Graduate Program Information for Current Students

MPB Graduate Program Guidelines

Welcome to the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics (MPB) Graduate Program!! The MPB Graduate Program guidelines found at the links below describe all the features of our Graduate Program and the various requirements and procedures associated with your journey to a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Most of your fellow students in the program have entered with a Bachelor's degree through either the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP), Quantitative & Chemical Biology (QCB) Program or Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). A few students, especially students with an advanced Masters degree, may have joined the program though direct admission to a MPB preceptor’s laboratory.

After joining the Graduate Program it typically takes 4-5 years to obtain your Ph.D. degree. The actual timing will depend on your performance and on the nature of the research project you undertake. If you entered the Graduate Program with an advanced Masters degree the time to graduation will also depend on the number of transferred academic credits, which must be approved by the Graduate Education Committee [GEC], since this will determine the extent of additional coursework that is required.

For the benefit of those students who are about to join the MPB Graduate Program either (1) in mid-May after completing your training in the IGP or QCB program during your first year at Vanderbilt or (2) in mid-May during your second year of training in the MSTP program at Vanderbilt, the following summarizes the key steps on your path to the Ph.D. degree:

  1. Shortly after joining the Program you will meet with the Chair of MPB (Roger Colbran), the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS; Richard O’Brien), the Associate Education Director (AED; Chuck Cobb) and the Graduate Program Manager (Karen Gieg). The DGS will provide an overview of the program and you will have the opportunity to ask questions from the assembled group. After the meeting the DGS will send you a detailed document describing Program requirements and procedures prior to taking the Qualifying Examination.
  2. During your first year in the Program you will take required course work and begin your thesis research. At the end of the first year you will receive a detailed document from the DGS describing the format of the Qualifying Examination and then meet with the DGS to obtain clarification of any aspects of the examination that are unclear.
  3. At the beginning of your second year in the Program you will prepare for and take the Qualifying Examination.
  4. After passing the Qualifying Examination the DGS will send you another detailed document describing Program requirements and procedures for your remaining time in the Program prior to your Thesis Defense. These requirements mainly relate to seminar presentations, Thesis Committee meetings and the Thesis Defense.

If you already have a Master’s degree and are about to join the MPB Graduate Program in mid-August after having just arrived at Vanderbilt following direct admission into the laboratory of an MPB preceptor, you will follow a similar path except that your didactic curriculum will be designed with input from the DGS and GEC.

The GEC oversees the MPB Graduate Program and approves all changes to Program guidelines, including the format of the Qualifying Examination and composition of Thesis Committees.

Current Members of the Committee are:

Richard O'Brien (chair)
Chuck Cobb
Eric Delpire
Wenbiao Chen
Tony Weil
Teru Nakagawa
Owen McGuinness​
​David Jacobson
Gregor Neuert
Kasey Vickers
Meenakshi Madhur

The following summarizes the Curriculum of the MPB Graduate Program. It varies somewhat depending on whether you entered Vanderbilt through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP), Quantitative & Chemical Biology (QCB) Program or Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) before joining the MPB Graduate Program. If you entered the MPB Graduate Program with a Masters degree the GEC will consider the transfer of up to 24 h total credits of which 6 hours (with A or B grades only) may be for didactic credit. These 6 hours of didactic credit can be transferred regardless of whether you were admitted to Vanderbilt through the IGP, QCB program or were directly admitted to a MPB laboratory. The transfer of the remaining 18 ‘non-quality’ hours helps to reduce future tuition costs to your PI and/or the training grant through which you are supported.

(The curriculums for the IGP, QCB program and MSTP can be found on their respective websites so the information below just describes the curriculum after you have joined the MPB Graduate Program).

