Rotation Talks

  1. The ability to give a good talk is important.  The ability to give a short talk to a general audience that is comprehensible and exciting is a valuable tool. Many students assume talks at meetings will only be given in front of specialists, but good talks are frequently selected for inclusion in symposia aimed at other audiences. Scientists who have done good work are frequently asked to give short presentations at specialized meetings that are not in their fields. The ability to give a good short talk to a general audience is essential at site visits for program project grants, in interactions with drug companies, and other essential fund-raising activities. You should not regard your education as complete until you have demonstrated that you can give a good talk.
  2. You do not need good results to give a good talk. - One of the better rotation talks presented in this department described why it took 3 months to learn to measure electrical impulses at the node of a myelinated nerve.
  3. You should not present all the experiments that you have done. - The 10 minute time limit should be rigorously adhered to. Present only the information necessary to develop the theme of the 10 minute talk. In 10 minutes, there is usually time for only 1 theme.
  4. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell then what you told them. - These basic rules for give a talk are still true. Every talk should have an introduction in which the main question being asked is clearly stated, and, after the body of the text, a clear conclusion.
  5. Guidelines for Slides: Guidelines for slides also apply to drawings used for overhead projector.
    • CLEAR PURPOSE: An effective slide should have a main point and not just be a collection of available data. If this central theme of the slide cannot be readily identified, the paper probably would be improved by revising or deleting the slide.
    • SIMPLE FORMAT: With a simple, uncluttered format, the slide is relatively easy to design and directs the attention of the audience to the main point.
    • DIGESTIBLE: There is a practical limit to how many bits of new information one can reasonably expect the audience to assimilate per minute, and investigators risk confusing and alienating the audience when they exceed this limit. With an average of 7 slides in a 10-minute paper, there is available only 1+ minutes per slide. The information presented in a slide should be restricted to that which can be explained extemporaneously to the uninitiated in the allowed length of time.
    • GRAPHIC FORMAT: In graphs, qualitative relationships are emphasized at the expense of precise numerical values, while in tables the reverse is true. The former is preferred as a visual aid. A good place for detailed, tabular data is in a slide or two held in reserve in case of questions.
    • EXPERIMENTAL: There is no time in a 10-minute paper to teach standard technology. Unless the purpose of the paper is to examine this technology, it is best mentioned to the minimum extent necessary to maintain an unbroken logical development of the theme of the paper.
    • VISIBILITY: Lettering should be large enough to be visible from the back of the room.
  6. Almost no one gives a good 10 minute talk without practicing the talk beforehand. Practice with other students, post-docs or faculty advisor.

Seminar Course

The following is a general outline of the procedure for the seminar course that the first and second year students are required to take. The Graduate Studies Committee has developed these suggestions, but individual faculty members who teach the course may prefer other approaches. The ultimate decision as to form and content of the course will be up to the faculty member teaching the course.

The two major purposes of this course are:

  1. To teach students how to critically evaluate individual papers; and
  2. To improve the ability of the ability of the students to give oral presentations.

To accomplish these purposes, each session will consist of a presentation by a student of a particular paper, in which the student presents the question the authors are addressing in the paper, and describes the experiments and results. The student will then summarize the conclusions that he or she thinks can be validly made from the data in the paper, and point out any problems or qualifications that might occur. This will be followed by a general discussion of the paper and conclusions. At the end of that session, the faculty member will discuss with the student his or her assessment of the student's presentation and analysis. The primary focus of the course is not the subject matter itself. The papers will be selected by the faculty member in charge who will most likely pick papers related to his or her area of interest. The papers throughout the course may be related to each other, which will enable students to gain a critical knowledge of an area of research. We will attempt to select the faculty to supervise the course so as to expose the students to several different fields of knowledge and kinds of approaches during their first 2 years. If it is feasible, we will invite speakers for the department seminar series that relate to the area of research being covered in the course.

