The UAB Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) Predoctoral Training Program
         The objective of this predoc...
laboratory space in the 250,000 square foot Shelby building which also maintains a 50,000
square foot vivarium providing s...
Financial Structure of the Program. All students accepted into the CMB Program receive
financial support consisting of a s...
Laboratory Rotations. In addition to the core CMB curriculum, the CMB students also
carry out three laboratory rotations d...
expected to meet with this thesis committee at least once per year (if not more frequently) until
        The ...
the CMB Steering committee will schedule meetings with the predoctoral trainee and their
Qualifications of Applica...
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  1. 1. The UAB Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) Predoctoral Training Program Background The objective of this predoctoral training program is to prepare outstanding individuals for productive careers in research and teaching in Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB). The CMB program provides extensive training in the scientific method and exposes trainees to a broad range of current approaches utilized in modern biomedical sciences. Over the past 15 years the CMB Training Program has been an important collaborative focus as well as a source of support for the training of the most promising graduate students at UAB. Trainees from this program have gone on to acquire faculty positions at excellent academic institutions, as well as research positions in government and industry. The training grant has enhanced the training environment by aiding in the recruitment of internationally respected investigators and by sponsoring seminar speakers and visiting lecturers at UAB. The CMB training program has also resulted in a broader, more active research environment since it allows faculty in the program to recruit trainees that could not otherwise be supported in their laboratories. The CMB Training Program is a multi-disciplinary program designed to provide students with a broad-based core education that prepares them for the complexities of modern biomedical research. In addition, it is designed to foster interactions between faculty and students in different disciplines so technical expertise can be freely exchanged between laboratories. The CMB program does not confer its own degree, but instead functions as a feeder program for the graduate programs of the Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Neurobiology. After the successful completion of the first-year core curriculum, students enter the graduate program of the primary department of their chosen thesis advisor. This decision occurs at the end of the first year of training. The CMB faculty hold primary appointments in one of the four CMB departments, or one of 14 other Departments within the Medical Center at UAB. However, all CMB faculty members have at least a secondary appointment in one of the four participating Departments that allows their students to register for their degrees through that Department. This arrangement allows the CMB Steering Committee to maintain an adequate level of coordination and oversight of the subsequent training of these students during the remainder of their graduate training experience. Teaching Facilities. The CMB program maintains several classrooms and auditoria with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment. Lectures are recorded and archived for streaming in real audio format from our webpage. Together with digitized slides students are able to revisit all presented lecture materials. Five small classrooms for discussion sessions are also available and equipped with LCD projectors. Wire and wireless internet is available throughout. Indeed, the entire medical campus has free wireless internet access for students. Research Facilities. The physical facilities for basic research at UAB also continue to grow at a rapid pace. The McCallum Building completed in 1985 contains 100,000 net square feet of laboratory facilities; the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and the Department of Cell Biology occupy approximately one-half of this building. The 220,000 square foot Bevill Biomedical Research Building, occupied in 1993, contains six research laboratory floors, one animal resources floor, an administrative/office floor and the entry level floor with the recently renovated CMB lecture room. Most of the Microbiology faculty, together with the Center for AIDS Research, the Department of Medicine’s Division of Geographic Medicine, and the Genetics program within the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics occupy this building. The Department of Neurobiology occupies 80,000 square feet of space in the newly completed Shelby Biomedical Research Building with ancillary space in the Civitan and Spain Buildings. Finally, the recently completed Kaul Human Genetics Building provides an additional 100,000 square feet of research space. Its basement also houses animal facilities that support the activity of CMB faculty. Many of our faculty members are now in brand new
  2. 2. laboratory space in the 250,000 square foot Shelby building which also maintains a 50,000 square foot vivarium providing state-of-the-art transgenic facilities. Program Direction The administrative structure of the Cellular and Molecular Biology program includes the CMB Steering Committee, a Program Director, the Training Grant Director and Advisory Committee, the Program Coordinator, and other CMB program committees. Each committee contains representatives of the four participating Departments. Training Admissions Criteria. All applications submitted to the CMB program are evaluated by the CMB Admissions Committee. If necessary, this review is done in consultation with other appropriate faculty members. All admissions decisions are made only after examining several different aspects of an application. The first criterion is the scores achieved on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). A nominal score of 1200 on the combined verbal and quantitative portions of the general portion of the GRE exam is expected, although other accomplishments can lead to the acceptance of candidates with somewhat lower scores. The analytical portion of the exam is also an important consideration. In addition, the applicant’s undergraduate grade point average (GPA) is considered as well. A nominal GPA of 3.0 is expected, but consideration is also given to the curriculum completed and the quality of the degree-granting institution. Other criteria include letters of recommendation and past experience in research activities. As a final level of evaluation, a personal interview with members of the Admissions Committee is carried out for all promising domestic applicants. To matriculate into the CMB program, the student