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University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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The Curriculum


Curriculum Timeline/Highlights

First Year:

  • Core Courses
  • TA Assignments
  • Preliminary Exam

Second Year:

  • Elective Courses
  • Dissertation Research
  • Dissertation Proposal
  • Journal Club and Departmental Research Seminar

Third Year:

  • Dissertation Research
  • Directed Reading/Grant Writing Course
  • Comprehensive Exam
  • Journal Club and Departmental Research Seminar

Fourth - Fifth/Sixth Years:

  • Dissertation Research
  • Journal Club and Departmental Research Seminar
  • Dissertation Writing and Defense

Detailed Curriculum

The curriculum is designed for students to complete the Ph.D. degree in five to six years and is geared to train students for successful careers in one of a number of areas of modern biology. The curriculum is unique in that it fosters one of two broad-based, multifaceted approaches to understanding biological questions. Stipends for students are provided for all years of the program.

First year: The first year is devoted largely to course work and teaching (teaching assistantships). The first year’s didactic courses consist of a core curriculum taken by students in both the Integrative Biology and the Systems Biology tracks.

Didactic courses:

  • Biology Skill-sets I: Principles of Biological Research (2 credits)
  • Biology Skill-sets II: Pedagogy (1 credits)
  • Problems in Integrative and Systems Biology (4 credits each Fall and Spring semesters)
  • Biostatistics (3 credits)

During the first year, students will also work with their presumptive research mentors on acquiring background for their dissertation research project. They will begin the process of formulating their dissertation research. While not required, some students may be able to begin research on their topic. Students in the first year and all subsequent years also participate in program-sponsored journal clubs and Department of Integrative Biology’s research seminars.

At the end of the first year, students take a general written examination (preliminary exam) covering all of the first-year course work. After successful completion of the first-year curriculum, each student formally selects a dissertation mentor (usually the faculty member the student has been in contact with since time of application to the program) and actively begins his/her dissertation research project during the summer semester.

Second year: In the second year, didactic course work consists of electives. These courses are chosen based on which track (integrative biology or systems biology) the student is in and on the precise area of research his/her dissertation laboratory engages in. It is expected that the student will spend a significant amount of time doing research with the chosen faculty mentor. There are no required teaching responsibilities in this or subsequent years.

Didactic courses:

Research Proposal and Defense of Proposal:

The majority of time in the second year is spent in the laboratory developing a research thesis project. By the end of the fall semester, each student will present a preliminary research proposal (developed in collaboration with his/her research mentor) to his/her Dissertation Advisory Committee. During the spring semester, this proposal is refined and then defended to the student’s Dissertation Advisory Committee by the end of the spring semester.​

Third Year: The emphasis continues to be on research. However during the fall semester students will take a 3-credit course called “Directed Reading/Grant Writing Strategy” to aid them in their preparation of the written portion of the Comprehensive Exam. They are also expected to continue participating in journal clubs and the appropriate departmental research seminars.

Comprehensive Examination:

By the end of spring semester, each student will have taken the comprehensive exam. This exam consists of a written grant proposal – based on the student’s own dissertation topic – followed by an oral defense of the proposal to a faculty committee. Upon successful completion of the comprehensive exam, the student will submit the written proposal to the appropriate funding agency or agencies.

Fourth-Fifth (Sixth) Years: The remaining time in the program is devoted to completion of the dissertation research project. The dissertation research should be completed within the next two (or possibly three) years. Throughout the remainder of their studies, students are given many opportunities to develop analytic and communication skills and to interact with colleagues and peers in the scientific community at large. Students give frequent formal and informal presentations of their research at laboratory group meetings, at the appropriate weekly departmental seminar series, and at regional/national/international scientific conferences. Students are expected, during the course of their research, to write and publish papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Dissertation Defense:

During the course of these final years of research, the student meets annually with their Dissertation Advisory Committee who insure that the student is making suitable progress toward completing his/her dissertation. At the completion of the research and writing of the dissertation, the student presents the research in a public seminar followed by a private defense of the dissertation research to the Dissertation Defense Committee.​​​​