Qualifying Exam

Instructions for the 2nd Year Qualifying Exam in Pharmacology (revised Aug. 2012)

The second year is an important milestone in preparation for a doctorate in pharmacology. You are probably finished with most of your course requirements and should have a definite idea of an area of specialization for your thesis research. Unlike objective multiple choice exams that you have taken in the past, the qualifying exam is designed to test your ability to think as a scientist. It is modeled after a fellowship or grant application to the National Institutes of Health. The entire process of preparing for the exam, including writing the proposal, should not take longer than 2 months. The goal of the exam is to develop an original research proposal and defend it before a small committee of faculty members. The exam thus consists of two parts, a written proposal and an oral defense. The subject area is open to the diverse breadth of modern pharmacology. However, students should not choose a topic that is too closely related to a rotation project, a thesis project or ongoing research in the department, since this may be construed as a lack of originality. Students are encouraged to seek guidance from the faculty in locating appropriate references in a particular field of interest, but should ultimately select and design their own project. If you do need help with specific questions, do not be afraid to talk to a professor.

The body of the written proposal must not exceed 8 pages, with no more than 60 lines per page. Use a standard font, such as Times 12 point. Note the length of the proposal has been reduced from previous years. The written proposal must adhere exactly to the following outline with suggested page limits:

  1. Specific Aims/Abstract (Less than one page)
    Very briefly describe the subject of your proposed research, and the major unanswered questions you hope to address. Using a single sentence state the overall HYPOTHESIS TO BE TESTED. Using one or two sentences, state the overall objective of the proposed research, and how it relates to the hypothesis. Using single sentences, enumerate the Specific Aims. For each aim, use no more than a few sentences to describe how it relates to the hypothesis. For each aim describe the approach, the rationale for doing the experiment, and the anticipated results.
  2. Background and Significance (Two to four pages)
    Give a brief overview of the background leading to the proposal, critically evaluate existing knowledge, and specifically identify the gaps that the project is intended to fill. State concisely the significance of the topic, and the importance of the proposed research.
  3. Research Design & Methods (Three to five pages)
    Describe the research design and the procedures to be used to accomplish the specific aims of the project. Include how the data will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted. Describe the methodology in enough detail to allow a knowledgeable reviewer to understand what you will do (don't list buffer compositions, PCR temperatures, oligonucleotide sequences, etc.!). Discuss the potential difficulties and limitations of the proposed procedures and alternative approaches to achieve the aims.
    Proposals that do not adhere to these guidelines will be returned.
  4. Literature Cited (No limit)
    Each reference must include the title, names of all authors, book or journal, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication for all cited works. The reference should be limited to relevant and current literature. There is no page limit, but it is important to be concise and to select only those literature references pertinent to the proposed research.
  5. Schedule of Qualifying events

January 11th, 2013

Submit preliminary proposal to for approval.

February 1st, 2013

One page specific aims due: submit to as a pdf file.

March 1st, 2013

Completed proposal due: submit to as a pdf file.

March 11th-22nd 2013

Oral Examinations (Tentative)

The best way to design a successful proposal is to first go to the library and research a field of interest by reading current reviews and the most exciting recent articles (e.g. news articles in Science, Nature, etc.). A computerized search is essential to avoid missing key papers. Read the literature critically. Do not assume that every conclusion stated in a paper that you read is correct. Next outline the key questions in the field. Refine one or more of these questions into a testable hypothesis. Formulation of a good hypothesis is perhaps the most difficult part of research. Further refine the goals of your project by writing a list of specific aims that could be accomplished during a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship. Now carefully design a line of controlled experiments that will accomplish your aims and test your hypothesis. Choose the most appropriate methods to address your question. Become thoroughly familiar with the theory behind the methodology and potential artifacts that may be encountered. Be sure that you know how to analyze and quantitate the results of your experiments. Finally consider alternative strategies that can be taken if the results do not meet your expectations.

Next Email your proposal as a pdf file to the Coordinator of the Qualifying Exam. (The current exam coordinator is David Calderwood (SHM B395C, 7-2311).  The Coordinator will read your proposal and give copies of it to a committee of three faculty members with some expertise in the area that you have chosen.

