Doctor of Philosophy

Doctor of Philosophy

The granting of the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is based on evidence of general proficiency and distinctive attainments in a special field, particularly on the demonstrated ability to carry on independent and original investigation. Critical thinking, experimental design, data analysis and the ability to communicate in a scholarly manner are also key skills learned during the PhD training. The degree is not one to be conferred solely as a result of study for a specific length of time with the accumulation of credits taken.

The College of Graduate Studies offers a common entry pathway for new Ph.D. students; upon matriculation, students pursuing studies in Biomedical Science, Biostatistics, Biomedical Data Science and Informatics, and Epidemiology follow different curricula and training plans. Students pursuing Biomedical Science follow a first-year core curriculum designed and administrated by CGS. This first-year curriculum provides a broad interdisciplinary background devoted predominately to the principles of the basic sciences. It also provides information on some of the latest and cutting-edge areas of science. After their first year, Biomedical Sciences choose a major advisor for their dissertation research and a departmental or interdepartmental major/program for their further training.

As a prerequisite for the Ph.D. degree, the College requires students to demonstrate a predetermined level of statistical competence. This may be achieved by both enrolling in and completing CGS 700 in the second or subsequent years of graduate study, or by providing transcript evidence of satisfactory completion of previously taken statistical course(s) that fulfill the College requirement. The Dean will decide whether or not to grant a waiver. 

Doctor of Philosophy with concentrations in:

Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Molecular & Cellular Biology & Pathobiology
Immunology & Microbiology
Cell & Molecular Pharmacology & Experimental Therapies
Biomedical Imaging
Drug Discovery


Degree Requirements

The College of Graduate Studies does not require a specific number of course credits for the Ph.D. degree. In addition to those requirements mentioned above for the Biomedical Science students (see Curricula), programs may require participation in journal clubs or seminars. All students will complete Qualifying and/or Admission to Candidacy exams that differ for students in the Biomedical Sciences, Biostatistics, Epidemiology and BDSI programs. Finally, students submit a dissertation based on their original investigation. Biomedical Sciences programs have adopted the rule that students must have 1 first author peer-reviewed research article accepted prior to the dissertation defense. Students and mentors can petition the Dean for an exception if there are unusual extenuating circumstances.  Students will then present a public seminar and are given an oral examination related to the defense of the dissertation. The Dissertation Advisory Committee will then recommend whether to award the final degree; a successful written document and oral defense are required.

Program of Study

Within three months of the selection of Dissertation Advisor, the Program of Study is planned in a joint meeting of the student and his/her Dissertation Advisor.  The Program of Study is a list of courses and other requirements, including those of the major department/program, which the student must complete in order to meet the program requirements for the given degree.  It lists courses that are being transferred as well as courses that are to be taken on campus.  After approval by the Dissertation Advisor, the approved Program of Study is filed with the departmental graduate coordinator and with the office of the dean. A decision to remove, substitute, or add courses to the Program of Study can be made in a joint meeting of the student and the Dissertation Advisor.  Any changes in the program must be completed no later than one week after the substituted or additional course has begun.  A record of any change in the program will be submitted by the Dissertation Advisor to the office of the dean. In addition, it will be the final responsibility of the student and his/her Dissertation Advisor to ensure that any change in the Program of Study is consistent with the maintenance of at least the minimum course requirements of the major department.

The Dissertation Advisor, in consultation with the student, will prescribe additional course work needed to complete the departmental requirements for graduation and other course work or areas of study needed to remedy deficiencies in the student's background to ensure successful completion of the proposed dissertation.  The Program of Study form must be completed before scheduling the Admission to Candidacy exam.

Courses Audited

Any graduate student, with permission of the instructor and the chairperson of the Thesis/Dissertation Advisory Committee, and with written notice to the Graduate Office, may audit a course. Audited courses are not part of the Program of Study and will not be given credit.

Repeating Course

The Thesis/Dissertation Advisory Committee may permit a student to repeat a course in order to raise the grade. In accordance with the MUSC Bulletin, courses that have been repeated will be treated as follows: (1) Credit hours will be granted only once.  (In computing the overall grade point average to determine eligibility for degrees or in rulings on probationary matters, the credit hours must be counted twice and both grades included). (2) The transcript must show both grades, with the second being designated as Repeated, and credit hours being given only once.

