Graduate Education: Requirements and Guidelines

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology Graduate Student Guidelines

The Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology offers graduate training in the neurosciences under the auspices of the School of Medicine in conjunction with the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program (INP). Having successfully completed the 1st year requirements of the INP a student joins the Department program by selecting a member of the Anatomy and Neurobiology faculty as their thesis advisor. Students are expected to graduate within five and a half years of entering the program. For guidance, a typical timeline showing requirements and responsibilities is given below:

Year 2

Students joining the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology are required to attend all Departmental Seminars, Journal Clubs, and the monthly Progress in Neurobiology (PIN) events. During the first year in the laboratory the student is expected, in conjunction with his/her thesis advisor, to identify an interesting and tractable research question that can be developed into a thesis and begin collecting preliminary data in support of the project. Beginning in the second year and each year thereafter, all students are required to present a brief report of their progress at the annual Graduate Day meeting organized by the Department.

Teaching Assistantships
Although students in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology are not required to teach there are opportunities to gain teaching experience by serving as a teaching assistant (TA) for an undergraduate course within the School of Biological Sciences. TAships are 50% appointments for 1 quarter. Availability varies from year-to-year depending on course offerings and TA funds. Any students interested in teaching should consult first with his/her thesis advisor and then notify by email both the Department Graduate Advisor and School of Medicine Associate Dean for Graduate Studies of their availability to TA. All TA’s must participate in a TA training course held Fall Quarter to be eligible for appointment.

Choose an Advisement Committee
Upon joining the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology each student is required to assemble an Advisement Committee charged with the responsibility of providing general oversight and guidance on the student’s progress towards Candidacy. The Advisement Committee, chaired by the student’s thesis advisor, consists of three faculty, the majority of whom have appointments in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. At least one member of the Committee must be a primary member of the Department. The Committee meets at least once each year, with the first meeting to take place before the beginning of Winter Quarter. A brief report of the Committee meeting signed by the Committee members and the student should be placed on file in the Department office. (Advisement Committee Meeting Report)

End of Second Year Pre-Advancement Meeting
At the end of the first year of graduate study, the next step toward the doctoral degree is demonstrating research progress towards the Advancement to Candidacy. All second year students are required to convene a pre-advancement committee meeting before the end of their second year (i.e., before the end of the spring quarter). The committee should consist of the student’s advisor who will be a silent participant at the meeting (i.e., s/he will not ask questions or offer explanations or comments during the examination) and the two other faculty members from the Advisement Committee. The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that all second year students have accomplished reasonable progress in their research during their first full year in A&N. There is no written component for this meeting. However, all students are expected to prepare a presentation (between 30-45 min) for the pre-advancement meeting. During the oral presentation the committee will discuss the research with the student. After this discussion, the committee will excuse the student from the room and evaluate the student's performance (Committee Assessment of Student Presentation for Second Year Exam). For more details see: Second Year Exam Memo.

Each student’s advisor is asked to submit to the Advisement Committee and Department Graduate Advisor a confidential student evaluation prior to the meeting (PI Assessment of Second Year Student.)

In this form, the advisor will list the perceived strengths, weaknesses, and concerns regarding:

  1. Technical abilities at the bench/computer
  2. Intellectual abilities to ensure good academic standing/research progress
  3. Promise and ambition for independent research
  4. Interpersonal relations
  5. Any other area you consider important

Year 3

Students must complete their Advancement to Candidacy by the end of the third year (i.e., two years in the laboratory). Advancement to Candidacy involves three steps:

Choose a Candidacy Committee
The Candidacy Committee, consists of five faculty members. One member is the student’s thesis advisor who also acts as Chair. The other members should be selected based on expertise in the proposed field of study but must include at least one individual from an outside Department. It should be remembered, when considering faculty that might serve in this capacity that the Doctoral Committee normally consists of a subset of the Candidacy Committee. It is also a Departmental requirement that at least one member of the Candidacy Committee hold a primary appointment in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. The student has the responsibility to approach each potential committee member directly and should discuss with him/her the research to be proposed and progress to date.

Advancement to Candidacy
Advancement to Candidacy consists of two phases. First, the candidate produces a written thesis proposal in NIH R21 or R01 format, which should be prepared by the candidate and distributed at least one week prior to the advancement meeting. The proposal should be single spaced and range from 7 (R21) to 13 (R01) pages in length, including the Specific Aims page as well as figures and tables (embedded in the document), but, excluding references.  The document should include the following sections, or something similar:

I. Specific Aims (1 Page)

List the broad, long-term objectives and the goal of the specific research proposed, e.g., to test a stated hypothesis, solve a specific problem, challenge an existing paradigm or practice, address a barrier to progress in the field, or develop a new technology.