must have completed a bachelor’s degree and is expected to have successfully completed undergraduate courses in calculus (integral and differential), general and organic chemistry, and at least one introductory course in zoology or biology. Courses in biochemistry, physical chemistry, genetics, molecular biology, neurobiology, and cell biology are also strongly recommended (if available). Applications are particularly encouraged from individuals with prior research experience, a Master’s degree in a related area, or a professional degree such as the MD, DVM or OD. In the past, the CMB program has admitted approximately 35-40 students each year. Appointment to the Training Grant. All trainees that enter the CMB Program receive a stipend provided by the Program during the first year. These students only become eligible to receive training grant support after they have successfully completed their first year curriculum of study. Candidates are appointed to the training grant after successful completion of the preliminary exam, which occurs during the second year of training. This schedule still leaves ample time for the two years of support currently provided to trainees. Most importantly, this strategy allows for the selection of students who have mastered the material in the core curriculum and who have demonstrated the ability for logical and independent thought that is required to complete the preliminary exam. Nominations are received by the Training Grant Advisory Committee from the students’ mentors, graduate program directors, or departmental chairmen. The committee considers the applicant’s prior academic record, as well as progress in the CMB core courses and lab rotations, in selecting the most promising trainees. To be considered for support by the CMB training grant, students must have received a B or better in each of the five first-year core courses, the Methods and Logic course, and in each of their three lab rotations. Students who meet these requirements will be interviewed by the Training Grant Advisory Committee before a decision is made. Because of the limited number of positions available, students are normally allowed to hold training grant support for only two years. Longer appointments to the training grant have not been made due to the small number of positions currently available, together with the large number of outstanding candidates. It should also be pointed out that the second year of support on the training grant is not automatic and depends upon the student’s continued progress toward their degree as determined by the Training Grant Advisory Committee.
  3. 3. Financial Structure of the Program. All students accepted into the CMB Program receive financial support consisting of a stipend of $23,000 per year (2006/2007), complete payment of tuition and fees and single coverage health insurance. A recent comparison of graduate programs at competitive institutions across the country found that this level of support was consistent with the national average and mirrors the student stipend recommended by NIH for 2006. This stipend level is necessary to maintain a competitive edge in attracting the best students to the program. In order to maintain a stipend that is competitive with these other programs, the CMB Program has also instituted an annual 3% cost of living adjustment. The Graduate School currently guarantees the CMB Program 33 fellowships each year. These graduate fellowships include a stipend of $16,000 per year and complete payment of tuition and fees. The funds required to supplement these fellowships to the CMB stipend level of $23,000 and to provide health insurance to each student are provided by the four CMB departments. On occasion, some students also earn individual predoctoral fellowships. In addition to providing support for the first-year students, the four participating departments also provide funds to pay the salary of the Program staff (Program Administrator and Program Coordinator) and for expenses related to advertising and recruitment for the CMB Program. At the end of the first year, each student selects a dissertation advisor. At the beginning of the second year, the thesis advisor is responsible for providing financial support. The sources for such support after the first year are normally research grants or institutional training grants (such as the Cellular and Molecular Biology Training Grant). Because the program is located in a Medical Center, there are no teaching assistantships available to support graduate students. First Year Curriculum. The faculty of the CMB Program have developed and teach the curriculum for the first year of graduate study. The program requirements are outlined below. Core Courses. The core courses of the CMB Program include Biomolecules (CMB1), Genes (CMB2) and Cells (CMB3). In the second semester the students choose from 4 of 19 concurrently offered small-group sessions that cover topics ranging from Prokaryotic Genetics to Developmental Neurobiology. These non-didactic small group sessions were developed to address past criticism of the CMB core curriculum to be didactic, without teaching a sufficient amount of problem-solving skills. The revised CMB curriculum put students in charge of learning AND teaching while being mentored in small groups by faculty. These courses make extensive use of material from the primary literature. The introduction of computer-aided presentation facilities and live internet connections in the classroom has also greatly expanded the use of a wide range of resource materials in these classes. Reading assignments from the primary literature are frequent, and the assigned textbook reading is used largely as reference material. Methods and Logic in Biology. All first-year CMB students are also required to take a course called Methods and Logic in Biology. This course provides the students with an opportunity to learn to read and critically evaluate the primary scientific literature. Each week, a pair of papers is assigned that addresses a similar scientific question but comes to quite distinct conclusions. The students are required to dissect both papers and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each. A controversial topic in a different field is also discussed each week to maintain student interest. Discussion groups consist of approximately eight students and a faculty member, and thus provide much more individualized attention than can be achieved in the other courses in the CMB core curriculum. Importantly, it helps the students develop analytical skills that allow them to critically evaluate the literature. The curriculum is reviewed each year and is constantly evolving. Students with previous graduate level course work may apply to the Steering Committee for exemption from specific CMB courses. The Steering Committee consults with the appropriate coursemaster(s) before a decision is made.