Transfer Credit

Only those courses (none from correspondence or research) in which grades of 3.0 or above were received will be acceptable for transfer on the Program of Study.  In some instances, the department may request that a students transfer hours received in certain courses that have been taken on a pass/fail basis, but these cannot be averaged in the GPA. It is the responsibility of the department to determine the student's comprehension of the material before such hours are shown on the Program of Study for credit toward the degree. As stated in the MUSC Bulletin, “At least 33 percent of semester credit hours applied toward a Medical University degree must be earned through instruction by the University.” The MUSC transcript will show total units credited in transfer with mention of specific courses, and institution of origin but not grades. Courses taken as a non-degree seeking student may be transferred to a degree program as determined by the Dean of the college or other qualified faculty. Acceptance of courses taken as non-degree seeking will follow the same criteria as other transferred courses. Courses taken as a SURP student will not be added into the students GPA.

Admission to Candidacy Exam - Biomedical Sciences

Admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree requires that the student has passed a rigorous examination.  This examination is intended to test his/her general knowledge of his/her major field and related fields of study – as well as testing the ability to think critically, develop hypothesies and use knowledge gained to address unanswered research questions. The Biomedical Sciences PhD programs (MCBP, Neuroscience, Drug Discovery, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Microbiology & Immunology) have eliminated a separate qualifying examination and adopted a common format for a single Admission to Candidacy exam to be given in the second year. 

This exam requires the submission of an original research proposal followed by a substantive oral defense. In general, the written proposal is submitted by May 30 of the 2nd year, and the oral exam occurs during the month of June of the 2nd year.  (Some students may choose to take the examination earlier). The proposal CANNOT have been submitted previously to any intramural or extramural funding agencies, and cannot duplicate material contained in the advisor’s grants.  The proposal can be related to ongoing work in the lab as long as it is original and solely the work of the student. 

Instructions are posted on the CGS intranet site.  The proposal will follow the format of an NIH F31 grant proposal. The examination committee will be chaired by someone other than the major advisor, and the committee will contain faculty from within and outside of the major department/program. In addition, one committee member (from outside the department) will be drawn from a CGS evaluation committee to ensure that examinations are fair and comparable. The Chair will be a committee member other than the Dissertation Advisor and will work closely with the student and ensure that they are making progress on their Specific Aims and understand the rules and expectations. Documents will be submitted to the student's Candidacy Committee at least a week before the proposal defense to give them adequate time to review it. The oral examination will begin with an uninterrupted presentation by the student, following by substantial questioning by the members of the committee.  All committees will use the same rubric for both the written and oral examinations. The outcomes are pass, conditional pass, and fail. Guidelines for how outcomes of “conditional pass” and “fail” will be handled are listed on the intranet site.  The outcome of “conditional pass” should be a common occurrence, given the student the opportunity to improve important skills in a way that will help them in the rest of their training. Remediation of the “conditional pass” usually involves modification of a portion of the written document, preparation of some supplementary material, or a partial repeat of the oral examination.  Completion of this remediation should occur no later than September 30th of the 2nd year.  A grade of “fail” in contrast, represents a serious lack of mastery of important skills on the part of the student. Students who “fail” their candidacy exam have the opportunity to repeat the entire written and oral examination within 3 months after the first oral examination.

Upon successful completion of the candidacy exam, the Examination committee recommends that the student be admitted to candidacy by their signatures on the Admission to Candidacy form. Admission to candidacy must occur at least one year prior to the date of the student's final defense.

Dissertation Advisory Committee

A student’s dissertation advisory committee should be formed no later than 6 months after passing the Admission to Candidacy exam. The Chairperson must be a full member of Graduate Faculty or an associate member with a full member co-mentor. The advisory committee should consist of 5 members including the Chairperson: three from the students’ major department and two from outside the department. This stipulation is to encourage diversity of thought and to ensure that the committee members feel free to express their opinions to the student and to the major advisor. For students training in MCBP, the “external” members should be chosen from departments other than that of the mentor, and preferably from outside the same MCBP track. All members shall be members of the Graduate Faculty, with the exception of individuals external to MUSC. External faculty must have appropriate credentials at their institution and their appointment to the committee must be approved by the Dean. The Chairperson will be responsible for coordinating the activity of the Dissertation Advisory Committee and ensuring compliance with graduate school regulations. The Dissertation Advisory Committee is chosen by the student with the proposed dissertation advisor and the names forwarded through the departmental graduate coordinator for approval by the Dean. (Recommendation for Appointment of Dissertation Advisory Committee)

