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. 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.

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. Ph.D. students participating in the common core curriculum are required to take 12 didactic hours beyond the first year. Most students will have taken 75 hours of course credits {including research hours) before taking the qualifying exams. The structure of the exams varies according to each student's department or program. To advance to candidacy, students must also submit and defend a research proposal on their dissertation topic. Finally, students submit a dissertation based on their original investigation and must pass a general oral examination related to the defense of the dissertation. The Dissertation Advisory Committee will then recommend whether to award the final degree.

Advisory Committee

The Advisory Dissertation Committee consists of at least five members, three from the student’s major department and two from outside the department. All members of the committee shall be members of the Graduate faculty with the exception of individuals external to MUSC, who have the appropriate credentials at an outside institution. The Chairman must be a full member of graduate faculty or an associate member with a full member co-chair. The Chairperson will be responsible for coordinating the activity of the Dissertation Advisory Committee and ensuring compliance with graduate school regulations.An 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. The Advisory Committee should be organized after passing the departmental written exam.The student must meet at least annually with his/her Advisory Committee from the time of appointment of the committee until completion of the requirements for the degree. The departmental coordinator and the Dean should be notified in writing of the annual meetings by the chairperson of the Advisory Committee. Yearly, a detailed letter of evaluation of student progress from the program, whether from the mentor or the graduate training committee of the program, must be written to the student with a copy placed in the student’s program file and submitted to the Dean.More frequent meetings of the Advisory Committee and the student are encouraged in order to facilitate student-committee interaction. Meetings may be called at the discretion of the student, the advisor, or if two or more members of the Advisory Committee request such a meeting.

Program of Study

The College of Graduate Studies offers a common entry pathway for new Ph.D. students. The first year curriculum provides a broad interdisciplinary background devoted predominately to  biomacromolecular structure and function, genetics, cell biology and experimental design/techniques in the Fall semester, and a choice of discipline-based mini-courses, together with an overview of the essentials of scientific practice, in the Spring semester. A series of program exposures familiarizes students with individual Ph.D. training programs and principal investigators at the beginning of the Fall semester. Students then enroll in three consecutive laboratory rotations. At the end of the Spring semester of the first year (May), the students choose a Ph.D. program and faculty mentor for their degree research. Further didactic coursework is decided by the various departments and programs. If a student has identified a specific faculty member with whom he/she would like to work, at the end of the first year curriculum he/she will enroll in the department or program in which that faculty member resides. 

After the first year, 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, which the student must complete in order to meet the minimum program requirements for a given degree. It lists courses which are being transferred as well as courses which are to be taken on campus. After approval by the Major Advisor, the program of study is filed with the departmental graduate coordinator and with the Office of the Dean within three months after the Major Advisor is chosen. A decision to remove, substitute, or add courses to the program of study can be made in a joint meeting of the student and once formed, the Advisory Committee. 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 Advisory Committee chairperson to the Office of the Dean. In addition, it will be the final responsibility of the student and his/her Advisory Committee chairperson 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 qualifying examination.

Courses Audited

Any graduate student, with permission of the instructor and the chairperson of the 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, although they will appear on the academic transcript.

Repeating Course

The Dissertation Advisory Committee may permit a student to repeat a course under certain circumstances. Courses which have been repeated will be treated as follows: (1) Credit hours will be granted only once. (In separately computing the overall 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 are 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 to the program of study. In some instances, the department may request that a student transfer hours received in certain courses which 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 in the program of study for credit toward the degree.

Qualifying Examination

All courses and specific requirements listed in the program of study must be completed before the student is permitted to schedule the qualifying examination.

An applicant will not be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree until he/she has passed a comprehensive qualifying examination. This examination is intended to test his/her general knowledge of his/her major field and related fields of study. Failure to pass any part of the examination requires a reexamination in areas not completed satisfactorily and will be permitted only once and after not less than three months of further study.

The nature of the examination in the major field is determined and conducted by the major department. If credits have been transferred, a definite part of the qualifying examination must be devoted to testing on the courses involved. The College of Graduate Studies does not require that qualifying examinations be given in courses earned as credits outside the major department or in related fields. The student is advised to consult the major department to determine departmental requirements in the area of qualifying examinations.

Admission to Candidacy

Admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences degree has two steps: a comprehensive qualifying examination in the student's major field and the submission and oral defense of the student's dissertation research proposal. By the April 15th following successful passing of the comprehensive qualifying exam, each student will write a research proposal on his/her proposed dissertation topic according to the sections and format of an NIH F31 grant proposal (page limits for single-spaced text with 0.5 inch margins: Specific Aims - 1 page, Research Strategy - 6 pages, Literature Cited - no page limit.) In addition, the student shall write a fully referenced literature review approximately 2,000-3,000 words in length, which provides background for their proposal, and may serve as a template for the first chapter of their dissertation. The student presents their dissertation proposal as a seminar followed by a closed oral defense before the student's Dissertation Advisory Committee. Both documents will be submitted to the student's Dissertation Advisory Committee at least a week before the proposal defense to give them adequate time to review it.

Upon successful completion of both the qualifying examination and the proposal defense, the Dissertation Advisory 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.

The graduate school recognizes that the student's research may deviate substantially from that originally proposed. The student should be encouraged to pursue promising leads; however, long-term changes in the direction of the student's research should be done in consultation with the Dissertation Advisory Committee.


At least one year of residency at the Medical University is required before receiving the Ph.D. degree.

A graduate student who has completed the requirements for a degree and plans to write the dissertation either in absentia or in residence, must register and pay tuition for a minimum of one hour each semester until completion of a successful defense of the dissertation. If the student is in residence and receiving stipend, registration must be for at least 15 hours per semester.

Research Seminar

Students are required to make a research presentation, on campus, in a manner to be determined by the department or program and the Dissertation Advisory Committee.


A dissertation, based on original investigation, is required which gives evidence of mature scholarship and critical judgment, indicates knowledge of research methods and techniques, and demonstrates the ability to carry out independent investigation. The candidate is required to notify the Graduate School officer of the date, time and place no less than three weeks prior to defense. Instructions for the preparation guide of the Disseration is available on the COGS website. 

Final Examination

Each candidate is required to pass a general oral examination directed primarily to the defense of the dissertation. This shall begin with a formal presentation with appropriate slides and shall be at least 30 minutes in length for the Ph.D. candidate.

The examination is conducted by the Dissertation Advisory Committee, with its chairperson presiding. The Dissertation Advisory Committee will have primary responsibility for evaluating the student’s research, including the written dissertation, the formal oral presentation (which is open to the general graduate faculty), and for administering the final oral examination.

Approval of the Advisory Committee, with no more than one dissenting vote, is necessary for recommendation for awarding the degree. The decision of the Advisory Committee will be forwarded to the dean. The graduate faculty has the authority, which it has delegated to the Dean, for final approval of the candidate for the awarding of the degree.Upon completion of the defense, each faculty will fill out a defense rubric form and give them to the Major Advisor. The Major Advisor will in turn collate the evaluations into one form, discuss it with the trainee and them submit it to the College's Registrar.In the event of disapproval, the candidate may be permitted to retake the examination in not less than six months and not more than two years from the time this decision was made. Only one opportunity for re-examination is given. Any candidate who is granted this privilege shall retain the status and obligations of a graduate student until the time of such re-examination. 

Time Limit

In the event that all work is not completed within four years following the qualifying examination, a second qualifying examination will be required. All work for the Ph.D. degree must be completed within seven years. This time limit may be extended upon approval by the Dean.