The goal of the Graduate Program of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics is to prepare students for careers in physiology through providing:
Students enter the graduate program through one of three mechanisms: the Biosciences Program, the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), or Direct Admission. Potential students are encouraged to directly contact individual faculty at anytime to discus research possibilities or the appropriateness of these mechanisms to individual circumstances.
Biosciences Program - Students interested in a Ph.D. degree in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics typically start in the Biosciences Program. The Biosciences Program is a multidisciplinary entry program for several Ph.D. degree granting programs at The University of Iowa. During the first year of participation in the Biosciences Program, students perform research rotations and complete a core curriculum of course work. This graduate training program provides students the flexibility of investigating several disciplines including biomedical and basic sciences prior to affiliating with a specific degree program. Once the student has identified a faculty mentor and lab to join, the student matriculates into a specific degree granting program, such as The Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, to complete their graduate work. Please refer to the Biosciences Program for specific application requirements and deadlines.
MSTP Program - Students interested in a joint M.D and Ph.D. degree from The University of Iowa typically start in the MSTP program. Admission is extremely competitive, please refer to the MSTP Program for specific application requirements and deadlines.
Direct Recruitment - With existing support of an identified faculty mentor, students may also apply for admission directly to the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. Because this program has no mechanism for performing research rotations, it is only appropriate for students who have identified an exact faculty member in the department willing and able to serve as their thesis advisor. Candidates for this mechanism will typically have existing research experience with the faculty member who will be supporting them (for example, through undergraduate research, summer research, work as a Research Associate, research collaborations, etc.).
To be considered, applicants must have a faculty member in the department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics write a letter to the Director of Graduate Studies summarizing strengths for candidacy. The letter must also state the willingness of the faculty to serve as the thesis advisor and acknowledgment of full financial responsibility for the student during the entirety of their graduate training. Applicants will subsequently be asked to submit official transcripts, GRE scores, and names of three references.
Applicants must hold, or will hold, a baccalaureate degree from accredited colleges or universities. Applicants will be judged by the Admissions Committee according to the merits of the letter by the faculty mentor, grade point average (should be at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale), scores from the Graduate Record Examination Individuals, and evidence of language proficiency.
Students preregister for Fall terms in April and the Spring term in November. Students only register for the summer semester if they are completing their Comprehensive Exam or Thesis Defense. Each student meets with the Director of Graduate Studies to determine his/her schedule for the upcoming term and to complete a departmental registration form which must be signed by the student and advisor. Once completed, it is the student’s responsibility to officially register using ISIS on the web at http://isis.uiowa.edu or at the Registration Center, 30 Calvin Hall.
Once the registration process has been completed, any changes (drops/adds) in courses must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and completed before the official University deadline using the Change of Registration form.
All full time doctoral students receive stipend support and tuition is paid for the entire period while enrolled in the doctoral degree program contingent on the student maintaining satisfactory progress and on the availability of funds. The University of Iowa contributes funds for the purchase of health insurance for graduate students. All students are encouraged to submit Fellowship applications to appropriate external funding agencies to help support these costs. If either a pre- or post-comprehensive student chooses to leave the University with his/her advisor, all subsequent stipend, tuition and related expenses are no longer the responsibility of the department.
The Director of Graduate Studies is appointed by the Department Head. In addition to coordinating student registration and curriculum planning, the Director of Graduate Studies acts as the official advisor for students until the student has passed the comprehensive examination. At that time the student's research advisor and thesis committee assume responsibility for advising and research training.
All graduate students are expected to be active contributors to the scientific environment of the Department. All graduate students are required to regularly attend and participate in Departmental Workshops, Seminars, Thesis Defense Presentations, and Symposia during the entirety of their Graduate Training.
In consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, each new student formulates a plan of study to be completed before the Comprehensive Examination. This Plan is to include projected dates for completion of the Comprehensive examination as well as provision for removal of deficiencies. Before completing the comprehensive exams the normal course load is 15 hours each semester.
All courses taken during the first year as part of the Biosciences program will be accepted as part of the core curriculum or as electives by the department. Additional courses may be required to complete the Core Curriculum.
It is the intention of the department to have a curriculum allowing coursework to be largely comlpeted within the first year, though in some instances additional coursework in subsequent years will be required. The core curriculum represents a minimum of required classes, with advice of the Director of Graduate Studies and Thesis Advisor, some students may benefit from completing additional coursework.
Requests for waiver of required courses or change from course registration must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies after consultation with the faculty and the Head of the Department.
