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Pharmacology Graduate Group Handbook - Student Information and Guidelines

This handbook is intended to provide information relevant to students in the Pharmacology Graduate Group (PGG). Its primary purpose is to describe the policies and guidelines of the PGG, which have been developed by the Graduate Group Executive Committee. This handbook is also intended to describe briefly courses and other activities pertinent to the training program.

An important aspect of the overall success of our Graduate Group relies on the input of students and faculty. Therefore, modifications are often made in response to student or faculty input and subsequent agreement by the Executive Committee and/or the faculty at large. We encourage and welcome suggestions to improve the Graduate Group at any time.

Julie A. Blendy, Ph.D.
Chair, Pharmacology Graduate Group

I.         Pre-Thesis Curriculum                                                                           

            A.        Coursework and Rotations                                                                                   

                        1.         Table 1 - Required and Recommended Courses

                        2.         Academic Advising

                        3.         Individual Development Plans (IDPs)                                         

                        4.         Required Courses                                                                          

                        5.         Electives                                                                                           

                        6.         Laboratory Rotations                                                                                  

                        7.         Academic Standards                                                                                  

                        8.         Registration                                                                      

            B.       Journal Club                                                                                              

            C.        Seminars                                                                                                

II.         Candidacy Examination                                                                                                   

            A.       Written Thesis Proposal                                        

            B.       Examination Process                                                                 

            C.       Outcomes of the Candidacy Exam

            D.       Examination Committee

            E.       Timeline for Candidacy Exam            

            F.        Guidance in Preparing the Written Thesis Proposal

III.        Thesis                                                                                                                                   

            A.        Choice of Laboratory/Advisor                                    

            B.        Thesis Advisory Committee                                                                                  

            C.        Thesis Examination                                                         

            D.        Graduation                                                                                          

            E.        PGG Policy for Re-Certification of Student in Lab for 5 Years

IV.       Seminars and Special Events                                           

V.        Other Activities and Miscellaneous                                

            A.        Traveling Fellowship                                                  

            B.        Teaching                                                                                                   

            C.        Fellowships and Grants

Abbreviations: PGG, Pharmacology Graduate Group; GGEC, Graduate Group Executive Committee; BGS, Biomedical Graduate Studies; ARC, Academic Review Committee.

I.          Pre-Thesis Curriculum                        

            A.        Coursework and Rotations                 

The first 2 years of study are devoted to classes, laboratory rotations, and preparation for the Candidacy Exam. For most students, this period begins with the Fall semester of the first year and ends with the Spring semester of the second year (5 semesters total, including the intervening summer). Many students embark on the first rotation in the first Fall semester, however students may opt to take a laboratory rotation during the summer prior to the first semester of classes. Generally, students take a combination of didactic courses, seminar courses, and laboratory rotations – the equivalent of 4 “course units” in the Fall and Spring semesters and 2 “course units” in the summer semesters – prior to initiating thesis work. Most classes are worth 1 credit unit; exceptions are Pharmacology 600 (Medical Pharmacology) and laboratory rotations, which are worth 2 units. We also give 2 units for passing the Candidacy Exam.

Students work full-time in the laboratory of their dissertation advisor in academic years three and beyond. Students are allowed to take courses within the BGS curriculum after entering their thesis lab however it is expected that students will enroll only in courses that relate to their PhD training. Students must complete a Request for Coursework and obtain approval of the graduate group’s academic advising Chair, PGG Chair and BGS Chair prior to registering for any course. This includes any course that is part of certificate programs.

For students accepted with advanced standing, the duration and nature of pre-thesis training will depend on previous courses taken at the graduate level. Biomedical Graduate Studies (BGS) allows a total of 8 units to be transferred.

1.         Table 1 - Required and Recommended Courses                 

A typical schedule for the first two years of the PGG curriculum:

Year 1
Year 2
Fall 1
Fall 2
Course Number
Course Title
Course Number
Course Title
BIOM 600   Cell Biology and Biochemistry  1 PHRM 532 Human Physiology 1
PHRM 623  Fundamentals of Pharmacology  1 PHRM 600 Medical Pharmacology 2
Electives       2 PHRM 699 Laboratory Rotation 2
Spring 1
Spring 2
PHRM 699 Laboratory Rotation     2 PHRM 970

Candidacy Examination

BIOM 611 Biological Data Analysis   Electives   2


Summer 2
Summer 1
PHRM 699    Laboratory Rotation  
Pre-dissertation laboratory rotation    

Required courses, rotations, and exam

Electives are drawn from all courses offered within the PGG and other BGS graduate programs.

