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PhD Program Guidelines

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Requirements Summary

Students are required to complete a minimum of 72 credit hours.  At least 25 of these must be formal coursework (lecture courses in which a letter grade is given).  A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required. Other requirements – discussed further below – include a Preliminary Examination and a PhD dissertation.

Student Advisory Committee (SAC)

The Oral Biology PhD Program Co-Directors, in cooperation with the Research Mentor (if already identified), will select members of a Student Advisory Committee (SAC) for each student upon their matriculation.  This committee is headed by a faculty member who will serve as the student's main mentor until a Research Mentor is later identified.  If the student comes to Oral Biology through the University at Buffalo’s PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences (PPBS), their Research Mentor will already be selected (following the student’s PPBS laboratory rotations).  But a SAC – chaired by the Research Mentor – will still be formed.

Once the SAC is determined, the student completes the SAC/DC Membership form, documenting the composition of the SAC.  The student will complete the form and obtain signatures from the Research Mentor, PhD Program Co-Directors, and department Chair.  The student will provide the fully-signed form to the PhD Program Administrator (in the Oral Biology department office), who will place it in the student’s departmental folder.

Periodic Academic Review

The SAC (and subsequent Dissertation Committee [DC], discussed below) will discuss the student’s progress in the program (course completion, GPA, etc.), and advise on issues such as course and laboratory rotation (non-PPBS students) selection.  One of the PhD Program Co-Directors must be present at all SAC/DC meetings.

The student is responsible for scheduling meetings of the SAC/DC at least once each semester.  These should be completed no later than 31 December for the Fall semester and 30 June for the Spring semester.  Additional meetings may be scheduled at the discretion of the Research Mentor or the Program Co-Directors.

In preparation for each meeting, the student must fill out the student portion (first page) of a Periodic Academic Review Report and bring it to the meeting.  This report also serves as the student’s Individual Development Plan (IDP).  The academic information requested in this report provides the basis for discussion at DC meetings.  The second page of the report must be filled out by the Research Mentor after the meeting and signed by the student, mentor, and department Chair.  The student is responsible for ensuring that the second page is completed and signed soon after the meeting.  The student is also responsible for writing minutes for each meeting, and: 

  • Distributing the minutes to SAC/DC members for their review and approval.
  • Tracking and ensuring timely receipt of all approvals.
  • Once complete, forwarding the completed/signed Periodic Academic Review Report and the final/approved minutes to the PhD Program Administrator, who will file them in the student's departmental folder.

Course Work

The student is expected to complete the majority of required courses during the first three semesters.  These courses can be taken from any graduate department at the University at Buffalo, or Roswell Park Cancer Institute Graduate Programs. The courses can vary depending upon the student's particular research interest, but must include the required program courses (see Course Requirements) and/or those directed by the SAC.  Participation in the department’s Journal Club and Seminar Series is also required.  Students are expected to achieve a grade of B or better in all courses.  Graduate credit is also granted for laboratory rotations and dissertation research. For UB PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences (PPBS) students, please note that successful completion of the first year of the PPBS program is fully credited towards the PhD in Oral Biology.

First-Year Laboratory Rotations

First-year students not matriculating from the PPBS who don’t already have a Research Mentor perform a minimum of two rotations in different faculty laboratories.  The first rotation is 1 September through 30 November, and the second rotation is 1 December through 15 March.  An optional third rotation can run from 16 March to 1 June.  Once the rotations are complete, the student proposes a Research Mentor and the SAC reviews this selection for approval.

Annual Student Research Seminar

Students will present their research to the Oral Biology faculty in an annual one-hour seminar.  The purpose of the seminar is to inform the department of research progress, provide an opportunity for the student to receive constructive feedback, and give the student opportunities to present their work orally before their dissertation defense.  It is the student's responsibility to schedule the seminar, which will usually be in conjunction with the Oral Biology Journal Club (most commonly) or the Oral Biology Seminar Series (less commonly).  The student is also responsible for ensuring that their mentor is available for the scheduled date/time, and for maximizing the attendance of their advisory committee members (SAC or DC).