II. Background and Significance

(A) Significance
• Explain the importance of the problem or critical barrier to progress in the field that the
proposed project addresses.
• Explain how the proposed project will improve scientific knowledge, technical capability,  and/or clinical practice in one or more broad fields.
• Describe how the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services, or preventative
interventions that drive this field will be changed if the proposed aims are achieved.

(B) Innovation
• Explain how the application challenges and seeks to shift current research or clinical practice
• Describe any novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation or
intervention(s) to be developed or used, and any advantage over existing methodologies,
instrumentation or intervention(s).
• Explain any refinements, improvements, or new applications of theoretical concepts,
approaches or methodologies, instrumentation or interventions.

(C) Approach
• Describe the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses to be used to accomplish the
specific aims of the project. Unless addressed separately in the Resource Sharing Plan,
include how the data will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted as well as any resource
sharing plans as appropriate.
• Discuss potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks for success anticipated to
achieve the aims.
• If the project is in the early stages of development, describe any strategy to establish
feasibility, and address the management of any high risk aspects of the proposed work.

III. References (no page limit)

For the second phase, the candidate will meet with their Candidacy Committee, make an oral presentation of the thesis proposal and explore the strengths and possible weaknesses of the proposal with the Committee members. The candidate should be prepared to answer the Committee’s questions, to provide background information pertinent to the proposed research, and defend the rationale for the proposed experiments. In addition to direct feedback from the Committee, the candidate will also receive a written summary of the meeting from the Committee Chair. A copy of this letter, signed by both the student and thesis advisor, should be placed in the student’s file. Finally, with the concurrence of the candidate, the Candidacy Committee Chair, and Academic Unit Chair or designee, the Candidacy Committee nominates the Doctoral Committee . The guidelines for the Doctoral Committee are the same as with the Advisement Committee. There should be three members, at least one member of the Doctoral Committee should hold a primary appointment in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, and the majority of the members should be affiliated with the Department.

Year 4 and beyond

Dissertation Proposal
During the 4th year or beyond, but well in advance of submitting a completed Dissertation, students are expected to provide a Dissertation Proposal to their Doctoral Committee and convene a meeting.  The Doctoral Committee is expected to provide feedback and guidance towards the completion of the Dissertation (see below).

Tune-up Meetings
Also during this time, each student is required to do two “tune-ups”/year (to update their Doctoral Committee and departmental faculty members on their progress toward completion of their degree) until they graduate from the program. The requirement of one tune-up will be fulfilled by presentation of a student’s work at the annual Departmental Graduate Day meeting. The second tune-up will consist of either a Dissertation Proposal or a one-page report, to be added to the student’s file, outlining progress on each specific aim of the thesis proposal over the last year and possible changes in direction of research. The student is required to meet with his/her Doctoral Committee each year before the beginning of Winter Quarter to discuss the report and evaluate progress towards graduation. The student will be provided with a written summary of the outcome of the meeting, prepared by the thesis advisor. A copy of this letter, signed by both the student and the advisor, will be added to the student’s file.

Dissertation Pre-Approval and Dissertation Defense
Prior to scheduling their Dissertation Defense, each student must first have a completed draft of the Dissertation approved by their Doctoral Committee. The student is required to submit the completed draft to each of the Doctoral Committee members. Committee members then have a 2 week period to evaluate the draft at the end of which they are required to provide criticisms and concerns, or approve the draft (see attached form). If not approved at this time by all committee members, an advisement committee meeting should convene that also includes the Graduate Advisor or Department Chair, in order to agree upon the necessary changes. Dissertation Pre-Approval will be made only after satisfactory revisions to the document have been made.

Once the Dissertation is Pre-Approved, the student can then schedule a defense date. The Dissertation Defense will consist of a ~50 minute presentation open to the public, but must be attended by members of the Doctoral Committee. Following a brief period of questioning from the audience the Doctoral Committee will then hold a closed meeting with the candidate.


Normal time to graduation is five years (one year in INP, four years research). Students receiving a Ph.D. must be able to identify a significant body of work for which they have been primarily responsible for experimental design, collection and interpretation of data, and preparation of manuscripts. It is expected that graduates of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology will publish at least one first author or joint first author article in a peer reviewed journal from their dissertation research.

