Skip to Main Content


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.

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). An electronic version is also acceptable. 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. Electronic copies may be sent instead of softbound copies if the reader agrees to receive an electronic copy. 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 (See Graduate School calendar for deadlines) 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 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.