are required to enroll in discipline-specific courses and the rest of the program of study is individualized to include specialized courses, recommended by the thesis committee, to help better prepare students for their thesis research. A complete listing of all SMB graduate courses along with a short description of their content is described in Courses.

Each trainee’s graduate study is guided by members of the faculty. Guidance is initially provided by the SMB Graduate Affairs Committee. After the trainee’s first seminar, guidance is provided by the trainee’s mentor and thesis committee members. Together, the faculty and the student design an appropriate academic program, comprising both course work and research, within the framework of the Graduate School’s requirements for academic residency, examinations, and the thesis/dissertation. A student is recommended for the Ph.D. degree when his/her committee members agree that the appropriate level of achievement has been reached in the research area under study, that the student has completed sufficient graded coursework with a 3.0 GPA, and when the Graduate School regulations regarding residence and thesis/dissertation preparation have been satisfied. It is of primary importance for each student to demonstrate early potential and commitment to both research and academic achievement.

Professional Development Track

We have a Professional Development Track that includes teaching our trainees skills in oral and written communication (technical, interpersonal, and social), authentic leadership, mental and emotional coping strategies, and professional outreach. Our goal is to train our students to act professionally, authentically, and responsibly and to serve as public advocates of scientific discovery. Currently, we offer annual workshops on grant writing, publishing ethics, manuscript writing, responsible conduct in research, biosafety, lab safety, TA training, TA writing workshop, student conduct/academic integrity workshop, and panel discussions with postdoctoral associates and faculty on searching for and finding postdoctoral positions and making career choices. Students also have the extensive training in how to give effective seminars.

Students are encouraged to attend at least one national meeting in their career as a graduate student. Attendance at scientific meetings provides trainees with networking and employment opportunities. SMB students and postdoctoral fellows are also invited to have lunch with outside seminar speakers. This is a chance for students to meet with nationally recognized scientists and make contacts for later postdoctoral work. Both of these activities contribute to our professional development efforts.

Teaching Requirement

Teaching is considered an integral part of the graduate experience in SMB. As a part of graduate training, students are required to teach a minimum of two semesters, while concurrently doing more than 20 hrs/week of research. The TA appointment requires approximately 20 hrs/week that includes class contact time as well as time for preparation and cleaning up labs, writing and grading quizzes and exams, and grading notebooks. Assignments are made by the SMB Associate Director of Graduate Studies for teaching sections of undergraduate biochemistry, genetics and cell biology, genetics, microbiology or general biology courses. Students are required to attend TA training sessions provided in the beginning of each semester prior to teaching for the first time.

Seminar Curriculum

SMB offers a weekly seminar series every fall and spring semester. Approximately half of this seminar series features nationally and internationally renowned researchers in a variety of fields. Guest speakers have come from a variety of countries outside the US including Canada, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and France. The other half of the seminar series focuses on inviting local scientists, including postdoctoral research associates. The inclusion of local speakers helps SMB faculty and trainees keep abreast of developments that occur within our own backyard that may lead to new collaborations with other WSU scientists. At least two seminars a year are hosted by the SMB Graduate Student Organization (MBGSA). In addition, the seminar speaker meets with graduate students in a casual setting to discuss research and job opportunities.

All graduate students are required to attend the weekly SMB seminar and an additional seminar devoted to graduate student presentations. In addition, students pursuing the Ph.D. present three seminars (MBioS 579). One seminar focuses on presentation of a scientific paper, one on their research, with the third on either research or another scientific paper. During the fall semester, seminars are presented by mid- or senior level students. The first-year graduate students meet as a group after the seminar with the speaker and selected faculty coordinators to provide oral critiques of the presentation that identify the strong points as well as areas that require improvement. During the spring semester, all first year students present their first seminar. After the presentation, SMB faculty meet as a group with the student presenter and provide an oral critique that again identifies strengths and weaknesses.

First year graduate students also attend a mini-seminar conducted weekly by faculty members. In each session, two faculty present a 20 minute overview of their research program. Thus, these mini-seminars provide a format that informs the first year graduate students of research conducted in SMB, thereby allowing a fully informed choice for laboratory rotations and ultimate selection of a thesis advisor.