 

Ph.D. Program

Program for Students with a BS/BA degree Who Entered VU Through the IGP or QCB in mid-August

Having chosen your preceptor and joined the MPB Graduate Program in mid May you will spend the summer starting your thesis research. The MPB Graduate Program didactic curriculum begins at the start of your second year (mid August) at Vanderbilt:

Fall

        4-7 h Didactic (required classes are described below)

        5-8 h Research Rotations/Physiological Techniques (MP&B8322)

Spring

        4-7 h Didactic (required classes are described below)

        5-8 h Research Rotations/Physiological Techniques (MP&B8322)

 

You must have 24 didactic hours to take the Qualifying Exam in early August

Third and subsequent years at Vanderbilt (following the Qualifying Exam)

 

Fall and Spring

12 h of thesis research (MP&B9999) in each semester until 72 hours are completed. If necessary, you then register for 0 h of MP&B9999 each semester until you defend your thesis.

 

Program for Students with a Masters degree Who Entered VU Through the IGP or QCB in mid-August

Having chosen your preceptor and joined the MPB Graduate Program in mid May you will spend the summer starting your thesis research. The MPB Graduate Program didactic curriculum begins at the start of your second year (mid August) at Vanderbilt.

The MPB Graduate Program curriculum is described below. You must take the required courses and have 24 didactic hours to take the Qualifying Exam in early August. If the GEC allowed the transfer of 6 didactic credit hours then only 18 additional didactic hours will be required.

Third and subsequent years at Vanderbilt (following the Qualifying Exam)

 

Fall and Spring

12 h of thesis research (MP&B9999) in each until 72 hours are completed. If necessary, you then register for 0 h of MP&B9999 each semester until you defend your thesis.

 

Program for Students with a Masters degree Who Entered VU Through Direct Admission to a MPB Preceptor’s Laboratory in mid-August

Having being directly admitted into your preceptor’s laboratory and directly joined the MPB Graduate Program in mid August of your first year at Vanderbilt you will have greater flexibility in the design of your first year curriculum and you will also be able to immediately start your thesis research. Your didactic curriculum will be designed with input from the DGS and GEC. Depending on your prior training, you may be able to begin the MPB Graduate Program didactic curriculum immediately when you arrive at Vanderbilt. You will still take the Qualifying Exam at the end of your second year at Vanderbilt but the time to graduation will be reduced because you will have spent more time conducting thesis research and less time taking didactic courses.

The MPB Graduate Program curriculum is described below. You must take the required courses and have 24 didactic hours to take the Qualifying Exam in early August. If the GEC allowed the transfer of 6 didactic credit hours then only 18 additional didactic hours will be required.

Third and subsequent years at Vanderbilt (following the Qualifying Exam)

Fall and Spring

12 h of thesis research (MP&B9999) in each until 72 hours are completed. If necessary, you then register for 0 h of MP&B9999 each semester until you defend your thesis.

 

M.D./Ph.D. Program

Having chosen your preceptor and joined the MPB Graduate Program in mid May of your second year at Vanderbilt you will spend the summer completing your second year of training in the MSTP before starting your thesis research at the start of your third year (mid August) at Vanderbilt. You will participate in the orientation session for all new MPB Graduate Students in mid May but your participation in the MPB Graduate Program didactic curriculum will begin when you join your laboratory in mid August:

Fall

        1 h Tutorials in Physiology (MP&B8324; didactic)

        5 h Graduate School electives (didactic)

        6 h research/Physiological Techniques (MP&B8322)

Spring

        1 h Tutorials in Physiology (MP&B8324; didactic)

        5 h Graduate School electives (didactic)

        6 h research/Physiological Techniques (MP&B8322)

 

You must have 18 didactic hours to take Qualifying Exam in early August following your first graduate year.

Second and subsequent graduate years following Qualifying Exam:

Fall and Spring

12 h of thesis research (MP&B8999) in each until 72 hours are completed.

 

After 72 hours, you will register for 0 h of MP&B9999 each semester until you defend your thesis.