Prepare for the oral exam by thinking of criticisms that external reviewers might raise and decide how to overcome them. Remember the kinds of questions that are asked after rotation talks. These are examples of the types of questions that you may be asked. Be prepared to present the possible outcomes of your experiments and how they may be interpreted. An effective way to organize your summary talk is to introduce a list of specific questions to be answered and then present lines of experimentation that will address each question. It is a good idea (nearly essential) to practice before a group of experienced graduate students. Be sure to review areas of basic pharmacology that you will need to know in order to defend your experiments (e.g., enzyme kinetics, ligand binding theory, cell regulation, hormone/receptor action, molecular biology, etc.).

Two hours are allotted for the exam. You will begin by presenting a 30-45 minute oral summary of your proposal. It is wise to use only about 5 minutes for basic introduction. Spend the rest of the time presenting the details of your experiments. The faculty committee will interrupt with questions as they arise and may ask general questions designed to determine whether you have mastered the goals outlined below. After the exam, the examination committee will confer and arrive at a pass or fail decision. In the case of disapproval, the examination committee will decide whether the student may retake the qualifying examination. If necessary, the examination committee will assign a time, usually within a two week period, in which you will retake the qualifying examination. The examination committee may ask you to retake the oral, written or both parts of the qualifying examination. A pass on both the written and oral must be attained to pass the qualifying examination.

Remember that the goal here is not to be the first one to use a "hot" new technique or impress faculty with state-of-the-art "buzzwords." Your proposal must be designed to advance the understanding of a basic problem in biology. Most granting agencies will only fund research of this nature. The NIH website provides information on criteria used for assessing grant applications (see and links included there). A similar list of criteria for publication in the Journal of Biological Chemistry is also attached If you can succeed at proposing novel, hypothesis-driven research, you are well on your way to becoming a first-rate scientist, with ample funding and an impressive bibliography!

Criteria for Evaluation of the Qualifying Exams

  1. Does the student have a sound understanding of the following key aspects of the Scientific Method which is the basis of biological research?
    • formulate a testable hypothesis objectively
    • test the hypothesis with controlled experiments
    • collect, analyze and interpret data using principles of statistics
    • accept, reject or refine the hypothesis
  2. Does the student have the creative ability to recognize important problems in pharmacology and to develop an original research plan that poses specific questions to address them?
  3. Has the student acquired an ability to search, read and critically evaluate the primary research literature? Can the student consult appropriate textbooks and colleagues to augment gaps in knowledge and learn unfamiliar methodology?
  4. Does the student have the ability to design experiments and propose the use of appropriate experimental methodology? Does the student have the ability to master the underlying theory of specific methodologies used in pharmacological research?
  5. Does the student know how to collect, handle and analyze data in a quantitative fashion? Does the student interpret data appropriately?
  6. Has the student mastered a core body of knowledge that defines the science of pharmacology?
  7. Is the student developing the ability to communicate effectively with other scientists? Can the student write a cogent and coherent research proposal? Can the student orally present ideas and complex information to an audience and answer criticisms of those ideas?

Additional Rules and Guidelines for the Qualifying Exam

  1. To avoid potential conflicts of interest, the advisor does not participate in the exam. If the advisor is also the exam coordinator, a substitute examiner will be appointed.
  2. Students should feel free to contact the exam coordinator to ask questions to clarify the faculty's expectations for student performance and to review any aspect of exam procedures.