Time to Degree Policy

In accordance with Graduate Council requirements, the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology has developed the following Time to Degree Policy:

  1. Normal time to degree of Ph.D. is before the beginning of the 16th academic quarter i.e. by the end of the 5th year (including one year under the requirements of the INP).
  2. Normal time to Advancement to Candidacy is before the beginning of the 10th academic quarter i.e. by the end of the 3rd year (including one year in INP).
  3. Maximal time to degree is before the beginning of the 22nd academic quarter i.e. before the beginning of the 8th year (including one year in INP).

The normal time to advancement and normal time to degree are intended to be the amount of time a typical qualified student should take to advance to candidacy and complete the doctoral degree respectively. The maximal time to degree specifies the maximum amount of time that a student may remain in a graduate program under normal circumstances.

Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology students are expected to Advance to Candidacy by the Campus wide median time of 3 years. The normal time to degree shall be no more than seven years. A student exceeding the maximal time to degree shall not receive non-instructional University resources (financial aid, TA-ships, housing etc.). Stronger sanctions (including blocking registration) may be imposed for students who exceed maximal time to degree.

Students not making satisfactory progress according to the written departmental standards, or who do not meet the normal time to Advancement to Candidacy, shall be notified in writing and given one year to resume normal progress or file a petition to the Dean of Graduate Studies4.

Academic Standards

The following is adapted from the UCI Graduate Policies and Procedures Handbook. Students are encouraged to review the complete Handbook available at

Satisfactory progress
Satisfactory progress is determined on the basis of both the student's recent academic record and overall performance. Criteria for determining satisfactory progress toward degree are outlined below. Student records should be reviewed with special attention to the following criteria:

  • GPA – the student must maintain at least a 3.0 cumulative grade point average.
  • Grade Reports – all I, W, or NR grades should be reviewed and appropriate action taken as needed.
  • P/NP – no courses graded "Pass" are to be included as part of the advanced degree program, nor are they to be considered as satisfying academic criteria for University-administered fellowships and academic appointments/employment.
  • Enrollment Units – students must be enrolled for at least 12 graduate or upper-division units of credit each quarter, including credit for supervised teaching and research, unless part-time status or an academic leave of absence has been approved in advance by the Graduate Dean. In cases of approved part-time status, enrollment for eight (8) units of credit toward the degree is expected each quarter.
  • Distribution of units – the number of upper-division and graduate-level units of credit completed toward degree requirements each quarter should be at least eight and no more than 16, unless an exception has been approved in advance.
  • Residency – time in residence prior to advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. should be within acceptable limits (no more than three years).
  • Departmental Requirement – the student is considered to be making adequate progress in thesis research by both the thesis advisor and Candidacy or Doctoral Committee.

Unsatisfactory progress

A graduate student who has not demonstrated satisfactory progress is not eligible for any academic appointment/employment (see Section IV. Academic Appointments and Graduate Student Employment) and may not receive fellowship support or other award that is based upon academic merit.

a. Criteria for Determining Unsatisfactory Progress

  • An overall grade point average below 3.0; or
  • A grade point average below 3.0 in two successive quarters; or
  • Fewer than 24 units completed and applicable toward the advanced degree requirements in the last three quarters; or
  • Failure to complete required courses or examinations satisfactorily within the period specified by the graduate program; or
  • Failure to pass a required examination in two attempts; or
  • Failure to progress academically within the Normal Time to Degree framework; or
  • The thesis advisor and Candidacy or Doctoral Committee’s evaluation that there has not been satisfactory progress toward completion of the thesis or dissertation.

1 Details of the INP requirements can be found by visiting the program web sites at
2 The Candidacy Committee is comprised of five voting members of the University of California Academic Senate. Details of the Committee membership can be found in Section VII. Standards and Requirements for Graduate Degree Programs, of the Graduate Advisor’s Handbook
3 The Doctoral Committee is comprised of three voting members of the University of California Academic Senate. Details of the Committee membership can be found in Section VII. Standards and Requirements for Graduate Degree Programs, of the Graduate Advisor’s Handbook
4 Up to one additional year may be granted to these time limits for students on an approved leave of absence, or who require remedial work at the time of their enrollment. Upon petition, the Dean of Graduate Studies may relax these regulations in exceptional circumstances. Petitions for such exceptions will require full documentation and will rarely be granted.