A full listing of the courses offered by the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics can be found at the Graduate School website:

http://www.vanderbilt.edu/catalogs/graduate/graduate-school/

 

The following didactic courses are some of the more popular courses offered by the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics:


MP&B 8330 - Human Physiology and Molecular Medicine (3 hours)

MP&B 8324 - Tutorials in Physiology (2 hours)

MP&B 8326 - Exercise Physiology (1 hour)

MP&B 8327 - Molecular Endocrinology (2 hours)

M&PB 8332 - Regulation of Gene Transcription (2 hours)

MP&B 8333 - Molecular Aspects of Obesity and Diabetes (2 hours)

MP&B 8328 - Metabolic Regulation in vivo (2 hours)

MP&B 8385 - Fundamentals of Genetic Analysis (3 hours)

MP&B 8323 - Excitable Membrane Properties in Nerve and Muscle (3 hours)

MP&B 8325 - Physical Measurements on Physical Systems (3 hours)

MP&B 8340 - Human Genetics, (3 hours)

MP&B 8345 - Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience (4 hours)

MP&B 8380 - Genetic Analysis of Complex Human Diseases (1 hour)

 

 

While MP&B offers multiple courses, if you entered the MPB Graduate Program through the IGP/QCB or entered through direct admission you are only required to take two of these courses: Human Physiology and Molecular Medicine (MP&B8330) and Tutorials in Physiology (MP&B8324). If you are a M.D./Ph.D. student who entered the MPB Graduate Program through the MSTP you will have taken extensive coursework relating to Human Physiology in your first year of Medical School; this satisfies the departmental Physiology course requirement so you are only required to take Tutorials in Physiology (MP&B8324) course. These limited didactic course requirements enable you to tailor your didactic curriculum to best meet the needs of your own thesis research.

The remainder of required didactic credit hours (24 hours for students in the Ph.D. program; 18 hours for students in the M.D./Ph.D. program) are selected from the wide variety of elective courses offered by Molecular Physiology & Biophysics (listed above) or other Departments. You are strongly encouraged to consult with your preceptor concerning the best possible choices. There is a limit of one credit hour of a completely seminar-based course which can be applied to your didactic credit hour total.

You also should be aware that funding of your stipend through certain training programs may require you to take additional courses.

In the two semester Tutorials in Physiology course (MP&B8324) you are required to present a critical review of a published paper in the Fall semester and an original research proposal in a mock-Qualifying Exam setting in the Spring semester.

You must maintain a B average (GPA of 3.00) in didactic courses to remain in Graduate School. If your didactic course average falls below 3.00 at any time, you will be placed on academic probation and given one semester to remedy the deficiency. The GEC may vote to dismiss you from the Ph.D. program if you show no progress in raising your GPA above 3.00 in your probationary semester. Your preceptor would be consulted for additional information regarding your performance before the GEC makes its decision for dismissal. If your didactic course average is below a 3.00 when the 24 didactic credit hour requirement is met, you will be dismissed from the Ph.D. program unless 5 additional credit hours at a grade of "A" (4.0) are sufficient to raise your average to 3.00 or higher. A "C" in any didactic course represents a conditional pass and will be judged in light of your entire academic record. Failure in any course represents grounds for dismissal from the program.

Ph.D. students must maintain a B average (GPA of 3.00) in didactic courses and attain a grade of B or better in Human Physiology and Molecular Medicine (MP&B330) to be eligible to take the Qualifying Exam. M.D./Ph.D. students must maintain a B average (GPA of 3.00) in Graduate School didactic courses and have passed their first year Medical School courses that relate to Human Physiology to be eligible to take the Qualifying Exam.

Near the end of your first year in the MPB Graduate Program (late April) you will receive a detailed document from the DGS describing the format of the Qualifying Examination and then meet with the DGS to obtain clarification of any aspects of the examination that are unclear. Details on the Examination are not provided here because the process undergoes regular GEC approved modifications in an effort to optimize the educational experience for students. Please contact the DGS for the latest version of the Qualifying Examination guidelines. This document also details the administrative mechanisms that are in place to assist you with scheduling the time and location of your Examination.

In general terms, the Qualifying Examination requires you to write a 6 page NRSA-style proposal that is developed in consultation with your preceptor and is based on your thesis project in addition to a 2 page Exploratory Aim that is related to your thesis project but is developed without assistance from your preceptor.