Some Frequently Asked Questions about the Exam

  1. Why do I have to take this qualifying exam? The faculty are ultimately responsible for certifying that a student has achieved a doctorate degree in pharmacology. This exam allows the faculty to determine whether graduate students have the motivation and intellectual ability to be considered as a potential candidate for this academic degree.
  2. Why have the faculty chosen to test students with a research proposal rather than a test of objective, knowledge-based questions? Once you are awarded a Ph. D. degree, tests don't stop. They only continue to get more awesome and competitive. These tests come in the form of doing high quality research, submitting original papers to refereed journals, applying for fellowships and research grants, applying for a permanent position in industry, research and/or teaching, and undergoing professional scrutiny by a university tenure or promotions committee. Your success in these endeavors requires many other skills besides knowing a textbook from cover to cover. This exam provides a taste of practical scientific life and will help you to prepare for competition in the real world.
  3. Why must our research proposal include an original hypothesis? Scientific work progresses in many different ways. Much science simply involves the collection of facts. Genome sequencing is a fact gathering activity that will lead to many new breakthroughs. These breakthroughs will come by analysis of such information and the formulation of new hypotheses. It is essential for graduate students to learn how to do hypothesis-driven research. Thus, in this exam it is not appropriate to simply propose to purify a protein or clone a gene. In this exam, you should study existing scientific data and synthesize it to propose an original mechanism for some well-defined phenomenon. This is quite an opportunity. Often, a naive mind is able to see things in a fresh way that old bosses cannot envision. Your hypothesis may actually be the key to solving an important problem. Do not simply try to demonstrate something trivial. Ask a hard question and try to devise a route that will yield the answer.
  4. What constitutes a good hypothesis? The dictionary says that a hypothesis is merely a proposition to explain certain facts. A good hypothesis provides a rational explanation for a curious phenomenon of nature or a fundamental aspect of living systems. The key feature of a good hypothesis is that is makes definite mechanistic predictions that can be tested. It answers the simple question: How does it work? Some examples of great, Nobel Prize winning hypotheses are:
    • Genetic Information is encoded by DNA (Crick, Watson & Wilkins, 1962)
    • RNA can act as a catalyst (Altman & Cech, 1989)
    • Viruses that cause cancer can do so with genes pilfered from normal cells (Bishop & Varmus, 1989)
    • GTP-binding proteins couple hormone receptors to cAMP production (Gilman & Rodbell, 1994)
    • Endothelial cells release a gas that can relax blood vessels (Furchgott, Ignarro, & Murad, 1998)
  5. What is a controlled experiment? The interpretation of every experiment is subject to the influence of confounding variables. A good experiment must be designed to isolate only the variable that is to be tested. For example, if you propose to test whether the introduction of a certain gene into a cell by viral transfection affects a particular cellular process, how do you know whether the virus itself modifies this process independently of the candidate gene? Clearly, one must include a control virus lacking the tested gene in this experiment. The elegance of experiments critically depends upon the identification and inclusion of the most appropriate controls that rule out artifacts and misinterpretation of the results.
  6. Should I bring snacks and beverages to the exam to create a relaxed atmosphere with the faculty? The qualifying exam is not just another jovial seminar with pizza and snacks. The faculty are performing a serious evaluation of the student and it is not really appropriate to provide refreshments during the exam.
  7. How do I cope with the stress and extreme nervousness I feel in having to take this exam? The best way to avoid nervousness is to put forth your best effort in designing a brilliant research proposal. Research your ideas thoroughly and master the basic knowledge related to your topic. Organize practice sessions with fellow students (especially those who have previously passed the exam) and ask them to critique your presentation. By the day of the exam, you will be able to articulate your ideas, and have confidence in your ability to defend them in front of the faculty.
  8. How important is it to adhere to the outline? It is imperative to follow instructions exactly. Sometimes grants are not taken seriously or even accepted for review because the author has failed to adhere to simple details of the instructions such as the font size, or failed to meet the deadline for submission.
  9. What happens if I fail this exam? A majority of students are able to pass this exam. Sometimes a committee is dissatisfied with a performance and will not issue a passing grade. If the committee believes that the student is capable of improvement with hard work, the student may be offered a chance to retake the exam with certain conditions. Rarely, a student may fail the exam even after a second attempt. This is a serious decision by the faculty that the student does not have the capability to perform research at the doctoral level. If this happens, the important thing to remember is there are many other excellent options for your career. Failing the qualifying exam may actually be a relief to some students, because it signals that an alternative to a research career is an advisable option. Students who do not pass the exam are usually awarded a Masters degree in Pharmacology if they have met the requirements for this degree. They are qualified for many exciting opportunities in the private sector that make use of their scientific background and training. Some may choose to pursue additional education in business or health-related fields. Many faculty members are able and willing to advise students on these options and direct them to other career resource information available at Yale. The idea of failing such an important exam may seem devastating, but all of us must eventually learn to cope with failure.
  10. Can my advisor help me with the proposal? The proposal should be conceived and written entirely by you. No one is allowed to "coach" you on the topic or the experiments you choose to propose. However you are strongly encouraged to show a near-final draft to anyone who is willing to read it, for advice on how to effectively communicate and defend YOUR ideas. You are also strongly encouraged to read other successful grant proposals that your advisor or other professors have written. Clear logical writing is one essential element of a successful grant, and this exercise should be a learning experience in that regard.
  11. What happens if I pass this exam? It is a time to celebrate your accomplishments with your friends, relatives and colleagues. You have demonstrated potential ability in your chosen field and have been selected to perform original thesis research that will be completed over the next few years.