Students must meet progress requirements of both the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and the Graduate College. To meet Departmental requirements, Doctoral students must obtain a grade of “B” or better in Graduate Physiology and Critical Thinking and Communication (“B-” or lower constitutes a non-passing grade), a grade of “S” for Principals of Scholarly Integrity, and a grade point average of 3.0 or better for all electives (a grade below “B”, but above “D-”, is permissible for individual electives, so long as the average grade point of all electives taken during the graduate program remains above 3.0). To meet Graduate College requirements, Doctoral students must maintain an overall grade point average of 3.0 or better. If a student fails to maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0, he/she will be placed on Academic Probation by the Graduate College and will be granted one additional semester in which to raise their GPA to a 3.0 or better. At the end of each semester, the Director of Graduate Studies will review the academic standing of each student and present a report to the faculty. For students who have finished their first year in the program this report will include a review of all course grades as well as evaluations from faculty members with whom the student has completed laboratory rotations.
If satisfactory progress has been made, a recommendation for continuation of the student in the Ph.D. program will be presented to the faculty for departmental approval. If satisfactory progress has not been made, a recommendation for continuation will be made to the departmental faculty either to deny the student continuation in the Ph.D. program or to allow the student the opportunity to demonstrate improvement of noted deficiencies within a time limit decided upon by the thesis advisor and thesis committee. If these deficiencies are not adequately corrected, a recommendation will be made to the faculty to deny the student continuation in the Ph.D. program.
The purpose of the comprehensive examination is to evaluate the ability of a student to formulate an original research problem, to develop an appropriate experimental approach for solving that problem and to demonstrate independent, creative and critical scholarly ability in presenting and defending the proposal.
Comprehensive exams must be completed by June 30th of the appropriate year, but may be completed earlier if a student has completed the relevant coursework and gathered sufficient preliminary data
Biosciences students admitted to the doctoral program are required to complete the comprehensive examination by June 30 of their first full year in the department.
MSTP students, are required to complete the comprehensive examination by June 30 of the first year in the program.
Students admitted directly to the doctoral program are required to complete the comprehensive examination by June 30 of the second year in the program.
All courses of the Core Curriculum receiving a letter (A- F) grade must be satisfactorally completed prior to taking the comprehensive exam (MSTP students will typically not have completed Principals of Scholarly Integrity, graded S/ U, prior to taking the Comprehensive Exam, but must do so to subsequently complete the Training Program). By regulations of the Graduate College, students can not take a comprehensive exam in a semster in which they are on academic probation.
The student must contact the Director of Graduate Studies with regard to scheduling of the oral examination. Because of busy faculty schedules, students are encouraged to set the date for the comprehensive exam as early as possible; the examination must be scheduled a minimum of two weeks prior to the examination date. The Comprehensive Exam must be held within Departmental space of Bowen Science Building; students should work with the Graduate Studies secretary to reserve an appropriate room. As explained in the sections below, the exam is also subject to additional scheduling constraints.
Once notified by DGS of approval, student contacts Committee members to set exam date
The comprehensive committee will consist of five faculty members, four of whom must be members of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. At least three faculty members on each committee must have a primary appointment in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. One member of the committee is designated by the Director of Graduate Studies to serve as Chair. The duties of the Chair are to:
Selection of the comprehensive committee is the responsibility of the student with recommendation from the student’s thesis research advisor. Members of the comprehensive examination committee also constitute members of the putative thesis committee. In considering possible members, both the expertise and longterm availability of members should be considered. For example, the advantage of having senior faculty with very active research programs serve on a committee should be weighed with the disadvantage of scheduling meetings around multiple travel schedules.
Each faculty member should verbally agree to serve on the comprehensive committee and on the subsequent thesis committee. The prospective list of committee members is then submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies who will obtain formal approval from the departmental faculty.
Once approved, the Director of Graduate Studies will provide the student with the name of the chair of their comprehensive exam. At this time, the student can schedule a date for their exam. To allow sufficient time for this process, students planning to take their comprehensive exam by June 30 should submit the names of the faculty for their proposed committee to the Director of Graduate Studies well in advance (typically by March).
One member of the committee is designated by the Director of Graduate Studies to serve as chairman. The duties of the chairman are to:
The comprehensive examination for the Ph.D. degree in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics consists of two components: a written proposal in the form of a National Research Service Award application based on the candidate's proposed thesis research, and an oral examination on this proposal and related areas.