At the end of your first year in the MPB Graduate Program (late May) you are required to submit the Specific Aims Page (one page) and Exploratory Aim summary (half page) of your Qualifying Exam to the AED along with the names of your proposed Thesis Committee members. Your Thesis Committee must be composed of 3 MPB faculty (individuals with either a primary or secondary appointment in MPB) and one non-MPB faculty member (this can be an individual from another department or an individual with a secondary appointment in MPB). More than 4 members may serve on your Thesis Committee if you and your preceptor think it is appropriate. You should not contact the potential Thesis Committee members until their nomination has been approved by the GEC. If the GEC considers a suggested individual to be inappropriate for any reason (e.g., over commitment, etc.) the GEC will recommend a replacement to you and your preceptor.

After approval of your Specific Aims, Exploratory Aim and Thesis Committee composition by the GEC you will be able to contact the individuals on your proposed Thesis Committee and request that they serve on your Committee. The DGS/AES will resolve situations in which specific Thesis Committee members, while approved by the GEC, are unable to serve. You and your preceptor should also identify who you would like to serve as the Chairperson of your Thesis Committee, and ask that Committee member to serve in that capacity in advance of the Qualifying Examination.

After approval of your Specific Aims you will then have 5 weeks to write your Qualifying Examination document. The actual examination will take place in early August. During the examination you are allowed to present a 15 min summary of your proposal. This is followed by a 90 min oral question and answer session.

The Qualifying Exam committee is composed of your Thesis Committee plus one member of the GEC along with either the DGS or AED. The GEC member will ask questions during the examination whereas the DGS/AED will just be there to observe and ensure consistency in outcome decisions. The additional member of the GEC is not required if a member of the GEC is already amongst the 3 MPB faculty members on the thesis committee. The preceptor is NOT part of the Examination Committee. You have two opportunities to pass the Qualifying Examination. Failure to pass the Qualifying Examination at the second attempt will result in dismissal from the program.

After passing the Qualifying Examination the DGS will send you another detailed document describing Program requirements and procedures for your remaining time in the Program prior to your Thesis Defense. These requirements mainly relate to seminar presentations and Thesis Committee meetings. The document will also detail all the administrative mechanisms that are in place to assist you with scheduling these seminar presentations, your Thesis Committee meetings and your Thesis Defense.

The Qualifying Examination serves a dual purpose as your first Thesis Committee Meeting. Within 6 months of passing the Qualifying Exam you are required to have your second Thesis Committee meeting. Subsequent Thesis Committee meetings are held every 6 months, or less if you would like additional input from your Committee.

While your preceptor is not present during the Qualifying Examination he/she will present at all subsequent Thesis Committee meetings. However, your preceptor is not allowed to serve as the Chair of your committee or vote when it comes time to determine whether you have progressed sufficiently to merit permission to move forward with your Thesis Defense. Similarly, if you elect to declare two preceptors (i.e., co-mentors), neither one can serve as the Chair of your committee or as a voting committee member.

Thesis Committee meetings are usually scheduled to last 2 hours. Since commitments of other Thesis Committee members may generate scheduling difficulties, a minimum of 3 out of the 4 members (i.e., the Thesis Committee chair plus two additional members) are required at meetings other than those for the Qualifying Examination and Thesis Defense, which must be attended by the entire Thesis Committee. You should meet individually with Thesis Committee members who are not able to attend a scheduled meeting to update them on your progress.

Prior to Thesis Committee meetings you are required to circulate a document to your Committee describing your progress over the previous 6 months. This document follows a structured format; you will receive details on the requirements for this document from the DGS after you pass your Qualifying Examination.

At your Thesis Committee meetings your preceptor will meet in private with the other members of your Thesis Committee to discuss your progress. In addition, after your meeting your preceptor will meet in private with the other members of your Thesis Committee to discuss your performance at the meeting and complete an on-line assessment form that provides feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. This form is especially helpful is guiding you on areas that require development. It provides you with an accurate perception of your Committee’s assessment of your performance at each meeting and of what is expected of you in subsequent months. During the actual Thesis Committee meeting your preceptor is not allowed to talk! This ensures that your Committee can accurately gauge your understanding of your project.