Guidelines for Editorial Decisions (from the Journal of Biological Chemistry)

For several years the members of the Editorial Board have used a set of flexible guidelines to assist them in making editorial decisions. To inform prospective authors of our practices, we are publishing the current guidelines. Please note that these are only guidelines.

General criteria: The primary criteria for judging the acceptability of a manuscript are its originality and scientific importance. Manuscripts failing to deal with biological processes at the biochemical or molecular level are usually inappropriate for the Journal. In the absence of novelty and significance, medical relevance or pharmacological potential will not be considered sufficient justification for publication.

Criteria in specific areas: Manuscripts of the following types will usually be declined, unless additional information in the manuscript contributes sufficient biochemical insight to make the manuscript highly significant.

Sequencing and cloning Manuscripts reporting an amino acid or nucleotide sequence, or the cloning and expression of a gene, if the same protein or gene has already been described from another tissue or organism; manuscripts reporting the cloning and sequencing of a novel gene without providing experimental evidence for that function.

Transcription Manuscripts addressing the regulation of transcription of a gene without defining in detail the regulatory elements that are responsible for the natural expression of the gene; manuscripts involving gene regulation that do not provide new insights into either the transcription process or tissue-specific or developmental gene regulation; manuscripts addressing transacting factors without defining new factors or demonstrating novel features of previously known factors.

Regulation of metabolism and gene expression Manuscripts that merely describe the effects of agents such as drugs, hormones, cytokines, or the effects of the state of differentiation on an "end point" (enzyme activity, protein level, mRNA abundance, or descriptive aspect of a cellular response); manuscripts in which reagents are assumed to act specifically without a suitable demonstration of or reference regarding their specificity; manuscripts that rely solely on the use of pharmacological agents to define a biochemical process.

Transgenes and knockouts Manuscripts that use transgenes or knockouts to confirm results reported previously in model systems.

Glycobiology Manuscripts that report the structure of an oligosaccharide that does not differ substantially from an oligosaccharide that was described earlier for another glycoconjugate.

Post-translational modification Manuscripts describing modification of a protein by a well established process such as glycosylation, phosphorylation, fatty acylation, or prenylation without additional evidence showing the biological significance of the modification or providing insights into the mechanism of the modification process.

Site-directed mutagenesis Manuscripts reporting that site-directed mutagenesis alters the function of a protein without providing additional evidence regarding the structural integrity of the mutant protein, as well as evidence (e.g. detailed kinetic analysis of the mutant enzyme) about the role of the residue in protein function.

Enzymology Manuscripts describing just the purification and/or characterization of an enzyme or protein if the same enzyme or protein has been described from another tissue or organism.

Methodology Manuscripts that report development of a new technique.

Review Criteria for and Rating of Unsolicited Research Grant and other Applications

(NIH GUIDE, Volume 26, Number 22, June 27, 1997)

As part of the ongoing effort to maintain high standards for peer review at the NIH, the Rating of Grant Applications (RGA) subcommittee of the NIH Committee on Improving Peer Review was charged with examining the process by which scientific review groups rate grant applications and with making recommendations to improve that process in light of scientific knowledge of measurement and decision making. The charge was in response to the perception that the review of grant applications needed to be refocused on the quality of the science and the impact it might have on the field, rather than on details of technique and methodology. After extensive discussion of the RGA’s report by NIH staff, the extramural community, and the Peer Review Oversight Group (PROG), at the meeting of PROG the Director of NIH announced procedures to be used for the review of research grant applications.