Coursework, rotations and Candidacy Examination are to be completed before entering thesis work.

Some exceptions may occur, as noted for coursework above, but must be approved in advance by the Academic Review Committee.

2.         Academic Advising                                                  

Upon arrival in the program each student will meet with the Academic Review Committee (ARC) for academic advising for both the spring/summer semesters. After the meeting students should have a good idea what courses they will take and in which laboratories they will rotate in the following semester. The Graduate Group Coordinator is responsible for registering students for coursework and lab rotations. Therefore registration information should be communicated by the student to the PGG Coordinator in a timely fashion.

Students are encouraged to contact the Chair of the ARC; Dr. Paul Axelsen, whenever a problem arises relating to coursework or rotations. (08/14/2014 JB/SAS).

3.        Individual Development Plans (IDPs)     

BGS requires an annual IDP for all predoctoral students (PhD, MD-PhD, and VMD-PhD). The goals of the IDP are to make sure students and mentors are communicating openly and that students are working proactively toward developing the skills they will need to succeed. Separate forms are to be used by pre-thesis and thesis level students.

BGS Predoctoral Student IDP – for Junior Students (Year 1-2 PhD, Year 3 combined degree)

Students should discuss their IDP with their Academic Advisor or Program Head during formal advising. Part A, Skills and Motivations, is private. Its purpose is to guide discussion, and no written answers are needed. Part B, Plans/Goals for the Coming Year, will become part of the student’s academic record. It too should be discussed with the Academic Advisor or Program Head, and the completed form should be submitted to the Graduate Group Office – and also, in the case of MD-PhD students, to the Combined Degree Office. An example of a completed form is available here.

BGS Predoctoral Student IDP – for Students in Thesis Labs (Year 2+ PhD, Year 4+ combined degree)

Students should discuss their IDP with their Thesis Advisor on at least an annual basis. Part A, Skills and Motivations and Career Planning, is private. Its purpose is to guide discussion, and no written answers are needed. Parts B, Achievements and Plans/Goals, and C, Skills to Improve, will become part of the student’s academic record and should be shared with the thesis committee and submitted to the Graduate Group Office – and also, in the case of MD-PhD students, to the Combined Degree Office. More detailed instructions are available here. An example of a completed form is available here. (08/14/2014 JB/SAS).

4.         Required Courses               

Five courses are currently required by the PGG for all students in Pharmacology: Cell Biology and Biochemistry (BIOM 600), Fundamentals of Pharmacology (PHRM 623), Biological Data Analysis (BIOM 611), Medical Pharmacology (PHRM 600), Human Physiology (PHRM 532), and a topics-style/seminar course. In addition, three laboratory rotations are required.

Required courses may be waived, depending upon prior courses taken at the graduate level and with permission of the ARC.

5 .         Electives                                           

Electives are usually chosen from among the courses offered through BGS. Courses are structured around formal lectures and literature-based presentations. For the most up to date information on PGG electives along with those electives offered by other Biomedical Graduate Studies groups, refer to Course Information which is updated every semester. The ARC can provide additional input on elective coursework.

6.         Laboratory Rotations 

Three laboratory rotations (PHRM 699) are required for all students. All Laboratory Rotations must be with a faculty who is a member of the PGG and must be approved in advance by the Chair of the ARC. Because rotations are worth 2 credit units, students are expected to spend about half of their time in the laboratory during the Fall and Spring semesters, while summer rotations are full-time and extend for a full 12 weeks over the months of June-August. Rotations begin and end with the semester – in no instance may a rotation extend into the subsequent semester without prior approval of the Graduate Group Chair, the current rotation advisor and the future rotation advisor. Students may not take multiple rotations with the same advisor or on the same type of project; however, once the student has completed 3 rotations, they may elect to do additional research with a previous advisor by signing up for an Independent Study. The student’s performance in the lab rotation is graded by the PI using the standard academic grading scale.

To give students experience in making formal presentations, post-rotation talks are given to members of the PGG at the end of each rotation. The post-rotation talk should summarize the background for the project, data obtained and possible future directions. The talk should be no longer than 12 minutes, leaving 3 additional minutes for discussion and questions. Students will get written feedback from 1 or more faculty and students assigned to critique the presentation. Talks will coincide with the semester’s end. These talks are scheduled by the Graduate Group Coordinator. 