The student is expected to prepare an original research proposal according to current NIH instructions for a F31 NRSA grant proposal, using current guidelines for its sub-sections and following current limits for page length and all formatting. The proposal must contain: a cover letter, Specific Aims page, Research Strategy section, a Bibliography and References Cited section, and a response to ONE of Vertebrate Animals, Protection of Human Subjects, or Resource Sharing Plan. The proposal must include at least 1 Specific Aim that is distinct from Specific Aims contained in previously submitted grants. The purpose of this requirement is to give students a clear opportunity to demonstrate their development as independently thinking scientists to the exam committee.
The written proposal must be distributed to the committee members at least one week prior to the scheduled date of the oral examination.
Cover Letter: The cover letter required for this exam is a hybrid of elements that might be used to accompany a submission to a granting agency. For purposes here, please summarize the strengths of the proposal and delineate which experiments are distinct from previously submitted grants. Also include 1 stand alone paragraph labeled “Lay Description” and describe in non-technical language the purpose of your proposed work and how it aims to address an issue impacting human health. This paragraph should be readily understood by anyone with a high school level education and should be limited to a few sentences. Together, the entire Cover letter is limited to 1 page.
Specific Aims: The Fellowship Applicant must describe concisely the Specific Aims, broad, long-term objectives and the goal of the proposed research to test a stated hypothesis. The Specific Aims section is limited to 1 page. Although there is no specific rule regarding the number of Specific Aims allowed, 2-3 is typical.
Research Strategy: This section should address the Significance of the proposed studies, including the background leading to the present application; and the Approach (including preliminary studies, if any) to provide experimental support of the proposed hypothesis. This section, including tables, graphs, figures, diagrams, and charts, is limited to 6 pages.
Importantly, the proposal must include at least 1 Specific Aim that is distinct from Specific Aims contained in previously submitted grants. The purpose of this requirement is to give students a clear opportunity to demonstrate their development as independently thinking scientists to the exam committee.
Bibliography & References Cited: Provide a bibliography of any references cited. The references should be limited to relevant and current literature. While there is not a page limitation, it is important to be concise and to select only those literature references pertinent to the proposed research.
Vertebrate Animals, Protection of Human Subjects, Resource Sharing Plan: Although a full NRSA application would require all of these items, for the purpose of the comprehensive exam, please address ONE of these items.
If the proposal uses vertebrate animals, complete this item.
If vertebrate animals are not used, complete either the Protection of Human Subjects or Resource Sharing Plan, whichever is more pertinent to the proposal. This section is limited to 1 page.
The written proposal should contain relevant background information and must focus clearly on specific hypotheses and how they will be tested experimentally. An extensive review of the literature does not constitute an acceptable research proposal. Although a student is free to consult with his/her thesis advisor, lab members, and classmates, the proposal MUST be in the student's own words.
Students are also free to organize a “Mock-comps” with their classmate peers, and are in fact encouraged to do so. Students unfamiliar with this tradition are encouraged to discus it with senior graduate students in the Department.
Roles of the Thesis Advisor through the Comprehensive Exam: The thesis advisor may give general feedback to the student, but he/she should not revise or correct the proposal. The thesis advisor has the option to read/not read the proposal. Prior to the oral exam, the advisor must provide to the Chair of the Comprehensive Exam Committee a brief letter describing their perception of the student’s overall progress.
Students should consult Grants.gov (http://grants.nih.gov/) to confirm current guidelines and instructions.
All students are strongly encouraged to submit their grants, or modified and improved versions of them, to the NIH and other funding agencies for potential funding.
The written research proposal will be evaluated on the basis of, but not limited to, the following criteria:
The examination begins with a brief private meeting of the members of the exam committee, during which time the student will be asked to briefly leave the room. During this time, the Chair of the exam committee will briefly review the student’s academic progress to date, including coursework (a transcript copy will be provided by the Physiology Office) and the advisor’s overall perception of progress (to be provided prior to the exam by the thesis advisor). Upon returning to the room, the student will give an uninterrupted Power point presentation, not to exceed 15 minutes, to discuss the appropriate background and experimental design. At this time, the student may also show preliminary experimental data related to the proposal. Committee members then ask questions on topics generally or specifically related to the proposal. The student may only use a black/white board to address these questions. The Chair of the committee ensures reasonable progression of the examination, which typically will be completed within two hours.
At the conclusion of the examination the student will be asked to leave the room and the committee members will discuss his/her performance. During this discussion, committee members should make known the reasons (if any) for dissatisfaction with the performance of the student. There are three potential outcomes of the exam: Satisfactory, Reservation, or Unsatisfactory. In most instances, committees will have near or complete consensus, but if discrepencies are present, the outcome is dictated by the lowest outcome receiving two or more votes (Satisfactory > Reservation > Unsatisfactory; for example, two Unsatisfactory votes constitutes a failure). If the result of the comprehensive examination is “Satisfactory”, the student has passed the exam. Students are encouraged to submit versions of their exam to the NIH for funding consideration. Students passing their comprehensive exam are expected to present regularly in the Workshop series, with a first public presentation typically coming within 2-4 months after the comprehensive exam.
