Research Training Program

Program Objective

The primary objective of the doctoral program is to provide the student with a thorough understanding of integrative, systemic, cell, and molecular physiology, to prepare him/her for independent research and to provide scholarly experience in one of the specialized areas of physiology.

Each student must demonstrate a breadth of knowledge of physiology, depth of knowledge in the student's chosen field of physiology, and must demonstrate that he/she can conceive, execute, and report an original piece of research. To these ends, each Ph.D. candidate must successfully meet four criteria:

  1. Complete the required coursework
  2. Pass the Comprehensive Examination, which measures breadth of physiological knowledge
  3. Have a yearly guidance committee meeting
  4. Present a written and oral Dissertation and pass the Final Oral Examination.

Thesis Advisor

Students are strongly urged to select a major Advisor by the end of their second semester of study. If a major Advisor has not been selected by the end of the first year, the student will be directed to investigate additional opportunities within the Department or to withdraw from graduate training in the program. The Director of Research and Graduate Studies will assist with this decision. Resources available to the student are the detailed descriptions of Faculty Research Interests on the Department website, the MSU Community of Science (COS) database, and the Joint Graduate Student Orientation program presented by the Biomedical Sciences Departments each Fall prior to the start of the school year.

Faculty members that qualify to serve as Thesis Advisors include regular and adjunct physiology faculty members. A faculty member outside the physiology Department can serve as a proxy Thesis Advisor when approved by the Director of Research and Graduate Studies. If a student chooses a Thesis Advisor who is not a regular or adjunct physiology faculty member, a regular physiology faculty member will be selected by the Director of Research and Graduate Studies to oversee and officiate the student’s progress towards their degree; adjuncts that are not regular MSU faculty must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School.

Role and Responsibilities of the Thesis Advisor

  1. The role of the Thesis Advisor is to oversee the student’s academic progress and research project.
  2. The Thesis Advisor and student are responsible for establishing a Guidance Committee
  3. The student, not Thesis Advisor, is responsible for writing/editing the student’s thesis.

Guidance Committee

The student and major Advisor will arrange for the selection and first meeting of the student's Guidance Committee whose central role is to guide the conception, completion, and reporting of the student's research. The Guidance Committee and the student shall jointly design the student's course of academic study. The Guidance Committee shall administer the Comprehensive Examination. The Ph.D. Guidance Committee will consist of the major Advisor and at least four other regular faculty. At least one member of the Guidance Committee shall be chosen from outside the Department of Physiology and represent a discipline closely related to the student's field of specialization. The Ph.D. committee will outline at their first meeting at least a tentative program and establish target dates for each phase of training. Any member of the committee or any other member of the faculty in the Department is available to any student for counsel or guidance throughout his/her graduate career. It is strongly suggested that the Guidance Committee be formed by the end of the second semester of the second year. Following the first meeting, the student must file a Report of the Guidance Committee. This report, which includes a statement of the student's proposed program, with a timetable and tentative thesis topic, must be filed in the office of the dean of the student's college and with the Graduate School by the end of the second semester of the second year for Doctoral Candidates. This can be done by submitting the completion form to the Graduate Program secretary.

The student then is required to meet annually with their Guidance Committee. The student will need to provide the thesis Guidance Committee with a written progress report of their research, and the student’s Advisor will need to file an annual report, as outlined in the Graduate Program Handbook.

Guidance Committee Report

Although a student may be admitted to the graduate program, a binding program of courses and examinations between the student and the university which could lead to the Ph.D. is not established until the Report of the Guidance Committee is approved by the student's Guidance Committee, reviewed by the Graduate Affairs Committee to assure that all requirements are met, signed by the Department Chairperson and filed with the Graduate School, as noted above.

Language Requirements

No language skill, other than English, is required in the Ph.D. program. However, a reading knowledge in a foreign language that is deemed appropriate to the student's professional interests may be required by the Guidance Committee in consultation with the student.

Laboratory Rotations

Students who have not selected a Thesis Advisor at the time of admission are required to enroll in laboratory rotations (PSL 980). Lab rotations enable the student to gain direct experience in the methods and approaches of different laboratories. It also allows students to make an informed choice with regard to the thesis topic and the appropriate Thesis Advisor. Laboratory rotations are not required for students who have selected a Thesis Advisor at the time of admission.

Comprehensive Exam

Prior to the beginning of the third year in the program the student must successfully complete the Comprehensive Exam. The Comprehensive Exam will be administered by the student’s Guidance Committee, plus a member of the Physiology Curriculum Committee who will serve as chair of the Comprehensive Exam Committee. The student’s Major Advisor will not participate in the Comprehensive Exam Committee. The Comprehensive Exam involves 3 parts: a) preparation of a written thesis proposal, b) an oral presentation of the proposed research in an open seminar, and 3) a closed session meeting with the preliminary exam committee. Details of the Comprehensive Exam are provided in the Graduate Program Handbook.

Dissertation Proposal Expectations

The student must demonstrate defensible logic in the formulation of questions/hypotheses and in the proposed approaches to answer these questions (or test these hypotheses) experimentally. The student must also demonstrate an understanding of the fundamental physiological principles that are relevant to his/her research area.

Dissertation Defense

The final oral examination in defense of the dissertation will be conducted and evaluated by the Guidance Committee, supplemented at the discretion of the Dean of the college by two appointed faculty members. Other interested faculty, staff and students may attend. The examination will be scheduled for a date not earlier than two weeks after the dissertation and abstract have been submitted to the major professor and Guidance Committee. This will allow time for the members of the Committee to review and evaluate the dissertation before the examination, and also allow sufficient time after the examination. The student must be registered during the semester in which the final oral examination is taken. Simple majority rule is in effect for all guidance committee decisions.

Teaching Responsibilities

International graduate students must have a minimum score of 50 on the University’s SPEAK test to qualify for teaching. For more information about the SPEAK test, contact the English Language Center at MSU, A714 Wells Hall or on the web at

As part of their academic requirement, each student (irrespective of their source of support), is required to enroll for 1 credit of PSL 980, which involves participating in the teaching of at least one section of PSL 475, or an equivalent class as approved by the Graduate Affairs Committee, provided their involvement in PSL 475 is not needed. Typically, the teaching experience, which requires about 6 student contact hours per week, is fulfilled during the second year in the program.

Students supported directly by their mentor upon entry to the Program participate in teaching 1 section, while those receiving academic year support from the Department are required to participate in 2 sections. These may be performed in the same or different semesters.

Modification of Program and Final Certification

Final certification of the Ph.D. degree or any radical departure from the suggested program of study as outlined in this manual requires the approval of the Director of Research and Graduate Studies and the Graduate Affairs Committee. In addition to the Department regulations, the student must satisfactorily complete all college and university requirements for a given degree. A student is referred to the University Catalog for a complete description of such requirements.

Financial Support

The department provides 9 months of full support (stipend, tuition assistance, health benefits) to students accepted into the Doctoral Program. Before the end of this period, the student is expected to identify a laboratory in which to complete his/her degree. At that point, the laboratory in which the research will be conducted accepts financial responsibility for the student.