Preliminary Examination

Students must pass a Preliminary Examination during their second year.  The examination has written and oral components, and runs between January and May of the second year (for PPBS students, this means their first year in the Oral Biology PhD program).  The process starts with the student working with their Research Mentor to select a potential research topic.  The PhD Program Co-Directors will do the following:

  1. Select a faculty member other than the student’s Research Mentor to serve as the Prelim Advisor, who will guide the student during the written phase of the examination.
  2. Select the members of the student’s Preliminary Exam Committee, of which the Prelim Advisor is also a member (3-4 members, total).  The student’s mentor will not be on the Prelim Committee.  Also note that the Prelim Committee does not replace the SAC; the SAC endures through the prelim process, and will become the Dissertation Committee (DC) after the prelim is passed.  

Once formed, the Prelim Committee will meet to discuss the student’s suggested topic.  Once a topic is approved, the student will prepare and present a full-length abstract of the topic.  Once the abstract is approved by the committee, the student will write a full-length proposal that follows NIH F31 fellowship proposal guidelines (“Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award”).

Once the written exam (the proposal) is accepted by the committee, the oral exam will be scheduled.  The Preliminary Exam Committee will grade the oral exam Pass or Fail.

Upon successful completion of the oral exam, the student will work with their Research Mentor to prepare and submit a F31 proposal for the next NIH deadline.  Students not eligible to submit NIH proposals will work with their mentor to identify other fellowship/funding programs to which they can apply.

Further details about the preliminary examination process, requirements, and timeline are here: Preliminary Exam Guidelines

Application to Candidacy

Once a student passes the Preliminary Examination, has fulfilled all course requirements, and has a grade point average of 3.0 or greater, an Application to Candidacy and Certification of Full-Time Student Status must be submitted to the Oral Biology PhD Program Administrator.


Dissertation Committee (DC)

The SAC becomes the Dissertation Committee (DC) once the student passes the Preliminary Exam.  Note that the Graduate School of the University at Buffalo refers to the Dissertation Committee as the “Doctoral Dissertation Committee.”  Adjustments to the composition of the committee may be made in order to optimize its ability to assist the student with their thesis research.  The DC is also headed by the Research Mentor (UB Graduate School terms for this are “major professor” or "major advisor"), and should have at least four members, one of whom should be from outside the department.  As with the SAC, the composition of the DC is documented on the SAC/DC Membership form.  The student will complete the form and obtain signatures from the Research Mentor, PhD Program Co-Directors, and department Chair.  The student will provide the fully-signed form to the PhD Program Administrator, who will place it in the student’s departmental folder.

The Periodic Academic Review requirements discussed above for the SAC are identical for the DC – i.e., at least once-per-semester meetings scheduled by the student, preparation of the Review Report and minutes, etc.

The DC will decide when the student is ready to write a coherent dissertation.  When the dissertation is completed and approved by the DC, the student will schedule a dissertation defense ("Oral Defense" in Graduate School terms).

About the Dissertation

The dissertation is composed of several research papers written in a traditional format that includes an abstract, introduction, methods, discussion, and appendix.  The introduction section should be extensive, and in the style of a review article, and the discussion section must critically present and analyze the various aspects of the research covered in the manuscripts.  The student works closely with their Research Mentor and DC during the writing of the dissertation.  At least two weeks before the expected dissertation defense date, the final draft must be submitted to an unbiased Outside Reader.  The Outside Reader must be an individual from outside of the department who is not on the DC, and who has not served as a mentor to the student.  The Outside Reader will complete the Outside Reader Response Form and send it to the department in advance of the defense.

Dissertation Defense

After the dissertation is approved by the Research Mentor, DC, Outside Reader, and the PhD Program Co-Directors, it is the student’s responsibility to schedule the dissertation defense.  The PhD Program Co-Directors will take responsibility for supervising the defense.  The student must ensure that an electronic copy of the dissertation is made available to all DC members at least 4 weeks in advance of the defense, and that an electronic copy of the dissertation is made available to all Oral Biology faculty members at least 2 weeks prior.  Additionally, a hardcopy of the dissertation should be placed in 215 Foster Hall at least 2 weeks prior.

The dissertation defense is open to the university community and invited guests.

During the dissertation defense, the student will summarize their dissertation research through an oral presentation not to exceed 30 minutes. Examination questions will include both those arising directly from the dissertation research, and those of a more general nature. The outcome of the defense is determined by vote of the departmental faculty present and the Outside Reader (if present).


The M-Form verifies completion of the program requirements for the PhD in Oral Biology.  The PhD Program Administrator will prepare the M-Form in advance of the dissertation defense, and provide it to the PhD Program Co-Directors.  Immediately after the defense, the Co-Directors will obtain the necessary signatures on the form, and return it to the Administrator, who will forward the original to the Graduate School.