Rotations may be taken at various times starting as early as the summer before students matriculate.

Summer 0
Fall 1
Spring 1
Summer 1
Fall 2
Spring 2
  Rotation Rotation Rotation Independent Candidacy
Rotation   Rotation Rotation Independent Candidacy
    Rotation Rotation Rotation Candidacy

7.         Academic Standards      

University guidelines state that the minimum standard for satisfactory work for graduate students is a B average in each academic year. BGS reviews the records of students each semester. The record of any student who receives a grade of B- or lower is reviewed by the Biomedical Curriculum Committee, with the possible outcome of academic probation. PGG students must obtain a grade of B or better in all required courses or take the course, or an equivalent course, again.

8.         Registration               

In registering for courses or laboratory rotations, students must first consult and receive approval of the ARC. A student who is at Thesis Level and interested in taking extra courses or Non-BGS courses must first get permission from both the PGG and BGS with a Request for Enrollment form. The list of courses is then given to the PGG Coordinator, who registers the student directly through the Student Registration Service (SRS). A student must register for a minimum of 3 course units to be recognized by the University as a full-time student. Almost always, a student takes the equivalent of 4 course units. Because courses may be added or dropped freely within the first two weeks of the semester, the student may wish to audit several courses before formalizing his or her choices.            

B.       Journal Club

Regular attendance at the weekly Journal Club is an integral part of the curriculum for all students (pre-thesis and thesis). While all students are expected to attend Journal Club, first and second year students are required to attend, as reading, critiquing and presenting journal articles is a critical training exercise. In the beginning of the Academic year, all graduate students meet and segregate into a number of different thematic groups. Groups meet weekly to discuss recently published papers in their thematic area. Students take turns choosing and presenting a paper. It is expected that each student (pre-thesis and thesis) will present 2-3 papers per year. Papers are distributed one week prior to presentation and are read by all students in the group. Presentations focus on discussion of the conceptual, experimental, and technical aspects of the papers. Formal presentations with overhead transparencies or slides are discouraged. This is a student only Journal Club. (08/04/2014 JB/SAS)

C.        Seminars                

A fundamental aspect in our students’ education is the attendance of seminars. First and second year students must attend the Pharmacology Seminar Series (normally held on Mondays at noon) as they provide an integral and broad view of the pharmacological sciences as well as its relationship with other disciplines. Students have a unique opportunity to meet with speakers immediately following their seminar. All first and second year students must register for a minimum of at least 2 such lunches each semester.

The University of Pennsylvania also offers a large number of seminars (advertised through Departments and Centers including those closely associated with the PGG and Department of Pharmacology e.g., the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics (ITMAT)), which could be useful to broaden the education of all students. Thus, while thesis level students are still encouraged to attend the Pharmacology Seminar Series to keep up on the broad discipline that is pharmacology, we recognize the plethora of seminars available at Penn that complement their thesis work and expect students to balance research with seminar attendance on their own.

II.         Candidacy Examination             

The thesis proposal should reflect the work of the student and should not be identical to sections of funded or unfunded grants from the thesis laboratory. Students are encouraged to read grants or other documents written by members of the graduate group, but should be sure to comply with the University Policies regarding plagiarism. Students are also encouraged to interact with faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and other students in developing their ideas and approaches for the written proposal. The thesis advisor is encouraged to help the student develop his/her ideas and to critique the written document with regard to content and style. The thesis advisor, however, should refrain from re-writing any portion of the proposal. The thesis advisor should view this as a valuable learning experience for the student and help her/him develop skills to write a successful grant proposal. Ideally, the advisor will help the student refine her/his critical thinking skills during this process and help train the student in the art of successful grant writing.

The Candidacy Examination proposal must be hypothesis-driven. In rare cases, a proposal may not have a central hypothesis or major hypotheses for individual specific aims; however, in these rare cases the student must clearly articulate the innovative aspects and significance of the project, the nature of the intellectual challenges, and the manner in which the work can be integrated with hypothesis-driven research. Justification for the approaches to be employed, which will cover these points, should be presented on the Specific Aims page of the proposal as well as discussed in detail elsewhere in the proposal.