Laboratory Rotations

First year students are required to do at least three laboratory rotations in their first year. The purpose of laboratory rotations is for the student to be able to make an informed decision about the laboratory in which he/she wishes to do thesis work. This decision must be made before the end of their third rotation. Faculty make an effort to provide each rotation student with a valuable experience from the student’s perspective. At the end of each rotation, the faculty member completes an evaluation of the student’s performance and the student evaluates their laboratory rotation experience, both of which will be used during the annual review of each student.

Selection of Thesis/Dissertation Advisor and Committee

For assignment to a laboratory for thesis research, students submit a preference list of at least two faculty members with whom they have discussed the possibility of thesis work by the end of their third rotation. The Associate Director for Graduate Studies and the Director, will review the preference lists and make a final assignment to a thesis lab. Whenever possible, students are assigned to their first choice. If for any reason the student or faculty member wishes to subsequently alter this assignment, this process may be initiated by submitting a written request to the Associate Director for Graduate Studies.

Before the end of the first year, students choose their committee members. The selection of a student’s committee is determined jointly by the student and the student’s advisor and with final approval by the Associate Director. The student's thesis committee meets, at a minimum, annually.

Advancement to Ph.D. Candidacy

This "Preliminary Examination" is an official Washington State University examination for advancement to Ph.D. candidacy. The preliminary examination for Ph.D. students consists of two parts. The first part is an assessment of the student's thesis research progress. The second part is the oral defense of the second research proposal written on a topic distinct from the thesis dissertation project. In the event the student does not pass the preliminary examination, he or she may be allowed to take the preliminary examination after a lapse of three months.

Annual Review of Graduate Students

All graduate students are evaluated annually after the end of the spring semester during a review meeting attended by SMB faculty and associate faculty affiliated with the training program. This meeting is conducted by the Associate Director of Graduate Studies. All graduate students, faculty mentors, and their TA supervisors are required to complete appropriate sections on the Graduate Student Annual Review form. This annual evaluation is intended to provide constructive advice to the student and enhance the training experience. The following recommendations can be made: (1) satisfactory performance, recommending continued enrollment; (2) satisfactory performance with deficiencies, specifying conditions to be met for continued enrollment; and (3) unsatisfactory performance, recommending dismissal from the program. A summary of the faculty evaluation and recommendations is given to the student each year.

Thesis/Dissertation Requirement

The expectations for a thesis are the completion of a body of research equivalent to one and two first author manuscripts for a M.S. and Ph.D. degree, respectively. Manuscripts should be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal prior to the final thesis defense. After approval of the thesis/dissertation by the thesis committee, students present a public seminar and then defend their thesis as part two of their final examination with their thesis committee and any interested faculty members.

Molecular Biosciences Graduate Program Handbook and Student Learning Outcomes

Download the pdf .

Graduate Program Orientation for Incoming Graduate Students

During the Orientation Week, SMB schedules meetings for all incoming graduate students. The primary purposes of these meetings are to welcome new students to WSU, provide important SMB graduate program information, advise students about course enrollment in the first semester, and to get to know each other. A wrap-up session with the Associate Director of Graduate Studies is also held to answer any remaining questions as well as cover several more important items including academic regulations, academic integrity, work schedule and vacation time, travel authorization, professionalism, and the availability of the SMB ombudsman.

The Molecular Biosciences Graduate Student Association (MBGSA)

This is a student led organization that seeks to unite the graduate students in SMB. MBGSA provides an effective and influential voice for the students’ viewpoint regarding various departmental issues and acts as a liaison between students, faculty, and administration. MBGSA is a formally recognized University organization, working closely with the WSU Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), enabling graduate students to have an influential voice in matters of WSU policy and campus-wide activities. MBGSA is responsible for facilitating various activities for students and faculty throughout the year including invited speakers who participate in professional/career development workshops. Past events included the SMB Halloween Party, fielding a team in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, family night at Zeppos, graduate student night at Ricos, whitewater rafting, and badminton/volleyball at the Student Recreational Center. Once a month, MBGSA provides lunch at the meeting for graduate students to discuss current issues and events. MBGSA hopes to provide communication and community support for all incoming students as they adjust to the challenges and demands of graduate school.

SMB Annual Retreat

The start of each academic year begins with an annual retreat. This permits personal networking, builds trust and promotes camaraderie and fellowship among our newest graduate students and faculty most directly involved in guiding their research careers.