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Curriculum

Coursework

Courses taken by Pathobiology graduate students strengthen core concepts in molecular biology, and provide additional specialized knowledge in the areas of disease mechanisms, cancer biology, immunology, and infectious diseases.

The following courses make up the Pathobiology course curriculum. 

VBSC 503: Crit. Elem. of Gen. and Mol. Cell. Biol. Core requirement
VBSC 520: Pathobiology Core requirement
MCIBS 591: Ethics in the Life Sciences Core requirement
VBSC 590: Colloquium Core requirement
One 500-level course in statistics Core requirement
VBSC 410: Priciples of Immunology Supporting course
VBSC 418: Bacterial Pathogenesis Supporting course
VBSC 420: General Animal Pathology Supporting course
VBSC 430: Principles of Toxicology Supporting course
VBSC 431: Environmental Toxicology Supporting course
VBSC/MICRB/BMB 432: Signaling in the Immune System Supporting course
VBSC 433: Molecular and Cellular Toxicology Supporting course
VBSC/MICRB/BMB 435: Viral Pathogenesis Supporting course
BIOL 439: Practical Bioinformatics Supporting course
VBSC 444: Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases Supporting course
VBSC 451: Immunotoxicology of Drugs and Chemicals Supporting course
VBSC/BMMB/IBIOS 511: Molecular Immunology Supporting course
VBSC/NUTRN 514: Prostaglandins and Leukotrienes Supporting course
VBSC/IBIOS 530: Regulation of Gene Expression Supporting course
VBSC/IBIOS 532: Dev/Rep Toxicology Supporting course
VBSC 534: Current Topics in Cancer Research Supporting course
VBSC 597B: Journal Club Supporting course
VBSC 597F: Nuclear Receptors, Metabolism and Inflammation Supporting course
VBSC 597G: Immune Checkpoints and Cancer Immunotherapy Supporting course
VBSC 597I: Special Topics in Infectious Disease Supporting course

• Each of the four core requirements must be satisfied.

• The total number of approved credits taken (core requirement courses plus supporting courses) must be equal to or greater than 21.

• The total number of approved 500-level credits taken (core requirement courses plus supporting courses) must be equal to or greater than 12.

• The statistics requirement can be met by taking any of the following:  STAT 500; STAT 501; STAT 502; STAT 504; STAT 505; STAT 506; STAT 525

• VBSC 590: Colloquium should be taken every semester prior to the comprehensive exam, but will only count once towards the credit count requirements of the program.

• Other PSU courses may be substituted as supporting courses on a case-by-case basis if the advisor approves.

• A minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University is required.

Milestones

Candidacy Exam

During the second year of the program, students take a candidacy exam. The purpose of the exam is to ensure that students have mastered the core concepts necessary to proceed further towards the Ph.D. The exam consists of both written and oral components, and is based primarily on the students' ability to read, understand, and communicate the key findings of a current research paper selected from the literature.

• The examination must be taken within three semesters (excluding summer sessions) of entry into the Pathobiology program.

• The student's advisor should coordinate paper selection with the other faculty members of the candidacy exam committee, and will make the final decision regarding which paper is to be used.  The selected paper should not be directly related to the student's labwork, and should be forwarded to the student two weeks prior to the exam date.

• The student is responsible for preparing a written summary and critique of the paper, usually on the order of 3-5 pages in length.  The written work should be submitted to candidacy exam committee members at least 3 days before the exam.  It is suggested that the written summary and critique incorporate the following elements:

   - Introduction:  Why was the study performed?; what was the underlying hypothesis?; background work from this or other laboratories that lead to the current hypothesis.

   - Results:  Critically discuss the results; was the underlying experimental approach a sound one?; were the studies properly performed with all necessary controls?; what was actually demonstrated by the results?

   - Discussion:  Was the initial hypothesis supported?; what do the studies mean in context to the overall field of study?; what questions remain to be addressed in future studies?

• On the day of the exam, the student will present the paper, journal club style, and answer questions raised by committee members.  

Comprehensive Exam

When a student has made substantial progress towards completion of the research project, as judged by the student's adviser, work on a comprehensive proposal is initiated. The written proposal introduces the student's research area, summarizes the progress made, and proposes additional experiments which are meant to be completed during the final stages of the research project. The proposal is presented to a committee of faculty members during an oral comprehensive exam. The purpose of the exam is to verify that timely progress is being made towards completion of the research project. The exam also tests that students possess adequate scientific writing skills, and ensures that students are thinking critically about their own research projects. 

Annual Dissertation Committee Meetings

Following the comprehensive exam, the student will meet with the faculty committee at least once annually to monitor that satisfactory progress towards completion of the degree is being made.  The first meeting must be held within one year of the comprehensive exam. Students should report to Margaret Weber each year to document completion of the annual committee meeting requirement.

Dissertation Defense

When a student has completed or nearly completed the research project, as judged by the student's advisor, and has also completed the coursework requirements of the program, work on the written dissertation can begin. The final dissertation, detailing the entire research project, must be distributed to the student's faculty committee well in advance of the oral dissertation defense. The oral defense seminar is open to the public. Following the defense seminar, the student meets with the faculty committee members to discuss any outstanding issues with the project and/or the written dissertation. Final approval, and completion of the Ph.D. program, occurs only after all outstanding issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of the committee members.