The Candidacy Examinations are held at the end of the second year generally during the last weeks of April and first weeks of May. The Candidacy Exam is intended to test the preparation of a student to carry out thesis research. The student is evaluated by her/his performance in the formulation of a written Thesis Proposal (written proposal is evaluated by the exam committee prior to the exam proper), oral presentation (a Thesis Background Seminar), and defense of a scientific proposal (a closed Q&A session with the exam committee).

A.       Written Thesis Proposal

Format Guidelines: The written proposal presents a plausible hypothesis driven thesis project in the form of an NRSA (National Research Service Award). Thus the NIH style guidelines are followed; Use an Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia typeface, a black font color, and a font size of 11 points or larger. Proposals should be no longer then 12-pages double spaced. Proposals longer than 12 pages (excluding references) will not be accepted and will be returned immediately to the student. The proposal should be in the format of an NIH grant and contain: 1) Specific Aims, 2) Background and Significance, 3) Research Design and Methods and 4) References. It should also highlight the broad pharmacological significance of the study. (See Guidance for the Written Proposal Format below).

Content Guidelines: The proposal should be hypothesis-driven. In rare cases, a proposal may not have a central hypothesis or major hypotheses for individual specific aims; however, in this case the student must clearly articulate the innovative aspects and significance of the project, the nature of the intellectual challenges, and the manner in which the work can be integrated with hypothesis-driven research. Justification for the approaches to be employed, which will cover these points, should be presented on the Specific Aims page of the proposal as well as discussed in detail elsewhere in the proposal.

The Thesis Proposal describes plausible experiments and approaches that are envisioned to test the hypothesis that will form the basis of the thesis research. The thesis proposal should be prepared by the student to reflect his individual work and should not be identical to sections of grants from the thesis laboratory. In cases where the advisor has written a grant on the topic, the advisor’s grant should not be shared with the student until after the Candidacy Exam. Students are encouraged to interact with faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and other students in developing their ideas and approaches for the written proposal. The thesis advisor is encouraged to help the student develop her/his ideas and to critique the written document with regard to content and style. The thesis advisor, however, should refrain from re-writing any portion of the proposal. The thesis advisor should view this as a valuable learning experience for the student and help her/him develop skills to write a successful grant proposal. Ideally, the advisor will help the student refine her/his critical thinking skills during this process and help train the student in the art of successful grant writing.

             B.        Examination Process            

The Candidacy Examination proper consists of public presentation and defense (i.e., answering questions from the audience) of the thesis proposal (Thesis Background Seminar), immediately followed by the closed defense in a session with four faculty members representing the examination committee.

Thesis Background Seminar: Open to the public. This seminar consists of a 25 min. seminar presentation on the scientific literature that pertains to the student’s thesis problem. The student presents primarily the background literature that will form the basis of the thesis proposal, but should also indicate the hypothesis to be tested in her/his thesis research and provide a general outline of the approach to be taken. This seminar should not be a progress report on preliminary thesis research already conducted but rather the background for the thesis project, the hypothesis that will be tested and the approaches that will be used to test the hypothesis. This presentation is open to the PGG students and faculty, who ask the student questions on the scientific content of the presentation.

Oral Defense of Proposal: Closed to the public. Following the Thesis Background Seminar, the student, advisor and exam committee have a closed session at which student responds to committee questions. The thesis advisor should attend the exam but is not an active participant in the exam. The format of the defense consists of a 5-minute Executive Session in which the committee meets without the student to discuss the Thesis Background Seminar and any major concerns with the written proposal. This session is then followed by the defense, which is based on questions posed verbally by individual members of the Examination Committee to the student. Questions should require 5–10 minutes to answer and be related to material presented in the thesis proposal. Questions pertaining to feasibility, background information, and extrapolation of results are likely to be asked. Questions testing the ability of a student to integrate the proposal with information obtained from the literature, classes, seminars, and Journal Club are also appropriate. The defense typically will last 1-2 hours.

Immediately after the defense, the committee meets in closed session to evaluate the student's performance. The perspective thesis advisor remains for about 5 minutes to answer any questions the committee may have and then the thesis advisor leaves to allow the committee to discuss the defense.

             C.        Outcomes of the Candidacy Exam

1) Unconditional pass – permission to begin thesis research.

2) Conditional pass – may begin thesis research, but with conditions such as additional coursework which is monitored by the thesis advisor and thesis committee.

3) Revise without reexamination – may begin thesis research, but revisions to the written proposal must be submitted to the Candidacy Exam committee for approval before a passing grade is given.

