Research, TAships, and Leadership
The main focus of third and fourth year students is advancing their research projects. A key goal is to submit a first author manuscript based on the thesis research in the third year. Many students will also have the opportunity to submit revised or new fellowship proposals. Completing the TAship requirement is probably best during third and fourth years. Other requirements, including ethics training, must also be completed. Advanced students are expected to continue to participate and lead in organizing CCB activities and events. An important role is to mentor first and second year students, providing guidance in preparing for the preliminary and qualifying exams, choice of labs, preparing fellowships and troubleshooting projects.
Thesis Committee Meetings and Planning the Future
Students should keep their co-mentor and members of the thesis committee updated on progress, roadblocks and new directions. Formal meetings of the thesis committee are required every six to nine months and no less than once per year. At these meetings, students report progress, describe challenges, propose major changes, outline opportunities and set milestones. Thesis committee meetings offer an opportunity to discuss progress on publications and fellowships and plans for the future, including post-doctoral research or other efforts.
Along the way, it is important to begin to develop mature plans for the next steps after the PhD. Most students are interested in further research in academic or industry labs. Finding a post-doctoral mentor often needs a fair amount of lead time, particularly when securing a post-doctoral fellowship may be required. The mentor, co-mentor and thesis committee along with other faculty are important resources for this transition.
Penultimate Meeting and the Dissertation Defense
As a student's research continues to advance, discussions at thesis committee meetings should transition from next steps in the project to finalizing plans and timing for completing the degree. Typically during the fifth year, a penultimate meeting is scheduled where the student formally presents their experimental progress that will be reported in the Results chapters in their dissertation. The thesis committee can agree that the student is ready to write their dissertation and schedule a defense in the coming months.
The CCB expects our students to publish peer-reviewed papers as an important part of the training process. While we expect most students will have two or three research papers published or in process by their fifth year, some students may wait until their story is mature before assembling a manuscript. This is understandable, but before students can request a penultimate meeting, they are required to have at least one peer-reviewed paper as first or co-first author accepted/in press that reports their original research and that represents a significant body of work that will be described in a Results chapter of their thesis.
A few weeks before the defense, the candidate provides members of the thesis committee with their dissertation draft. The thesis defense consists of a public defense seminar presenting the body of research to the CCB community. After questions, the audience leaves and the PhD candidate meets with the thesis committee and any invited guests for the private defense, where the research is discussed in further detail. The committee often requests revisions to the dissertation to be completed before final acceptance. It is also customary to follow the private defense with a reception to celebrate the newly minted PhD. Once a fully approved and formatted dissertation is accepted by the University, the PhD degree is conferred at the next convocation.