The procedures will be effective for all unsolicited research project grant applications (including those in response to Program Announcements published in the NIH Guide) submitted on or after October 1, 1997, most of which will be reviewed starting in January/February 1998. Reviewers will be instructed to (a) address the five review criteria below and (b) assign a single, global score for each scored application. The score should reflect the overall impact that the project could have on the field based on consideration of the five criteria, with the emphasis on each criterion varying from one application to another, depending on the nature of the application and its relative strengths.

The goals of NIH-supported research are to advance our understanding of biological systems, improve the control of disease, and enhance health. In the written comments reviewers will be asked to discuss the following aspects of the application in order to judge the likelihood that the proposed research will have a substantial impact on the pursuit of these goals. Each of these criteria will be addressed and considered in assigning the overall score, weighting them as appropriate for each application. Note that the application does not need to be strong in all categories to be judged likely to have major scientific impact and thus deserve a high priority score. For example, an investigator may propose to carry out important work that by its nature is not innovative but is essential to move a field forward.

  1. Significance: Does this study address an important problem? If the aims of the application are achieved, how will scientific knowledge be advanced? What will be the effect of these studies on the concepts or methods that drive this field?
  2. Approach: Are the conceptual framework, design, methods, and analyses adequately developed, well-integrated, and appropriate to the aims of the project? Does the applicant acknowledge potential problem areas and consider alternative tactics?
  3. Innovation: Does the project employ novel concepts, approaches or method? Are the aims original and innovative? Does the project challenge existing paradigms or develop new methodologies or technologies?
  4. Investigator: Is the investigator appropriately trained and well suited to carry out this work? Is the work proposed appropriate to the experience level of the principal investigator and other researchers (if any)?
  5. Environment: Does the scientific environment in which the work will be done contribute to the probability of success? Do the proposed experiments take advantage of unique features of the scientific environment or employ useful collaborative arrangements? Is there evidence of institutional

The Dissertation

Provisional Thesis Committee Meetings

The committees are selected by a committee of faculty members and are composed of two faculty from the department and an additional faculty member from outside the department. If there are three faculty in the department that have expertise in the thesis area, then this is fine too. The main purpose of the committee meetings is to ensure the student is working on a feasible project of sufficient intellectual scope for a thesis and that appropriate progress is made. Students may give suggestions to the Director of Graduate Studies of department faculty they would prefer on the committee, and efforts will be made to ensure that at least one of the suggestions is on the committee.

The following are general guidelines for the yearly meetings with the provisional thesis committee. These may be subject to change as we gain more experience and there may be a reason for variation in individual cases.

The student should give a presentation of no more than 20 minutes, stating the question that is being or will be asked or the hypothesis being tested, summarizing the important experiments already done, and stating future plans and methods of approach. This presentation is meant to be informal. If the faculty have specific questions about particular aspects in more depth than the students presented, it should be acceptable to discuss the experiments as they are graphed or summarized in laboratory notebooks rather than have a formal presentation of all work in detail. The thesis advisor attends these meetings, but does not participate in questioning the student. At the end, the committee meets with student and faculty advisor separately.

Some faculty prefer to have an outline of the proposal ahead of time; this outline should be brief. In the first meeting, each member should receive a copy of the thesis prospectus, preferably ahead of time. The students should check for any individual faculty requirements when making arrangements for the meeting.

If the committee feels there are crucial points that need to be addressed, it would be helpful if the committee wrote a brief statement of these concerns, and gave a copy to the student and the advisor, and a copy to the Director of Graduate Studies. The student may request a written summary of the recommendation of the committee if he or she feels it would be helpful.