4) Revise with reexamination If reexamination is required, a member of the Academic Review Committee or Executive Committee will be added as an extra member to the Examination Committee.

-     if Unconditional pass the student may begin thesis research.

-     if Conditional pass the student may begin thesis research, but with conditions such as additional coursework which is monitored by the thesis advisor and thesis committee.

-     if Fail then the case will be referred to the Pharmacology Graduate Group Executive Committee with the possible outcome of granting a terminal Masters degree.

5) Fail- the case will be referred to the Pharmacology Graduate Group Executive Committee with the possible outcome of granting a terminal Masters degree.

The student returns to the room to hear the decision and any conditions that have been attached. The committee chair will submit brief written comments to the PGG office that will be copied to the student

In cases where revisions or conditions are required, the committee must set a deadline for completion of 4-6 weeks. (Extensions of this deadline may be granted in exceptional cases upon consultation with the graduate group. Examples of such cases are when courses are required).

            D.        Examination Committee

The Chair of the Examination Committee is appointed by the Academic Review Committee. The Chair of the Examination Committee in consultation with the student and advisor appoints 3 members to complete the Examination Committee. The Chair and at least one other committee member must be a PGG member. This committee will be responsible for evaluating the written proposal and its oral defense.  Expertise in the field of the proposal will be considered in selecting members of the Examination Committee.  The Candidacy Examination Committee is distinct from the Thesis Advisory Committee; however, the student and advisor may invite some or all members of the Examination Committee to become members of the Thesis Advisory Committee.

             E.        Timeline for Candidacy Exam (All deadlines subject to revision each year)

The following are deadlines. It is fine to meet all deadlines in advance (except for the Candidacy Exam dates April 20-May 20).

2nd Monday in February –An Abstract should be sent to the PGG Coordinator via email – either within the body of the email or as an attachment. Include the name of your thesis advisor.

The Abstract should be a half page or less in length and include the following information: 1) the general topic of the proposal or question being addressed, 2) the rationale for the study, 3) a general description/approach of the planned research (or Specific Aims), and 4) the significance of the research.

The PGG Coordinator sends abstracts to the Chair of the Academic Review Committee who appoints the chair of the Examination Committee; the PGG Coordinator will then forward the name of the Chair of the Exam to the student. In consultation with his/her advisor the student should identify 3-5 faculty who would be appropriate for the Candidacy Examination committee and have these names approved by the Chair of the committee. The student should then contact 3 faculty members to serve on the committee.

Last Monday in February – Students should send names of Examination Committee members to the Graduate Group Coordinator.

2nd Monday in March – Students should arrange a time with their committee members for an exam date. To avoid conflicts, dates for all exams should be finalized and sent to the PGG Coordinator as soon as possible.

4th Week April – 4th Week May 20 – All Candidacy Examinations should take place during this period. The completed proposal must be given to members of the Examination Committee at least 14 days in advance of the defense.

             F.        Guidance in Preparing the Written Thesis Proposal   

In addition to being hypothesis driven, key features of a successful proposal include:  1) a clear definition of the problem, 2) a concise summary of specific aims, 3) a clear statement of why the work is important, and 4) evidence from the literature that the experiments are feasible. It should not include a broad background of a field, but it is important to demonstrate awareness of critical work by other investigators.  It is useful to identify limitations of the proposed research and to indicate the possible significance of anticipated results; this is typically done in the Experimental Design and Methods Section.  The following guidelines are based on instructions for pre-doctoral National Research Service Award applications, with the one exception that it should be 12-double spaced pages rather than 6- single spaced pages (excluding the Title Page and References).

            Specific Aims (and hypothesis to be tested).  Define the research area of the project.  Include a statement of the general objective, hypothesis being tested and a list of Specific Aims.  Specific Aims should be numbered.  Suggested limit: 1 page.

            Background and Significance.  Review the most relevant scientific evidence constituting the background for the proposed project indicating areas where important knowledge is lacking (this will be addressed by your proposed studies).  Suggested limit:  1-1.5 pages.