If the result of the comprehensive examination is “Reservation”, the Chair of the Examination committee will submit to the student, Office of Graduate Studies, and Graduate College a letter specifying reservations to be met and a deadline for their removal.
If the result of the comprehensive examination is “Unsatisfactory” the candidate may be allowed, at the discretion of the department, to repeat the comprehensive examination once, though not before four months from the initial date of the examination. If the option to repeat the examination is not offered or the result of the reexamination is not satisfactory, the candidate's enrollment in the graduate Ph.D. program will be terminated.
The oral examination will be evaluated on the basis of, but not limited to, the following criteria:
After successful completion of the comprehensive exam, the student is officially advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Once the student has fulfilled the required number of hours specified on his/her plan of study, the student must register "Doctoral Continuous Registration" for 0 semester hours until the semester in which graduation occurs. The student must be registered during the session in which the degree is received. Once a student has passed the comprehensive examination, the student's thesis advisor and thesis committee primarily assume responsibility for advising and research training of the student.
Any tenured or tenure-track member of the Physiology faculty may serve as a thesis advisor. Assuming the faculty member agrees to serve in this capacity, the Director of Graduate Studies will recommend approval of this decision by the entire faculty. Departmental permission is required to change the research advisor after the initial advisor is approved.
If the advisor of a post-comprehensive student leaves The University of Iowa, the student’s thesis committee will hold a special meeting. The committee will discuss the progress of the student and decide whether the student’s thesis project can be completed within a two- year time frame. If this decision is reached, then the committee will recommend to the faculty that the student be permitted to complete his/ her research at the advisor's new institution. Thesis committee meetings and thesis defense will be conducted at Iowa, but the department does not assume responsibility for travel expenses incurred in meeting these requirements.
If the thesis committee determines that the student’s thesis project can not be completed within two years, they may recommend that the student not be permitted to leave with his/her advisor. Therefore, the student would need to find a new thesis advisor in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics.
A pre-comprehensive student may elect to move with his/her advisor to a new institution. The student's registration at The University of Iowa will be terminated. If the student elects to stay, he/she will find a new advisor in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics.
The Thesis Committee will be comprised of the Comprehensive Committee, which includes at least three faculty members with a primary appointment in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, plus the research advisor. Because the Thesis Advisor is not part of the Comprehensive Exam Committee, but is part of the Thesis Committee, it is equally acceptable to either ask one member of the Exam Committee to step down, or to move forward with an extra member on the committee. A faculty member who has collaborated/published with the student's Thesis Advisor should disclose this fact at the time the students thesis committee is formed. Any subsequent changes in the makeup of the Thesis Committee must be coordinated with the Director of Graduate Studies. The Thesis committee will serve as a guide for the student during his/ her doctoral research and will meet at least once yearly, usually following workshop presentation, to evaluate the student's progress.
Each student must meet with his/her thesis committee on a yearly basis. Additional meetings may be held at the discretion of the thesis advisor or thesis committee. At these meetings the thesis advisor and thesis committee will evaluate the student’s progress. Although it is preferable to hold a thesis meeting in conjunction with a Workshop presentation, it is not required. Students separating the two are advised to be mindful that the research presentation aspect of a thesis committee meeting, if any, should be very succinct and not a full repeat of a Workshop. Students are required to submit a brief report outlining: the background of their thesis project; a summary of their research progress; and their future research directions. Several days before the student’s workshop and thesis committee meeting, he/she should distribute this report to the members of their thesis committee. After the meeting a letter co-signed by the thesis advisor and the student, summarizing the recommendations of the committee, is sent to the Director of Graduate Studies and Carrie Stasch. A copy is placed in the student’s file and will be used in the evaluation of student progress reports presented by the DGS to the faculty at the end of each semester.
All post-comprehensive students are required to present a Workshop on the progress of their thesis research twice a year (typically once in the spring semester and once in the fall semester). Students should consult with the Workshop coordinator to arrange presentation dates. Pre- comprehensive students are also encouraged to present Workshops, though it is not required. Students have an option to present a full or half Workshop (typically 45 or 20 minutes, respectively).
It is expected that a motivated student be capable of completing a Ph.D. in 4.0 years or less. It is primarily the responsibility of the student to ensure progress. However, the Thesis Advisor and Thesis Committee should also be cognizant of this and help the student set goals that can realistically be completed within this timeframe.
