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 Academics/TrainingOral Biology PhDPhD Program Guidelines     November 29, 2015  

PhD Program Guidelines

Advisory Committee

Upon arrival, the student should contact the Director of Graduate Program in Oral Biology. The student will be assigned a faculty committee headed by a member of the faculty who will act as the student's chief advisor until a dissertation advisor is selected at a later time by the student. The student's faculty advisor may in fact become the student’s mentor. This committee will advise the student in the selection of courses and placement in a laboratory for a research rotation. The student should meet with this committee at the beginning and end of each semester in order to discuss progress and receive recommendations for future directions. It is the student's responsibility to do the following:

  • Schedule meetings
  • Write minutes for each meeting
  • Circulate draft minutes to all members of the advisory committee for their approval
  • Track receipt of approvals from all committee members
  • Once all approvals are received, forward the final minutes to the department staff (Cathy Drdul) for filing in the student's departmental folder


The student is expected to take a heavy concentration of graduate courses (typically 9-12 credit hours) for at least the first three semesters. These courses can be taken from any graduate department of the university, including the Roswell Park Cancer Institute Graduate Programs. The nature of the courses can vary depending upon the student's particular interest in oral biology but must include the required courses (see details in Course Requirements page) and commonly include biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, microbiology, immunology, and statistics in addition to the journal club and seminar series given by the Department of Oral Biology. Students are expected to achieve a grade of B or better in the courses to be included in his or her program. Graduate credit is also arranged for laboratory rotations and dissertation research conducted in a faculty's laboratory.

Credit Hours

Students are required to complete a minimum of 72 credit hours; 25 of these are in formal coursework (lecture courses in which a letter grade is given); a minimum GPA of 3.0 is required. Other requirements are PhD Qualifying (Preliminary) Examination and PhD Dissertation.

The program usually takes five to six years of study.

First-Year Rotations

First-year graduate students entering the oral biology program must perform a minimum of two rotations in different laboratories. The only exception to this policy will be “direct admit” students who are funded by the thesis mentor. The first rotation is scheduled for September 1–November 30, and the second rotation is December 1–March 15. An optional third rotation can run March 16–June 1, after which time the student must select a thesis mentor. The final choice of thesis mentor must be approved by the executive committee.

Preliminary Examination

Successful completion of the Qualifying (Preliminary) Examination is a requirement for the PhD degree. The student must complete this examination before the beginning of his or her third year in the program. This examination is composed of two phases, the written and the oral. The details of this exam are presented in the accompanying Guidelines for the PhD Qualifying (Preliminary) Examination. A faculty member is appointed by the graduate committee to serve as an advisor to the student during the written phase of the exam.

Download Guidelines

Application for Candidacy

As soon as the student has passed the preliminary examination , a program statement must be filed with the Graduate School.  This form lists the courses to be applied toward the 72-credit-hour requirement and includes an abstract describing the thesis research.  These forms are available in the department office.  They can be filed as soon as the student has passed the preliminary examination, if the course requirements are near completion, and the research project is planned in a fairly detailed manner.


Students can rotate through the laboratories of several faculty members before they make a decision on their thesis research. The choice of laboratories is based on the student's interest and faculty availability. The time spent in the laboratory and the graduate credits to be gained are arranged by the faculty member along with the advisory committee members. When a decision has been made with regard to the thesis laboratory, the faculty member in charge of that laboratory becomes the student's research and thesis advisor/mentor. The mentor must be a member of the graduate faculty.

Research Advisory Committee & Annual Review

This committee replaces the preliminary examination advisory committee and is composed of faculty members who can assist the student in the progression of his or her laboratory work for the PhD thesis. It is headed by the research advisor (major professor) and should have at least four members, one of whom may be from outside the department. At this time, an official Research Advisory Committee Appointment form should be completed by the student, approved by the graduate executive committee, signed by the graduate program director, and a copy placed in the student’s departmental folder.

It is the student's responsibility to schedule at least one meeting with this committee annually.  The Graduate Program Director must be present at all Committee meetings in order to review and monitor student progress.  At this meeting, it is the student's responsibility to submit a completed review form documenting annual progress to the Graduate Program Director.  This form is available from the Department of Oral Biology or at  The student will also write the minutes for each meeting, and circulate them to all members of the committee.  A copy of the minutes should be placed in the student’s departmental folder.

The committee will decide when the student has performed enough work to form a coherent dissertation. At this time the committee will permit the student to write the dissertation and schedule a dissertation defense.

Annual Review Guidelines and Forms

Student Research Seminar

At least once following the successful defense of the preliminary examination, the student will present his or her research to the entire departmental faculty in a formal one-hour seminar.  The purpose of this seminar is to inform the department of research progress, to provide a forum for the student to receive constructive feedback and to give the student an additional opportunity to present his or her work orally before the final defense.  It is the students’ responsibility to arrange a time for the seminar, which will preferably be in conjunction with the Oral Biology Departmental Seminar series.  If this is not possible, another time may be selected that is acceptable to all Committee members.  The student will then be responsible for circulating a notice of the seminar at least two weeks before the scheduled date by contacting the Oral Biology department office. 


A dissertation is necessary for the partial fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD in oral biology. It can be in the format of a classical dissertation with the traditional sections of an abstract, introduction, methods and discussion and appendix. An option to the classical dissertation is a format in which the individual's manuscripts which formed the student's independent research are retyped and bound together with an extensive introduction and discussion which critically presents and analyzes the various aspects of the research covered in the manuscripts. The student should work closely with the research advisor (major professor) and research committee during the writing of the dissertation. The final draft of the document must be submitted to the outside reader (an individual outside either the department or university) for examination (at least two weeks before the possible dissertation defense date). The Graduate School guidelines for the outside reader will be followed.

Dissertation Defense

After approval of the dissertation by the research advisor, research advisory committee, outside reader, and graduate program director, the dissertation defense is arranged.  The Graduate Program Director will take the responsibility of scheduling and supervising the defense.  The PhD candidate must ensure that an electronic copy of the dissertation is made available to all committee members 4 weeks in advance of the scheduled dissertation defense, and that an electronic copy of the dissertation is made available to all Oral Biology faculty members 2 weeks in advance of the scheduled dissertation defense.

At the beginning of the defense, the student will be excused from the room briefly in order for his or her record to be reviewed by the faculty and outside reader. The student will then be asked to summarize the dissertation research (~30 min). The outside reader (if present) or the outside-the-department research advisory committee member initiates the questioning followed by the other members of the research advisory committee and the departmental faculty. Examination questions will always include questions arising from the dissertation itself, and may include questions of a more general nature. The thesis is opened to the university community (including students). The outcome of the defense is determined by vote of the departmental faculty present during the defense and the outside reader (if present).