            Research Design and Methods.  This section is the heart of the proposal.  Often, it is useful to divide it into two subsections:  "Experimental Plan" and "Methods and Routine Procedures". The Experimental Plan expands the Specific Aims and describes experiments that will be the focus of your thesis research. This section should be divided according to the Specific Aims.  It is important to propose alternatives when a given approach may be unsuccessful.  It is dangerous to have a Specific Aim completely dependent on the outcome of previous Specific Aims.  At the end of each Specific Aim have a 1-2 paragraph section dealing with "Anticipated Results and Potential Problems."  Routine procedures are those that are in standard usage and require only brief explanation.  In many instances, routine procedures can be simply referenced, while in others a brief summary of the protocol may be included.  In all instances, the student is responsible for a thorough understanding of the techniques cited. If there is unpublished data (e.g. graphs or tables) that need to be provided to show that specific studies are feasible then it should be included in the Background section or in the Experimental Plan section. Suggested limit: 3.5-4 pages.

            Literature Cited (references).  This section does not count towards the 20-page limit.  List all literature cited in the text.  Include authors, title of article, name of journal or book, inclusive pagination, and year of publication.  For book references, include also the name and city of publisher.  Use a standard format for bibliographical references that includes title of article rather than just authors and journal citation.

III.        Thesis

A.        Choice of a Laboratory/Advisor

            Students are encouraged to begin finalizing plans for the choice of a thesis laboratory by the end of the first year or early in the second year.  This process includes discussions with the prospective advisor, who should be a member of the PGG. The PGG students rotate and do pre-thesis and thesis research exclusively in the PGG laboratories. In exceptional cases, when a student has a strong and compelling rationale to explore a rotation in a lab of the PENN faculty who is not a member of the PGG, they must discuss this issue at least a semester in advance with both the Chair of Academic Review Committee and the PGG Chair or Vice-Chair. In some cases, written permission to pursue a rotation outside the PGG may or may not be granted based on specific circumstances. In the event a student decides to complete thesis work outside a PGG faculty member’s laboratory a recommendation to switch to the graduate group in which that faculty is a member may evolve as an alternative resolution in such rare situations. It is important to keep in mind this may result in additional coursework that is required of that particular graduate group.

No more than two students from the same class will be permitted to do thesis research in the same lab without a special permission by the Academic Review Committee or the PGG Chair.

B.        Thesis Advisory Committee

            No more than 6-9 months after initiation of a research project in the Thesis Lab, a Thesis Advisory Committee is appointed by the Academic Review Committee in consultation with the student and the thesis advisor.  To this end, the student submits the Thesis Advisory Committee Appointment Form with the names of prospective committee members to the Academic Review Committee together with a short paragraph describing the topic of the thesis research.  Due to the wide range of research areas and expertise within the PGG faculty the choice of a faculty member without PGG membership is discouraged.  After notification, the student is responsible for contacting the members of the committee to arrange the meetings. Appointment is usually based on expertise in areas relating to the research project.  The chair of the committee is chosen at the first meeting by the committee in consultation with the advisor and student.  The chair of the thesis advisory committee must be a member of the PGG. Initially, the advisory committee consists of 3 faculty members (not including the thesis advisor), two of which must be PGG members, but ultimately the advisory committee should consist of 4 faculty in addition to the advisor. These are minimum requirements, and as the thesis evolves additional faculty expertise may be required on the committee. The thesis advisor is not an official member of the committee, although he or she will provide important input at all meetings. The student and advisor may additionally invite others (e.g., collaborators) to attend advisory committee meetings on an informal basis.

The purpose of the advisory committee is to provide constructive input to the thesis project and to ensure that reasonable progress is maintained.  The committee achieves this through regular semi-annual meetings with the student and advisor at which experimental data are presented and future directions are outlined.  The student prepares a short (1-2 pages) written outline listing the goals and main hypotheses of the work, the experimental data obtained, the experiments proposed for the next 6 months, and the papers published, in press, or submitted. It is useful to provide graphs of experimental results to the committee, but extensive written descriptions are not necessary.  THIS OUTLINE SHOULD BE SENT TO THE COMMITTEE PRIOR TO THE MEETING. Meetings must take place every 6-8 months.  At the start of each thesis committee meeting, the committee should meet with the advisor for 5 minutes without the student present and then 5 minutes with the student without the advisor present.  This allows both the student and the advisor to speak candidly to the committee about progress toward the thesis goals.  Meetings must take place every 6-8 months. At the start of each thesis committee meeting, the committee should meet with the advisor for 5 minutes without the student present and then 5 minutes with the student without the advisor present.  This allows both the student and the advisor to speak candidly to the committee about progress toward the thesis goals.

