Students join the ExPath Ph.D. program via the Yale program of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS). BBS is an umbrella program that incorporates a number of different areas of biological research. The main function of BBS concerns recruitment of students, direction of their course of study in the first year at Yale, and assignment to the academic departments for their subsequent course of study including their thesis research.
Generally, students interested in the ExPath Ph.D. program apply to the Molecular Medicine, Pharmacology and Physiology Track of the BBS program and are part of this track for their first year of studies. The MMPP track serves to admit students with a long-term interest in disease mechanisms and intervention. After their first year, students can join the ExPath Ph.D. program and work towards a degree in Experimental Pathology.
Applicants are expected to have a strong foundation in the basic sciences, including biology, chemistry (through organic or physical chemistry), mathematics (through calculus), biochemistry, genetics, or immunology. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test is required. Alternatively, if applicable, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) may substitute for the GRE tests. Applicants for whom English is not their native language are required to submit results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
Requirements for Receiving a Ph.D.
Students that join the ExPath PhD program will follow a well-delineated path towards their PhD degree. During the first two years, students will complete course work, three laboratory rotations (in year 1), choose a thesis advisor/lab and pass a qualifying exam. There is a teaching requirement of 2 semesters (but students do not teach in their first year). Students will select a thesis committee and write a thesis prospectus by the end of the 3rd year. After approval of the thesis prospectus, a student will be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree and carry out the thesis research over the next 2-3 years. The average time required to complete all requirements for the Ph.D. degree is 5-6 years.
The class curriculum is somewhat flexible and takes 3-4 semesters to complete. In the first year, students tailor their curriculum with the help of the MMPP Directors of Graduate Students (DGSs), who may require a student to take specific courses to correct any deficiencies from their undergraduate training. Students can choose among classes in biochemistry, genetics, immunology, cell biology, bioinformatics and pathology. The ExPath program requires that each student pass at least five graduate-level semester courses, and must attain a grade of Honors (“H”) in at least two of these. Two of the five courses must be the core Pathology courses: Molecular Mechanisms of Disease (Pathology 690b) and Cellular and Molecular Biology of Cancer (Pathology 650b). In year 1 (as members of the MMPP track) all students must also take the year-long graduate seminar courses in Molecular Medicine, Pharmacology and Pathology, engage in three laboratory research rotations (see below), and attend an "Ethics in Science" course.
Students will conduct three research rotations during the first year. Each rotation typically lasts between 8 and 12 weeks, during which time the student is expected to actively participate on a daily basis in a research project under the direction of a faculty member.
A primary purpose of the research rotations is to identify a laboratory/thesis advisor in which dissertation research will be carried out, so rotations should be performed in laboratories that are being considered as possible home for their Ph.D. studies. Rotations allow the student to sample different types of research projects that interest them, to experience first-hand how different laboratories and faculty mentors operate, and provide the faculty mentors a chance to assess how well a particular student fits into the laboratory. Rotations also serve to introduce students to the various types of techniques and approaches that are available to tackle specific scientific questions. There will be two rotation talks scheduled throughout the year, in which each rotation student delivers a 15-minute talks to the faculty and current students. Rotations are graded on a satisfactory or unsatisfactory basis, and the faculty sponsor provides the DGS with a brief written evaluation of each student's performance. After the third rotation (end of the Spring semester of the first year), students will chose their Ph.D. thesis advisor and begin working in the laboratory toward their degree.
An important aspect of graduate training is the acquisition of teaching skills through participation in courses appropriate for the student’s scientific interests. These opportunities can be drawn from a diverse menu of lecture, laboratory and seminar courses given at the undergraduate, graduate, and medical school level. Ph.D. students are expected to participate in two semesters (or its equivalent) of teaching. Students are not expected to teach during their first year. Teaching assignments in fulfillment of the requirement must be approved in advance by the DGS.
The ExPath qualifying examination is normally taken during the spring semester of a student's second year. Students must have completed all course requirements and selected a thesis advisor before taking the qualifying examination. In addition, the exam should be scheduled after the student has obtained preliminary results on his/her thesis project. The examination is an opportunity for students to read in depth in areas of interest surrounding the general thesis topic, to gain experience in the formulation and preparation of coherent research proposals, and for the faculty to identify whether areas of weakness exist in a student's knowledge base that should be corrected.
In short, the qualifying exam consists of:
- Two literature reading periods with faculty
- A research proposal based on the student’s thesis project research area (distinct from the “thesis prospectus,” which is discussed below)
- An oral defense of the written proposal and reading topics
The oral portion of the exam is administered by an exam committee, consisting of three ExPath faculty members and does not involve the thesis advisor (note: that qualifying exam committee is distinct from the thesis committee, which is discussed below).
The thesis committee assists students in their dissertation research and is usually formed in the late Fall-early Spring of the third year. The function of this committee is to give advice and eventually approve the thesis prospectus, periodically review and evaluate student progress, provide advice and expertise about the project, and certify when a student has completed sufficient work to begin writing the dissertation. The thesis committee normally comprises three to five faculty members, at least two of whom must be members of the ExPath program. It is chaired by a member of the ExPath program, who should not be the thesis advisor. The thesis committee is selected by the student, in consultation with their thesis advisor and must be approved by the DGS. The thesis committee must meet at least once a year.
By the end of the third year, each student must prepare a written summary of the proposed nature and scope of the dissertation research, together with a provisional title for the dissertation. The thesis committee and DGS must approve the prospectus, which is then submitted to the Graduate School Registrar. After submitting a thesis prospectus, a student is admitted to the candidacy for the PhD degree.
All students, beginning in their third year, are required to present their research once a year at Graduate Student Research-in-Progress, held on Tuesdays. These presentations are intended to give each student practice in presenting his or her own work before a sympathetic but critical audience and to familiarize the faculty with the research. Students should not feel compelled to present only polished, finished pieces of work, but also to present on-going projects including a discussion of difficulties, because useful suggestions may materialize.
Financial Support, Health Coverage and Housing
Students are supported their entire time at Yale by a stipend, which increases yearly (in 2011-201, the amount will be $30.800). The program also provides full tuition and health coverage. Housing and the overall cost of living is affordable in New Haven and students usually choose to rent houses or apartments in the general vicinity of the Yale campus. Students can also contact the Graduate Housing office for additional housing opportunities.