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The PhD Committee and Annual Meeting Policy

Purpose of the PhD Committee

From Penn State’s Graduate Council: “Research is a complex enterprise, requiring both individual creative initiative and broad consultation with other research experts. Likewise, the education of a PhD candidate – training in the broad methods of research generally, the specific methods appropriate to their discipline, and the values that define the research community - requires the active participation of a broad team of expert advisers at every step of the student’s program. Each PhD student has a PhD Committee, whose purpose is to provide the attention, guidance, and mentoring necessary for the candidate to successfully earn their degree.

The primary responsibility of the PhD Committee is to guide the broad scholarly development of the PhD student, including direct responsibility for guidance and assessment of the student’s dissertation research and academic progress toward the PhD degree. PhD Committee members are appointed based on their skills and expertise with these goals in mind. Specific responsibilities include (but are not limited to):

  • The PhD Committee shall approve the educational program for each individual student beyond the program requirements. The PhD Committee can require additional education, including coursework, depending on the student’s background and research plans. Additional coursework should be completed prior to the comprehensive examination.
  • The PhD Committee shall approve a written assessment of the student’s progress on an annual basis. BMMB faculty and students complete this requirement by filling out the online Graduate Student Activity Report and the Annual Committee Meeting written report.
  • The PhD Committee shall administer the student’s Comprehensive Examination and assess the student’s performance on the examination.
  • The PhD Committee shall assess the student’s dissertation and recommend (or not) its approval to the Graduate School.
  • The PhD Committee shall conduct the student’s Final Oral Examination and assess the student’s performance on the examination.

The guiding principle for members of the PhD Committee is the success of the student. BMMB expects the PhD Committee to be a mentoring team, not only for the student's dissertation research and development as an independent scientist, but also to assist the student in identifying skills to develop to reach their desired career. The selection of PhD Committee members should be in the best interest of the student's development and what each member brings to the mentoring team. The PhD committee is established according to the rules of the Graduate School, and this must be done by the end of February of the year in which the qualifying examination is passed.

The Committee consists of five active members of the graduate faculty, which includes at least two BMMB graduate faculty members in addition to the dissertation adviser (designated as Major Program Members on form). The dissertation adviser must be a member of the doctoral committee. The dissertation adviser can serve as the chair, but this is not required.

The PhD Committee Chair must be a BMMB faculty member. The PhD Committee Chair is responsible for arranging and conducting all PhD Committee Meetings, ensuring that all Graduate Program, Graduate Council, and Graduate School standards and requirements relative to the doctoral degree are met, and that any conditions set by the PhD Committee are fulfilled. For students pursuing dual-title degrees, either the PhD Committee Chair or a co-Chair must be a Graduate Faculty member of the dual-title program.

Each Committee shall include the student’s Dissertation Adviser. The Dissertation Adviser is responsible for the day-to-day guidance of the student’s dissertation research, and academic and professional development. Where day-to-day guidance is shared by two members of the Graduate Faculty, both may be appointed to the PhD Committee as co-Advisers. Co-advisers are jointly and severally responsible for the day-to-day guidance of the student’s dissertation research, and academic and professional development. A Dissertation Adviser may also serve as the PhD Committee Chair (or co-Chair).

At least one member of the doctoral committee must represent a field outside the candidate's major field of study to provide a broader range of disciplinary perspectives and expertise. This committee member is referred to as the "Outside Field Member." The Outside Field Member may be from BMMB but may not also serve as a major program member.

Additionally, to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the primary appointment of at least one member of the doctoral committee must be in an administrative unit that is outside the unit of the Chair and the Dissertation Adviser's primary appointment (i.e. the adviser's administrative home; in the case of tenure-line faculty, is the individual's tenure home). This committee member is referred to as the "Outside Unit Member." The Outside Unit Member may not have any shared financial arrangement, such as a research grant, with the Dissertation Advisor. Note: The same individual may serve as both the Outside Field Member and the Outside Unit Member.

A person who is not a member of the Graduate Faculty (and may not be affiliated with Penn State), but who is otherwise qualified and has particular expertise in the student’s research area, may be added as a “Special Member” upon recommendation by the Associate Department Head for Graduate Education and approval of the Graduate School Dean (via the office of Graduate Enrollment Services). A Special member is expected to participate fully in the functions of the doctoral committee. The Special Member cannot be designated as the Outside Field or Outside Unit Member.

  1. PhD Committee Chair (BMMB Faculty Member)

  2. Dissertation Adviser (Can be PhD Committee Chair)

  3. One or Two additional BMMB Faculty Members depending on whether Adviser is Chair (Major Program Members)

  4. Outside Unit Member (Tenure home outside the tenure home of the Chair and Adviser)

  5. Outside Field Member (Faculty must be in a different scientific field than the student)



BMMB Committee Meeting Guidelines

All BMMB students are required to hold an annual PhD committee meeting starting after the qualifying examination is passed. The committee meeting will be documented using the BMMB Annual Committee Meeting Form and the Graduate Student Activity Report.

  1. As soon as possible after scheduling a PhD Committee meeting, but no less than one week before the meeting, the student must inform the Graduate Program Coordinator who will report to the Graduate School.

  2. The student is responsible for completing the "Student Summary" of the BMMB PhD Committee Report prior to the meeting, distributing completed form to the committee one week prior to the meeting, and bringing a hard copy of the completed form to the meeting.

  3. Following the meeting, the committee members and adviser should add their comments to the BMMB PhD Committee Report.

  4. The student must return the completed form to the Graduate Program Coordinator.

  5. Information from the form may be transcribed into the GSAR with any appropriate updates.

  6. BMMB will use the forms to track committee meetings and determine if students are in good standing with the program.

  1. The comprehensive exam cannot serve as the annual committee meeting for third-year students continuing for the PhD. A PhD committee meeting for all students during the third year is required.

  2. From the qualifying exam onward, a committee meeting must take place on an annual basis for all PhD and MS students. In practical terms, this means that it must occur during the academic year following the previous committee meeting.

  3. For terminal MS students, a formal committee meeting is to take place each year and will follow the same procedure as described above.

  4. While it is recognized that the MS or PhD committee is the ultimate authority as concerns a student’s academic progress and eligibility to graduate, the BMMB PhD Committee Report and GSAR are to be reviewed by the Associate Department Head for Graduate Education, who may elect to become involved if it appears that serious problems exist.

  5. To remain in good standing, the annual PhD committee meeting must be held and documented. Failure to do so may result in a program hold, resulting in delayed registrations and/or appointments. Students may contact the Associate Department Head for Graduate Education to request a waiver for this policy (i.e. due to scheduling conflicts, etc.)