The Thesis Advisory Committee examines the quality of the student lab notebook at every meeting. If a student maintains an electronic notebook in addition or instead of a written notebook, the student will present that information at each committee meeting in whatever form best represents the nature, content, and quantity of the records being kept.

At the end of the thesis committee meeting the chair in consultation with the committee must complete a Thesis Committee Meeting Report and provide this to the PGG coordinator in a timely manner. When the thesis advisory committee feels that the student has made a substantial intellectual contribution to the field of their research and sufficient data has been gathered to constitute a thesis, the committee chair must indicate on the Thesis Committee Meeting Report that the student has been given permission to defend.

At this point, the advisory committee transitions to the Thesis Examination Committee. The transition is accomplished through the appointment of additional faculty if necessary following the same process as described above, so that the final committee totals 4-5 members. Appointments are made by the Chair of the Academic Review Committee based on suggestions of the student, advisor, and committee chair. The added members, at the discretion of the student and advisor, may attend the last advisory committee meeting. The outline of the dissertation, usually in chapter form, is discussed at this meeting.

Once a student has been given permission to defend they should be in communication with the PGG Coordinator regarding the scheduling of their Thesis Examination. The PGG Coordinator will provide the student with the PGG Graduation Checklist which outlines the deadlines a student must begin meeting in order to graduate within a given semester (Fall; Spring; Summer).

C.        Thesis Examination

            At least two weeks prior to the thesis examination, the written dissertation should be submitted to each member of the Thesis Examination Committee.  The document must comply with the guidelines set forth in Ph.D. Dissertation Manual, be complete and include appropriate face-pages, table of contents, chapters, figures, and references.  Students are encouraged to organize the document around published or submitted manuscripts as follows:  title page, abstract of the dissertation, table of contents, introduction, manuscripts (published or submitted), general summary and discussion, references, appendix.  The whole document, including previously published manuscripts, must be formatted according to University guidelines (i.e., reprints are not allowed).

The introduction should provide a concise but scholarly review of the most pertinent literature providing a background for the research project, and state the goals and specific aims of the work. Each manuscript can be followed by an addendum containing additional data or recent information pertaining to the manuscript. The summary and general discussion should focus on the work as a whole.  The reference list should provide citations to references used in the document.  An appendix may include additional information, for example general methods of procedures not reported or described in detail in the manuscripts or their addendum. It is understood that the examination committee may request modification of the text or figures or any part of the document, whether it has been previously published or not. When these modifications concern published manuscripts, they should be included in the corresponding addendum.

            On the day of the examination, the student gives a one-hour seminar open to the scientific community.  The examination follows immediately thereafter, and attendance is limited to the student, advisor, close collaborators (at the discretion of the chair), and examination committee members.  Members of the examination committee may ask the student to defend any or all aspects of the thesis project.  Questions are not limited by topics covered in previous advisory meetings.  Members of the examination committee may also seek clarification of statements, tables, or figures presented in the written document.  When all questions or issues have been addressed to the extent possible, the committee meets in closed session to formulate a recommendation.  If the defense is successful, the student may be asked to make corrections in the written dissertation commensurate with issues raised during the defense.  The amended dissertation must be approved by the chair of the examination committee prior to its submission to the University.

D.        Graduation

            After informing the PGG Coordinator of their plans to defend their thesis and intention to graduate, the following information is needed from the student regarding their doctoral dissertation defense:  1) Date and desired location of the dissertation; 2) Two Page Abstract with title; 3) Proper names of the members of the dissertation committee and the name of the chair. The PGG Coordinator can assist in the booking of a location for the doctoral dissertation defense.

After receiving permission to defend and scheduling their defense, a student should apply for graduation through the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences –

Once a student applies for graduation they will begin receiving the Graduation calendar deadlines from BGS.

DEPOSITION OF DISSERTATIONS: Timely deposition of the final dissertation is required for the graduation. Dissertation deposition represents its exposure to the public domain. In order to avoid inadvertent exposure of unprotected potentially patentable intellectual property and unpublished results, student and advisor may: i) Request for embargo of publication for a negotiable period of time; ii) sequester unprotected information in an Appendix to present to the Thesis Committee. 