Dissertation Prospectus

The Executive Committee recognizes that the form and content of dissertations develop and change as work on them proceeds. The prospectus should therefore be viewed as a preliminary statement of what the student proposes to do and not as an unalterable contract. We also recognize that the appropriate form and typical content of a prospectus will inevitably vary somewhat from field to field. In most cases, however, we would expect a prospectus to contain the following information:

  1. A statement of the question to be addressed in the dissertation and an explanation of its importance. What in general might one expect to learn from the dissertation that is not now known, understood or appreciated? Use the same kind of approach as you did in the qualifying exam.
  2. A concise review of what has been done on the topic in the past. Specifically, how will the proposed dissertation differ from or expand upon previous work? A basic bibliography should normally be appended to this section.
  3. A concise summary of what has been done so far.
  4. A brief description of the methods and experimental design to be used to answer the question.
  5. A provisional timetable for completion of the dissertation.

While it is difficult to prescribe a standard length for the prospectus, one that would allow for the inclusion of essential information for all proposed topics, we feel that not more than seven pages (including bibliography) should be sufficient in most cases.

Nature and Role of Doctoral Dissertation

Principles and Suggested Guidelines

Distinguishing Characteristics of the doctoral dissertation:

The dissertation should demonstrate the student's mastery of relevant resources and methods and should make an original contribution to understanding in the field.

  • Originality
    The originality of a dissertation may consist in the discovery of significant new information or principles of organization, the achievement of a new synthesis, the development of new methods or hypothesis, or the application of established methods to new materials.

    The idea for the dissertation need not originate with the student, nor must the line of research followed by the student be exclusively of his or her own design. We take it for granted that the ideas of faculty advisors will often play a significant role in shaping the dissertation.
  • Collaboration
    It is permissible for students to use research done in collaboration with others as the basis of their dissertations, and more than one student may obtain the Ph.D. by using a body of data derived from a common research project. In the physical and biological sciences such collaboration is now normal. Each student is expected, however, to write separate dissertation from an independent perspective and to make clear what his or her independent and original contribution to the research was.

    Since the dissertation is expected to embody an original contribution to scholarship by a particular individual, multi-authored dissertations are not permissible, and more than one student may not obtain the Ph.D. by using the same dissertation.

    It may occasionally be appropriate to append to a dissertation the results of original, unpublished research by other scholars (with their permission). Such a contribution should normally appear as an appendix, and its authorship should be made clear both at the beginning of the appendix and in the table of contents of the dissertation.
  • The use of previously published work
    Previously published work by the student may be used in the dissertation as long as it represents work done after the student was enrolled in the Ph.D. program and as long as it has not been used previously to obtain another degree. It is not permissible, however, simply to append offprints to the dissertation. The previously published research must be rewritten in such a way that it fits logically into the structure of the dissertation. There is no restriction on the kind of previously published research that may be used, but if the results of the research appeared in a multi-authored article, the independent contribution by the author of the dissertation must, as always, be made clear.
  • Unity and diversity within the dissertation
    Normally it is expected that a dissertation will have a single topic, however broadly defined, and that all parts of the dissertation will be interrelated. This does not mean that sections of the dissertation cannot constitute essentially discrete units. Dissertations in the physical and biological sciences, for example, often present the results of several independent but related experiments.

    The question arises from time to time of whether or not a series of unrelated, or at best loosely related, article-length essays can be submitted as a dissertation in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This has seldom been done at Yale and is not encouraged. We feel, however, that the faculty should keep an open mind on the question and that a student who wishes to present a case for dissertation of this sort should be given the opportunity to do so.
  • Length and time to completion
    Given the diverse nature of the fields in which dissertations are written and the wide variety of topics that are explored, it is obviously impossible to designate an "ideal length" for a dissertation. Virtually everyone agrees, however, that a long dissertation is not necessarily a better one, and that quality of thought and clarity of exposition, not sheer bulk, are what we value.