Experience in teaching is an important part of a student's academic training. To attain adequate teaching proficiency, students will receive teaching assignments after successful completion of the comprehensive exam and in subsequent years as warranted. Individual assignments will depend on the teaching needs of the department. Examples of teaching assignments include running review sessions within a graduate Physiology course, formal lectures, participating in small group conferences, assisting in computer simulations, or bench mentoring of summer students. These teaching assignments are made by the Director of Teaching, in consultation with appropriate course directors. Thesis Advisors with specific suggestions concerning teaching assignments that would be particularly beneficial to the individual circumstances of a given student are encouraged to share them with the Director of Teaching for consideration. However, final discretion for approval lies with the Director of Teaching who MUST pre-approve all assignments.
The Doctor of Philosophy is the highest degree awarded by the University. The Ph.D. degree in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics indicates superior knowledge and excellence in research. During the semester in which the doctoral candidate plans to defend and graduate he/she must file an Application for Degree in the Registrar's office no later than the specified deadline for that semester. The Thesis involves the Thesis document itself, the Thesis Presentation, and the Thesis Defense.
The thesis document shall consist of distinct sections entitled Abstract, Table of Contents, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Bibliography which must conform to the current Graduate College style requirements. The Introduction and Methods sections should not be in the highly condensed form appropriate to specialized journals, but should constitute a critical and extensive review of the pertinent literature. It is anticipated that the thesis research will be published in refereed journals. Students are strongly encouraged to publish their findings before the submission of the thesis. The thesis, however, should not be written by simply collating a series of published articles, which may have multiple authors. Although published articles may represent individual chapters in the thesis, the student is expected to write a comprehensive background and discussion and the experimental results must be written in the student’s own words. The Graduate College Thesis Guidelines are available online at http://www.grad.uiowa.edu/theses-and-dissertations.
First deposit of the Thesis document MUST be made with the Graduate College before the specified deadline for the semester in which the defense is to be held (NOTE: this deadline is very strictly enforced and must be met to the day, hour, and minute – procrastination is strongly ill-advised). After approval by the Graduate College, the thesis must be distributed to the Thesis Committee members at least three weeks prior to the scheduled Thesis Presentation and Defense.
Students first complete a Thesis Defense with their committee and once this test is completed can schedule a public Thesis Presentation.
The oral Thesis Defense is held with members of the Thesis Committee. During the oral examination questions concerning the thesis project, as well as the written Thesis document itself, will be raised. The Thesis Defense should be held within the Department (students should work with the Graduate Studies secretary to reserve an appropriate room). The format of the Defense may either begin with a brief (approximately 15 minute) summary by the student and proceed to questions from the Committee, or if preferred, the talk may be omitted and immediately begin with questions from the Committee.
If the student's performance is deemed satisfactory, it is the responsibility of the student and his/her advisor to insure that all the necessary corrections have been made before the final deposit of the Thesis document is made with the Graduate College by the specified deadline.
After the Thesis Defense has been successfully completed, students can schedule a public Thesis Presentation. The Thesis Presentation is a public seminar in the department. The Thesis presentation must be held within the Departmental seminar room on the 5th floor of Bowen Science Building (5-669 BSB) during a normally scheduled Seminar, Workshop, or Presentation time slot (Tuesday at 9:30 AM, Wednesday at noon, or Thursday at 9:30 AM). The time and date of the defense is to be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. Thesis Presentations are typically 45 minutes in length and must allow sufficient time for questions following the presentation.
As a public seminar, guests of the student are welcome to attend the Thesis Presentation. However, students and advisors should bear in mind that this should be a professional presentation, generally not for the lay public.
In addition to document submission requirements to the Graduate College, students are asked to submit 1 full printed copy of their thesis to the Graduate Studies secretary so that it may be bound and added to our Departmental library. Additional bound copies of the thesis may be prepared for the Thesis Advisor and student, at their cost.
The Graduate College hosts a formal Graduation Ceremony at the completion of the Fall and Spring semesters that all graduating students and their advisors are encouraged to attend. Please consult the Graduate Studies secretary for details.
A graduate student who commits any act of scientific or academic misconduct will be subject to disciplinary action by the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. Misconduct includes conduct which the graduate student knew or reasonably should have known was a form of cheating, plagiarism, or falsification on any examination, term paper, scientific manuscript, comprehensive examination, transcript or registration document. The department thus affirms the policy specified in the "Code of Student Life".
It is the responsibility of each student to act in accordance with this official university policy.