Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics Graduate Group

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Dissertation Status

Composition of Thesis Committees

Working Thesis Committee

After passing the Candidacy Exam, the student must form a Working Thesis Committee and fill out the "Working Thesis CommitteeApproval Form." The Working Thesis Committee will be comprised of three faculty members; at least two must be members of the BMB Graduate Group. The Chair of the Working Thesis Committee must be a member of the BMB Graduate Group. The thesis advisor is not a member of the committee, but is expected to attend committee meetings.

Final Thesis Committee

The Final Thesis Committee includes all members of the Working Thesis Committee plus one external examiner. The External Examiner is someone from outside the BMB Graduate Group who is brought in as an additional examiner for the thesis defense. The external examiner may be a member of another graduate group in BGS, a standing faculty member at U. Penn, or from outside the university. The BMB graduate group chair must approve the choice of external examiner in writing. If it is not possible for the External Examiner to attend the oral defense, he or she will be asked to provide a written report to the Chair of the student's thesis committee prior to the defense.

The Working and Final Thesis Committees should be constituted to include breadth as well as expertise in the particular research area of thesis work. The student and his or her advisor shall jointly select the members of the thesis committees. The student should submit in writing a list of potential committee members, indicating which faculty will serve as Committee Chair, to his or her Thesis Advisor and the Graduate Group Chair. The Graduate Group Chair will respond in writing to approve the composition of the Committee, or make recommendations for other candidates. The Graduate Group Chair will adjudicate any disagreement on the composition of the thesis committee. The student must register the composition of his or her thesis committees with the Graduate Group Office after approval by the Graduate Group Chair. Once the student obtains approval, they must fill out the "Final Thesis Committee Approval Form."

Evaluation of Student’s Progress

The Working Thesis Committee meets to monitor the students' progress every 6 months. A one-page summary of progress and plans should be prepared by the student and submitted to the committee at least 2 days prior to the meeting. The Thesis Committee is permitted and indeed encouraged to interview the student in the absence of the Thesis Advisor andvice versa. A written summary will be prepared after each meeting by the Thesis Committee Chair and will be placed in the student’s academic file.

If the Committee and/or the Thesis Advisor are not satisfied with the student's productivity, a written report will be prepared by the Committee outlining a proposed course of action. A copy of the report will be forwarded to the Graduate Group Chair, the student and the Thesis Advisor. The student will have the opportunity to reply to the written report of the Committee. Within 6 months, an additional meeting of the Thesis Committee will take place to determine the progress. In the event that the student does not make sufficient progress, he or she will be placed on academic probation. If progress is not apparent by the next Committee meeting, the student will be asked to petition for a terminal Master’s degree.

Preparation of Dissertation

The Thesis Committee will give written approval for the student to begin to schedule the defense, but this does not automatically mean that experimental work is completed. The student should be prepared to continue experiments while writing and to rewrite or do additional experiments after the thesis defense if deemed necessary by the committee. If the student has not already done so, at this point he or she should, in conjunction with the Thesis Advisor, select the external examiner to form the Final Thesis Committee. A draft of the dissertation must be submitted at least two weeks in advance of the defense to minimize the possibility of unexpected problems. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GAS) requires a dissertation to represent a definite contribution to scientific knowledge and to show that a student possesses "power of independent research." The Graduate Group requires that the dissertation contain original work that answers a well formulated scientific question or questions and that the dissertation display a logical progression of scientific thought. It is expected, although not required, that this caliber of work will result in one or more peer reviewed scientific publications with the student as a first or lead author, either already published or under review by the time of the defense. Note that publication of a paper with the student as an author does not automatically indicate sufficient quality and quantity of work to constitute a defensible thesis.

Thesis Defense

The thesis defense will take the form of a public lecture. The private portion of the defense will be conducted solely by members of the Thesis Committee and the Graduate Group Chair, and in the absence of the Thesis Advisor. The decision on approval of the thesis will be made solely by a consensus of the Thesis Committee in the absence of the student and the Thesis Advisor.

If a Thesis Committee member cannot attend the Defense, the student must meet with the Chair of the Graduate Group to discuss the circumstances and decide on a course of action. One possible outcome is that the missing Committee member must review the student's written dissertation and submit a critique to the chair of the Committee before the thesis defense, so that those comments and any questions can be included during the private portion of the defense and addressed in any revisions that may be made to the dissertation.

Students who are defending their theses must inform the Graduate Group Office at least two weeks in advance of the defense date, and supply the title of the thesis and place and time of the defense, as well as an abstract and a figure for the monitors announcing the defense. The Graduate Group Office will announce the thesis defense to the University community. The Graduate Group Office is responsible for completing the forms indicating that the thesis has been successfully defended. Before a student makes the appointment to deposit the thesis, he or she must provide the Graduate Group Office with a copy of the abstract page, a signed copy of the title page, and postdoctoral appointment information, if available.

Students should consult the"Graduation Checklist"as soon the Thesis Committee formally grants permission to write.