    As was stated at the outset, we feel that the dissertation should demonstrate the student's mastery of relevant resources and methods and make an original contribution to understanding in the field. We do not feel, however, that it should be the major scholarly achievement of the student's entire lifetime as a scholar. The dissertation should help the student to get launched on his or her professional career and not be a towering obstacle that delays the beginning of that career by many years.
    Yale's official period of candidacy is six years, and we feel that all students should be able to complete the Ph.D. within that period. Normally three, or at the most three and one half, years should be devoted to the completion or pre-dissertation requirements (courses, examinations, selection of a dissertation topic) and the remaining time, i.e., two to three years, to the dissertation.

    This means that students, faculty advisors, and Directors of Graduate Studies should give serious thought to the scale of proposed dissertation topics. There should be a reasonable expectation that the project can be completed in two to three years.

Procedure for Thesis Defense

When the student, mentor, and thesis committee agree that the student is ready to write and present the thesis, the student should  contact the department Registrar and the Director of Graduate Studies to inform them of the decision of the thesis committee and schedule a pre-defense.

The pre-defense is an oral presentation to the primary faculty of the Pharmacology Department. The mentor could be invited to attend pre-defense by Director of Graduate Studies but the presence of the mentor is not a requirement. The role of the pre-defense is for the faculty to view the doctoral work of the student with a “fresh pair of eyes” and give final approval for the student to start writing the thesis.

After approval by the faculty of the pre-defense, the student should start writing the thesis. The student should also meet with the Director of Graduate Studies in order to decide upon the appropriate members of the thesis committee. This may consist of members of the provisional thesis committee with whom the student has been meeting yearly, or other faculty may be selected by the Director of Graduate Studies and the student. At this time an outside reader will also be selected; the advisor and student may suggest appropriate people. The student should not contact prospective outside readers until the reader has been approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. At this time the student should let the Registrar know names and addresses of all members of the committee.

When the final thesis committee is arranged and the thesis is written, the student should consult with all of them about the date of presentation. The time that various faculty members require to read the thesis once they have the completed copy varies, so the student should discuss this with the faculty and take these requirements into account when setting the date. All members of the committee, including the outside reader, must be present at the presentation and the following examination period. When the date is determined, the student should reserve a room for the presentation through the department Registrar and give sufficient information (title of the thesis) so that announcements can be distributed. Announcements must be distributed by the department at least 2 weeks in advance. The Director of Graduate Studies will attend the exam if possible.

The Registrar at HGS suggests that all students call (203-432-2750) before preparing the final copy for binding to insure you have all the necessary and correct information. Before the presentation and the defense, the student should give each member of the committee a copy of thesis. This copy is not necessarily the final one, but it should be in a final form, complete with page numbers, table of contents, a list of figures and tables, and it should be bound in such a way that it lies flat (putting the thesis in a loose leaf notebook is acceptable as the soft bound copy). Limit the number of abbreviations used to make it more readable. Figures should be of publication quality. Committee members should receive original photographs, not photocopies of photographs. Brevity is a virtue. The thesis should contain data to support its conclusion, but need not contain all experiments the student has done.

At the thesis defense the student will give a public 45 minute oral presentation of the data in the thesis and the conclusion that is drawn from the data. This will be followed by a general question period, after which the audience will leave. The thesis committee at this time will question the student to determine whether the student has passed. The committee may require some changes in the thesis.

When the committee is satisfied with the thesis, it is essential that the date on the Title Page match the date the degree is awarded, NOT the date the student submitted his thesis to the Registrar. The student must present to the Registrar at HGS one unbound copy and as many soft-bound copies as there are readers. The soft-bound copies will be sent to the readers, so they do not need a separate corrected copy, if changes were made. These copies must be submitted to the Registrar before the Readers Reports will be sent to the student's committee members (you should allow time for this requirement when submitting your thesis). If the bound copies are not submitted before the appropriate deadlines (October 4 for December degree; March 14 for May degree) the student may not receive the degree at that time. Eventually (after a year or so) one of the bound copies will be returned to the student. A bound copy is also required for the department library, and the thesis advisor will be pleased to get one. When the student has finished the final copy of the thesis, he or she should give department Registrar the date of departure from Yale, title of new position, institution, and a forwarding address.