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Education / Graduate Education / PhD Programs / Toxicology / People / Current Students / Student Handbook / Progress Towards The Degree: Benchmarks & Timeframe

Progress Towards The Degree: Benchmarks & Timeframe

Timetable for Lab Rotations and PhD Research

First Year

  • Aug-Sep - Summer rotation for students that matriculate early
  • Sep - Begin lab rotation #1 (or 2), September – November
  • Dec - Begin lab rotation #2 (or 3), December - February
  • March - Begin lab rotation #3 (or 4), March - June
  • May or June - Provide summary (10-15 min oral presentation, or poster) of accomplishments during laboratory research rotations at the annual Tox Program Retreat
  • May or June - Select thesis advisor, and inform Program Director and Program Coordinator of your selection.

Second Year

  • Sept-Dec - Select members of thesis advisory committee
  • Jan-May - Hold first meeting with Thesis Advisory Committee (this meeting should be held no later than the week of the student’s first TOX 558 seminar presentation)
  • May-Aug - Thesis research; Qualifying Exam preparation (i.e., set a date; discuss project goals with Thesis Advisor and Thesis Advisory Committee)

Third Year

  • Aug-Jul - Thesis research
  • Aug-Oct - PhD Qualifying Examination (Thesis Proposal): This must be completed (passed) by October 31 of the 5th semester in residence to maintain good academic standing
  • Jan-May - Meeting with Thesis Advisory Committee (this meeting should be held during the same week as the student’s spring seminar presentation if possible)

Fourth Year

  • Jan-Dec - Thesis research, manuscript preparation
  • Jan-May - Give last TOX 558 seminar; Meeting with Thesis Advisory Committee

Fifth Year

Thesis research, write dissertation, career plans (e.g., look for a post-doctoral position); defend PhD thesis

Laboratory Rotations

Rotations provide students an opportunity to familiarize themselves with a range of laboratory environments, research topics, mentoring styles, techniques, and approaches to research. Laboratory rotations also give faculty mentors the opportunity to get to know students better, and to evaluate their work ethic, work habits, and approach to research, as well as overall research interests and aptitude. It is important for students to realize that evaluations during each laboratory rotation are a two-way process.

Students must begin a laboratory rotation immediately upon entering the program, and must remain actively engaged in a research laboratory at all times. To arrange rotations, students should approach individual faculty members. It is advised that students contact faculty well in advance of the hoped for start date. It is also advised that students discuss possible rotations with more than three faculty mentors, so that possible rotation options are thoroughly explored and to ensure that space is available at the proposed time.

All rotations should have a rotation plan, prepared by the faculty mentor and given to the student at the beginning of the rotation. There is no specified format, but the document should contain a brief overview of the dates of the rotation, the goals of the project, and the faculty mentor’s expectations of the rotation. The faculty mentor should also specify the format of the rotation summary (written, oral, or both) that is to be completed by the student at the end of the rotation period.

All rotations must be evaluated by the student and the faculty mentor. In addition to meeting to provide verbal feedback and discuss the rotation, written evaluations need to be completed by both the student and the faculty mentor. Evaluation forms are found on the GEPA forms website.  The GEPA Office updates these forms from time to time. It is the student’s responsibility to make certain that the most current evaluation form is used, and that the evaluation is completed in a timely manner. Forms should be turned in (electronically) within 1 week of completion of the rotation.

Evaluation of Progress

Obtaining mentoring, guidance, and constructive criticism are important aspects of developing into a PhD level scientist. Students are encouraged to seek advice from many sources as they cultivate the knowledge and skills necessary for success. Outlined herein are the required evaluation and assessment processes; however, this does not mean that other sources of guidance are not also encouraged (e.g., additional mentors are encouraged, including other faculty and peers).

Individual Development Plan (IDP)

All graduate students are required to have an IDP (Individual Development Plan) in place. Tips on how to develop your IDP can be found at Science Careers. It is recommended that students start developing an IDP early during graduate school, and revisit this throughout their time in graduate school (and beyond). The Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs requires that all students have an IDP in place not later than the beginning of the third year of study.   

Annual Reviews

Students are required to conduct an annual self-evaluation, and receive feedback from faculty regarding their progress. The annual evaluation process for first year students differs slightly from that of all other students; therefore this process is described below in 2 parts. This process is not only required by the Program, but the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs requires that each doctoral student’s faculty mentor/thesis advisory committee submit a Progress Report by June 30th of each year. Forms can be found at and downloaded from the GEPA forms website. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure this process occurs each year.

First Year Students

The Program Director serves as the advisor for all first year students. Students are welcome to seek guidance from the Program Director as needed throughout the academic year. At a minimum, students must schedule a meeting with the Program Director at the end of their first year in residence (generally prior to June 15th). Also, the Program’s Steering Committee will evaluate and discuss the progress of all students. This evaluation will include academic performance, rotation evaluations, as well as attendance and participation in Program and University functions. Also considered will be whether the student has selected a Thesis Advisor. The results of this meeting will be communicated to each student in a meeting with the Program Director, who will also provide a summary of this evaluation to the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs.

All other students

Students should seek input from their mentor, members of their Thesis Advisory Committee, and other faculty as needed. However, at a minimum, students are required to meet with their full Thesis Advisory Committee at least once per year. Ideally, these annual committee meetings will be held during the same week (and preferably on the same day) as the student’s spring seminar.  For students in years five and above, this annual meeting should be held before June 15th.

MD/PhD Students in Toxicology 

MD/PhD students typically enter the PhD portion after the basic science years of the MD curriculum.  During their first and/or second year of the MD program, they should discuss the PhD program in toxicology with departmental faculty and the Director of the Toxicology Graduate program.  During this period, they should evaluate possible dissertation research mentors.  Research rotations in two or three prospective labs are conducted, typically in the summer before their entry into the PhD program.    

Based on their basic science courses in the medical curriculum, MD/PhD students are granted 30 credits toward the 96-credit requirement for the PhD.  Thus, many of the required courses for Toxicology PhD candidates (i.e., IND 408 – Biochemistry; IND 409 - Cell Biology; IND 410 -Molecular Biology and Genetics; PHP 403 and PHP 404 – Pharmacology and Physiology) are waived for most MD/PhD students.  30 credits can only be transferred IF the student earns more than 96 credit hours of PhD research.  Please refer to the University policy on credit sharing between 2 degrees.

The required courses are: TOX 521 – Biochemical Toxicology; TOX 522 – Organ Systems Toxicology; and BST 467.  In addition, each student is required to take the Toxicology Student Research Seminar (TOX 558 – 1 credit hour) given every spring semester, and Ethics (IND 501).  Additional courses are typically small group seminars and journal clubs (1-2 credits) where students learn how to critically evaluate and orally present recent literature.

For the PhD portion of the combined MD/PhD, students take an oral qualifying examination based on their proposed thesis research at the end of their second year of study, or by the end of their 5 semester.  Typically, the combined degree students complete the PhD portion in 3-4 years.