Within one week of your Thesis Committee meetings, you should send your Committee Chairperson a 1-2 page written summary of the meeting, developed in consultation with your preceptor. The summary should accurately document issues that were raised at the meeting, Committee recommendations for continuance of the project, and also areas for improvement of slide preparation and presentation style. Once your Chair has approved this document it should be sent to all committee members (both absent and present at the meeting) via email. Your email should remind Committee members that they have 2 weeks to send any comments to you, your preceptor and your Chairperson. After 2 weeks your Chairperson will sign your summary and it will be filed by the Program Manager in your records. This process ensures that you, your preceptor and your Thesis Committee are in complete agreement about future expectations, and is intended to facilitate timely completion of your thesis. Thesis Committee meetings are not considered to be complete until the approved and signed summary letter is filed by the Program Manager in your records. Failure to file this document in a timely manner will be viewed as a critical communication breakdown, which will be resolved by the GEC.

The purpose of the interaction between you and your Thesis Committee is to assure that you generate the highest quality thesis possible. Your committee members will help you develop your critical thinking skills and will provide advice on those occasions when you are faced with experimental difficulties. In this way your Thesis Committee will ensure that you make steady research progress toward the award of your Ph.D. degree so you are encouraged to view the members of your Thesis Committee as sources of support. Other than the Qualifying Examination, your subsequent Thesis Committee meetings are not formal examinations! Instead, the frequent consultations between you, your preceptor and your Thesis Committee help facilitate timely completion of your Thesis and your professional development.

Unless there are documented mitigating circumstances, if Thesis Committee meetings are not scheduled on time, the GEC has the option to place students on Academic Probation or, if Thesis Committee meetings continue to not be scheduled, to dismiss students from the Graduate Program.

Once you, your preceptor and your Committee Chairperson believe sufficient research has been accomplished for a thesis, you should seek approval to write your dissertation at your next Thesis Committee meeting. Your presentation at that meeting should include a summary of the complete results of your research, as well as a detailed outline of the proposed composition of your Dissertation. Your Committee may grant approval to write your dissertation as well as providing guidance on the planned content of the Dissertation or they may recommend that additional research is still needed for the dissertation.

You must have at least one first-author paper either published or accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal prior to completion of your dissertation and Thesis Defense. However, publication of a first-author peer-reviewed paper should not necessarily be viewed as sufficient research for preparation of the Ph.D. thesis. This requirement may be waived under extraordinary circumstances, but only by unanimous consent of the MPB Chair, your Thesis Committee and the GEC.

When your Thesis Committee is satisfied with your dissertation research and the written Dissertation is near completion, you should schedule a proposed date for the final defense with your Thesis Committee. The Program Manager will assist you finding rooms for both components of your Thesis Defense - the Thesis Presentation and the post-presentation meeting with your Thesis Committee. The Program Manager will also assist you regarding the timely filing of the necessary paperwork with the Graduate School, such as the Intent to Graduate Form, and the advertisement of your Thesis Defense within the framework of Graduate School deadlines. According to Graduate School rules, this written notification must be submitted at least 10 days prior to the defense. It is your responsibility to meet with the responsible individual in the Graduate School to confirm that the format of your Dissertation conforms to Graduate School rules and regulations.

You must distribute a complete version of the Dissertation to your Thesis Committee two weeks prior to the proposed defense date. In extreme cases relating to major deficiencies in general content, style, quality etc. of the document, the Thesis Committee has the option to require postponement of the Thesis Defense to permit the problems to be rectified.

Your Thesis Presentation will be open to the public. After the presentation and questions from the general audience, the audience is excused and your post-presentation meeting with your Thesis Committee will begin. At this meeting, just as at regular Thesis Committee meetings, your Thesis Committee will meet with your preceptor in private to discuss your Thesis Presentation and your written Thesis. You will then re-enter the room and your Thesis Committee will ask questions about your project. This can last anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours. When the Committee has finished asking questions you will again be excused. The Thesis Committee will discuss your performance answering questions at the meeting and complete the on-line assessment form that provides feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, the Committee will vote on whether you have passed the Thesis Defense examination. They will also formulate a plan as to whether all or just one member of the Committee will be reading the revised dissertation, in the event that substantial revisions are required. Finally, you will be asked to re-enter the room and hear the result.