The student must meet at least annually with his/her Dissertation Advisory Committee from the time of appointment of the committee until completion of the requirements for the degree. A written status report must be submitted by the student to the committee one-week prior to each meeting. The Evaluation of Student Progress form is posted on the CGS intranet site and includes a rubric and a mandatory statement from the mentor and the student.  It is strongly advised that meetings be held every 6 months, or more often if the committee feels it necessary. The departmental coordinator and the Dean should receive completed copies of the student progress forms.

Permission to Prepare the Dissertation and Move Towards Graduation; Submission and Completion of the Dissertation and Defense

When the student, mentor and committee feels that the student is ready to prepare their dissertation and move towards their defense, this consent should be indicated on the Evaluation of Student Progress form. The student must have completed all academic requirements and made satisfactory progress in their research.

Students should prepare their dissertation according to CGS guidelines and any additional requirements of their Program. Once the student is ready to defend, the completed “Notification of Defense” form, signed by the mentor and Graduate Coordinator, should be sent to the Dean’s office at least three (3) weeks prior to the public seminar and private defense date. The Chairman of the dissertation committee must agree that the dissertation copy is adequate prior to its distribution to the committee for review and committee members should receive the document at least 2 weeks prior to the defense. PhD students present an hour-long seminar immediately prior to the defense; this seminar is open to all students and faculty and a flyer advertising the seminar is distributed by the CGS office. The defense that follows the presentation is usually attended only by the student and the dissertation committee.  By the rules of the College of Graduate Studies, other Graduate Faculty may attend the defense and participate in the questioning of that student, but may not vote on the student’s performance on the exam.

After the defense is completed, students will be given clear written instructions from their committee members and major advisor (at, or within 48 hours of, the defense) regarding the changes that need to be made to the dissertation before it can be accepted. Upon receiving these comments, students will then have three (3) weeks to complete these modifications and return the dissertation to the committee for their consideration. This is a firm deadline, although students may appeal to the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies for an extension.  If granted, the length of the extension will be determined based on the circumstances and justification for the request. 

It is expected that most students will provide a thoughtful and thorough revision to their committee. If the committee does not feel the first revision has addressed their concerns, the student will have one (1) additional week to give the committee a 2nd revised dissertation that must address the committee’s comments. If this 2nd revision is accepted, the “Successful Defense” form can be completed and sent to the College of Graduate Studies and the remaining steps needed to complete the PhD can be completed as outlined above.

If the 2nd revision of the dissertation is still not acceptable to the committee, CGS recommends that the student’s stipend support be terminated.  They will nevertheless have to make a third round of revisions in order to satisfy the committee before the defense can be considered successful.

Upon completion of the defense, each committee member will fill out a defense rubric form and give them to the Dissertation Advisor.  The Dissertation Advisor will in turn collate the evaluations into one form, discuss it with the trainee and then submit it to the College’s Registrar. Committee approval is followed by the completion of the “Successful Defense” form and its submission to the College of Graduate Studies. 

Once all requirements are completed (digital dissertation uploaded to MEDICA), the student is deemed to have completed their PhD.  If the “Successful Defense” form along with all other requirements are not submitted to CGS by the last designated day, normally at least one week before the end of the semester, the student will need to enroll for 1 semester hour for the following semester in order to complete the requirements.  Defenses can be scheduled at any time throughout the semester.  Often, the student will be moving on to their next training position or employment shortly after the successful defense.  However, if the student and mentor foresee that the student will remain in the laboratory for several months, it is recommended that the student be moved into a postdoctoral position.

Time Limit

At least one year must pass between completion of the Admission to Candidacy Exam and the Dissertation defense.  All work for the PhD degree must be completed within seven years.  If there are extenuating circumstances, this time limit may be extended upon approval by the Dean, if warranted.