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  • Year 1 – Complete three research rotations plus required coursework
  • Year 2 – Select mentor and begin work on thesis project; complete electives
  • Year 3 – Select thesis committee members; complete Qualifying Exam
  • Year 4 – Conduct research on your thesis topic; present preliminary findings
  • Year 5+ – Complete thesis research, publish manuscripts, defend thesis!

First Year: Rotations + coursework

The course requirements for the first year of studies provide a strong foundation in cellular and molecular biology and afford maximum flexibility.  Students have three options for their coursework: concentrations in 1) Cell Biology of Disease, 2) Cancer Biology or 3) Bioinformatics. 

This year also includes three laboratory rotations, one per calendar quarter (October-December, January-March, April-June). These provide an opportunity for students to experience various laboratory environments and to work with research scientists in selected areas of interest.

Cell Biology of Disease

Cancer Biology


PTH509 Cell Biology of Human Disease I

PTH510 Cell Biology of Human Disease II

IND501 Ethics in Research

PTH504 Current Topics in Experimental Pathology

IND431 Foundations of Modern Biology I, All Modules

IND431 Foundations of Modern Biology I,

Modules 2 – 5

IND431 Foundations of Modern Biology I,

Modules 2 – 5

IND432 Foundations of Modern Biology II, All Modules

IND432 Foundations of Modern Biology II, Modules 1 and 3

IND432 Foundations of Modern Biology II, Modules 1 and 3


Second Year: Begin thesis research + electives

The main focus of the second year is for students to begin work in their mentor’s laboratory.  During this year, students will also identify thesis advisory committee members in consultation with their advisor and may hold a pre-qualifying exam committee meeting to discuss their proposed project. 

In addition to continuing enrollment in the Current Topics seminar course, students in either the Cancer Biology or Bioinformatics concentrations have several required courses (tabulated below). Students in the Cell Biology of Disease track have to take a single elective course in either fall or spring.  Any student may take additional electives depending on their background, areas of demonstrated competence, and research interests with the approval of their advisor and the program director.

Fall Semester, 2nd Year

Cell Biology of Disease

Cancer Biology


PTH595, Mentored Research

PTH504, Current Topics in Experimental Pathology

Choice of one elective, made in consultation with thesis mentor and program director

PTH507 Molecular and Cellular Biology of Cancer

BCH 521 Bioinformatics for Life Scientists

IND517 Clinical and Translational Oncology for the Laboratory Scientist

IND419 Quantitative Biology

IND507 Cancer Biology Seminar

INDXXX Current Topics in Bioinformatics


Electives that may be relevant to your research:

  • BST 467 Applied Statistics for the Biomedical Sciences
  • CVS 401 Cardiovascular Biology & Disease
  • IND419 Quantitative Biology
  • MBI 473 Immunology
  • PHP 447 Signal Transduction
  • PTH 507 Cancer Biology
  • To view a complete list of courses offered, visit the UR Course Catalog

Third Year: Thesis committee + Qualifying Exam

Upon completion of required coursework (at least 30 credit hours of coursework and research rotations), students are eligible to take the Qualifying Exam. The exam should be completed by the end of the first semester of the student’s third year.  The exam evaluates the student's understanding of basic scientific principles, critical thinking, and their ability to synthesize and develop testable hypotheses.  The Thesis Advisory / Qualifying Exam Committee is composed of faculty chosen by the student and thesis advisor and approved by the Graduate Program Director.  It is composed of four faculty, two faculty from within the Ph.D. Program in Pathology and one faculty member from outside of the mentor’s primary department or center.  The fourth member may be from any department.  The thesis advisor serves on the Thesis Advisory Committee, but during the Qualifying Exam the mentor will serve as a non-voting participant.

In preparation for the exam, the student writes a hypothesis-based research proposal in NIH F30/F31 fellowship format. Preliminary data and experimental approaches are based on the student's progress to date in his or her chosen laboratory. This document is reviewed in advance by the Committee.  Many students submit their written proposal to the NIH to compete for fellowship funding, either prior to or shortly after the Qualifying Exam.

While the written proposal provides a valuable example of the student's comprehension of the scientific method and can be the basis for examination questions, the oral component of the Qualifying Exam tests the full scope of the student's knowledge and reasoning skills.  Thus, background material, topics covered in the student’s courses and other knowledge relevant to the student’s proposed research should all be tested during the Qualifying Exam.  The oral examination may take two to three hours, depending on the scope of the proposed project and the depth of the student’s understanding.

Upon successful completion of the Qualifying Examination, students are awarded the M.S. degree in Pathology.

Beyond the Qualifying Exam: Research and Presentation

Following the Qualifying Exam, students spend the majority of their work time conducting research under the direction of their thesis advisor.  The Qualifying Exam Committee assumes the role of Thesis Advisory Committee and meets with the candidate at least once a year to review the student's progress.

During this time, the student and their mentor should seek opportunities to synthesize and present the student’s work.  This may include participation in local symposia, travel to scientific conferences for student presentation of their research and/or manuscript preparation for publication.

When the student, their mentor and the Thesis Advisory committee agree that the student has produced a novel, significant body of research, the student may be approved to write their dissertation.  Such progress generally takes several years, such that students graduate in their fifth or sixth year of enrollment (5 ½ years is our average “time to degree” from enrollment)