E.        PGG Policy for Timely Thesis Defense and Re-Certification of Students

Towards the end of their fifth year in the graduate program, all students will be sent a letter to inform them that they are expected to complete research work, and write and submit their thesis in the following year (i.e. by the end of their sixth year). All 5th year students should arrange to have a thesis committee meeting in the period from 3 months before to 3 months after the transition between their 5th and 6th years in the program (i.e usually between June of Year 5 and November of Year 6).If at this meeting the thesis committee does not indicate that the student would be likely to defend the thesis by the end of Year 6 in the program then the student must submit a written plan outlining experiments and a timeline for completing research work and writing her/his thesis to both the thesis committee and to the Graduate Group Executive Committee. The student will be required to convene a thesis committee meeting every 4 months thereafter until a defense date is identified.

IV.       Seminars and Special Events

            As noted above, seminars are an essential component of graduate education.  As such, it is expected that both pre-thesis and thesis students attend seminars and interact with invited speakers.  Most Monday seminars are followed by student luncheons with the speaker.  These seminars provide an opportunity for students to better understand the research programs of prospective advisors (when the speakers are in-house) and of successful scientists within academic and industrial settings around the world. The students are also encouraged to attend monthly seminars given by invited scientists in the ITMAT, CEET and Program in Targeted Therapeutics.

Department of Pharmacology Weekly Seminar Series - The Monday seminar series consists of one-hour seminars given at noon by departmental faculty or invited speakers.  Students are expected to attend these on a regular basis.  All students are invited to have lunch with the speakers immediately afterwards, regardless of whether the speakers are in-house or from elsewhere.

STUDENT SYMPOSIUM - The Student Symposium is an all-day affair in which the work of PGG students is presented through a series of talks and posters.  The symposium is held off-campus in the Fall and is followed by a dinner.  It is organized by the second-year students, who also invite the keynote speaker for the John S. O’Brien Memorial Lecture in Pharmacology.

LAMBERTSEN LECTURE - The Lambertsen Lecture usually features a speaker from abroad and is given during the spring semester.  The Lecture was originally endowed by Sterling Drug in honor of Dr. Christian Lambertsen. 

SCHMIDT LECTURE - The Carl F. Schmidt Honorary Lecture is also presented in the spring semester and honors a former chairman of the Department.

PRITCHETT LECTURE - The Dolan Pritchett Memorial Lecture is presented in the fall semester.

V.      Other Activities and Miscellaneous Information

A.       Traveling Fellowship

Solomon Erulkar

            The Solomon and Catherine Traveling Fellowship was established as a memorial to the spirit and scientific accomplishments of Dr. Solomon Erulkar, Emeritus Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine. The Fellowship perpetuates the international approach that Dr. Erulkar applied to science by providing $1,500 to one student per year who is in good standing (typically thesis-level) who is working with a faculty member in the Pharmacology Graduate Group.

The award may be used for travel to another laboratory in the U.S. or abroad, or to attend a scientific meeting that the trainee could not otherwise attend because of lack of funding by the sponsoring faculty member. Eligibility to use the award for a scientific meeting must document that the sponsoring faculty member lacks the funds for the trainee to attend the selected meeting.

Application Process -

            -A title and one paragraph describing the applicant's current research project.

            -250-word essay describing the lab where the applicant wishes to visit or the scientific   meeting that the applicant wishes to attend, and how this experience will further his/her   research objectives.

            -A letter of support from the lab where the applicant wants to visit, as a Fellow, or a description of the scientific meeting, to occur in 2015.

            -Letter of support from the applicant's advisor. If support is requested to attend a meeting, it is necessary to provide a list of the advisor’s grant support.

            -Biographical sketch.

Applications are typically solicited in September and awards is announced at the Annual Student Symposium

Rainbow Endowment

            This award is granted to offset expenses for 1 student traveling to the Annual Neuroscience meeting. Details of the competition are posted annually. The PGG Coordinator solicits abstracts in early August which are reviewed by the Rainbow Endowment Committee and winner is selected based on the rankings of these abstracts.

BGS offers travel funds for BGS students to help offset the cost of conferences and off-site courses.

B.        Teaching

            Although teaching is not required in the program, students are given the opportunity to assist in some undergraduate and graduate courses.

C.        Fellowships and Grants

            We strongly encourage our students to compete for fellowships and grants offered by government agencies or private sources.  Applications are made with the support of one or more faculty members of the PGG, often at the request of the GGEC.  Funding agencies include the National Institutes of Health (in the guise of various training grants already existing at the University), the National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Foundation, the American Heart Association and the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association.