It is important to note that Thesis Committee’s almost always recommend changes/additions to Theses at the meeting that follows the Thesis presentation. In extreme cases these changes/additions can take several weeks. In some cases all members of a Thesis Committee may wish to re-read the revised document to ensure that the required changes have been completed in a satisfactory manner. The Committee may recommend that the formal examination “Results of Dissertation Defense” document not be submitted to the Graduate School until the required changes are made. Until this document has been submitted you cannot be considered to have passed your Thesis Defense and have obtained a Ph.D. As such you should not plan on starting employment that requires a Ph.D. degree the day immediately after your Thesis Defense!!

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The department admits graduate students with aspirations toward the Ph.D. degree. However, the GEC will consider petitions for withdrawal from the Ph.D. program and award of a Masters degree. The Masters degree requires completion of the didactic course requirements of the Ph.D. program plus significant research progress, which must be compiled in a thesis. Students will be expected to have made about 50% of the research progress expected for completion of a Ph.D. Students wishing to be considered for the Masters degree must inform the GEC of their intentions in writing, including an explanation of their reasons. The GEC will consider the students academic record and, if satisfactory, will appoint a Masters thesis committee consisting of the preceptor plus two additional departmental faculty members. The Masters committee will review the students research achievements to date and will define any additional requirements for award of a Masters degree. Students must present their research in a departmental seminar (not a thesis defense) and prepare a Masters thesis, which must be approved by their committee.

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Link to Student Travel Procedures and Guidelines

Graduate Student Travel Awards

Two funding sources are available for travel awards for MPB graduate students. These awards are given to students for: 

1)   supporting travel to scientific meetings in order to gain experience in presenting their work;

2)   furthering education or collaborations;

3)   acquiring new skills.

The Charles R. Park Student Travel Awards are distributed from interest derived from an endowed fund with ~6 travel awards to be given per academic year. The Jackie D. Corbin/Sharron H. Francis Student Travel Awards are distributed from annual donations made by Drs. Corbin and Francis, as well as their trainees and MPB colleagues.  About 6 travel awards will be given per academic year.  

The number and amount of the awards may increase in the future if the Charles R. Park Student Travel Award endowment increases or donations to the Corbin/Francis Student Travel Award fund increase. MPB faculty and friends are encouraged to direct their annual Vanderbilt gifts and other donations, such as "in memoriam" or "in honor," to either fund.

Applications: Applications for these awards should be submitted at least two weeks, but not more than three months, before the planned travel. The application should be in the form of a letter (~half-page) from the student to the Director of Graduate Studies describing the reason for the travel.  In addition, a Travel Form must be filled out and signed by the student, his/her preceptor, and two members of the Travel Award Committee, which will indicate approval. If funds are requested for travel to a scientific conference, the student should be the primary presenter of a poster or talk at that meeting. If funds are to be used to further the student’s specific educational needs, collaborations, or acquisition of new skills, the letter should describe the reason for this travel and anticipated gains to be made.

Eligibility: Graduate students who are officially enrolled for thesis research in a MPB research laboratory and have passed the qualifying exam are eligible. Eligibility for MPB students is also based on attendance at MPB seminars.  Students may supplement either award by other sources and are encouraged to apply to the Graduate School for additional travel funds. Within 30 days of travel, a copy of the standard Vanderbilt travel report must be furnished to the MPB Education Administrator (Karen Gieg). Reimbursement of funds to the student will proceed following processing of the report by the MPB business office.

MPB Student Travel Fund Committee: The committee is currently composed of Dr. FrancisDr. Corbin, the Director of Graduate Studies (Dr. O'Brien), the Associate Education Director (Dr. Cobb), and the immediate past DGS (Dr. Hasty).

Click here to download the Travel Form

MPB Graduate Student Association

Graduate Student Council

Graduate School

Update Personnel Information Form

If you would like to update information listed in the Department web site about you, please fill out the following form as completely as possible. We will update the information after checking for accuracy.