  4. 4. Laboratory Rotations. In addition to the core CMB curriculum, the CMB students also carry out three laboratory rotations during the first year. Laboratory rotations are designed to be a learning experience tailored to the needs of each student. The laboratory rotation can take many different forms and usually includes a research project, directed in-depth reading in an area of research interest, and acquisition of basic laboratory skills. The actual content of these rotations is determined by mutual agreement between the student and preceptor. The rotations consist of real research projects rather than laboratory demonstrations or technical learning opportunities. Students are encouraged to broaden their background by selecting at least one lab rotation in an area outside their major interest. The CMB Program encourages applications from students with prior research experience. However, the laboratory rotation represents the initial in-depth research training many students receive and provides an important initial experience in critical thinking, experimental design, and technical execution of their research plan. CMB students are expected to spend at least 20 hours per week on their laboratory rotations. This time includes the time spent in the laboratory and the time spent on background reading that is required for the successful completion of their project. At the end of each rotation, the student gives a talk or prepares a poster on the rotation project. This allows the preceptor to provide training in data presentation to complement the experience gained in data collection and analysis during the rotation. The rotation talks and poster sessions are well- attended by both senior students and faculty of the CMB Program. Besides the research experience that is gained, the laboratory rotation experience also helps the students evaluate various labs and areas of research before making their choice of a thesis advisor. At the end of the first year, students choose a mentor and begin the task of fulfilling the requirements of the pertinent department's doctoral program. Trainees are also expected to take advantage of the regular seminars series sponsored by the Departments of Microbiology, Biochemistry, Cell Biology and Neurobiology, as well as specialized lectures and seminars organized through the various Research Centers. Also available is a new seminar series called the CMB Distinguished Scholars Seminar Series. These seminars are held approximately once each month. The speakers of this seminar series are outstanding scientists from a wide range of fields that provide positive role models as successful scientists for the first-year CMB students. Each of these speakers meets with the first-year CMB students as a group so they can ask broad-ranging questions about science, the road to becoming a scientist, and scientific philosophies. Selecting the Dissertation Advisor/Mentor. The choice of a dissertation advisor/mentor is one of the most important decisions in a student’s graduate career. The students are encouraged to keep this in mind as they choose laboratory rotations and participate in lecture and seminar activities throughout their first year in the CMB program. It is anticipated that first- year students will be prepared to select a dissertation advisor by the beginning of the summer term. Students are encouraged to discuss this decision with appropriate faculty members so that the student and faculty member can come to a mutually-agreeable decision. Students unprepared to make this choice are allowed to complete an additional laboratory rotation during the summer term. Monitoring Progress After the First Year. After the students choose a mentor at the end of the first year, they enter one of the departmental graduate programs. The program that is chosen is determined by the primary or secondary academic appointment of the mentor. Each program has generally similar degree requirements, but differs on some details. One of the main differences is the format of the preliminary exam, which is taken during the second year. Other than the preliminary exam, the departmental requirements for advanced courses and expectations for the dissertation are quite similar. Once the preliminary exam is completed, the student forms a thesis committee composed of generally 3-4 faculty members (in addition to their thesis advisor) who will provide advice about the student’s thesis project. The student is
  5. 5. expected to meet with this thesis committee at least once per year (if not more frequently) until graduation. The time required to complete the degree requirements for students in the four departmental programs ranges between 4-6 years. This “time to degree” compares favorably with most other competitive graduate programs across the U.S. In fact, the 1998 report from the National Research Council on “Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists” found that the national median time required to complete a doctoral degree in the life sciences was 8.0 years. Evaluating Trainees. Throughout the first year, the CMB Director and the CMB Steering Committee monitor the progress of the first-year CMB students. If a problem is identified, the CMB Director then meets with the student to discuss what steps should be taken to correct it. The CMB Program Director and the Steering Committee review academic performance throughout the first year in order to identify and act upon any problems that come to light. At the end of the academic year the Steering Committee formally reviews the course and laboratory performance of each CMB graduate student. Students must have a GPA of 3.0 or above in CMB coursework and must not have received more than two grades below B in the five core courses (CMB I - VII). In order to complete the doctoral program requirements of the participating departments, all students must earn a grade of B or better in each of the core courses. Students that receive a grade below B in any CMB Course must repeat that course in their second year. Failure to earn a grade of B or A in this second attempt results in dismissal from the CMB Program. During the second year, predoctoral students that have successfully completed the core CMB courses must take their qualifying examination. In the Microbiology Department, the preliminary examination consists of the preparation of a short grant application on a topic chosen by the student. If the written application is approved, the student then carries out an oral defense of the proposal that is evaluated by a committee of the faculty. During this oral exam, the student is questioned on specific details of the proposal, as well as more general aspects of molecular and cellular biology. If deficiencies are found in the student’s specific knowledge, general knowledge, or logical reasoning, the student is required to resubmit the proposal and/or to undertake appropriate remedial study. In the Department of Biochemistry, a comprehensive written exam is required, followed by a written proposal and oral exam that are based on the student’s thesis topic. In the Department of Neurobiology, both written and oral exams are given on four basic areas of Neurobiology. Finally, the preliminary exam in the Department of Cell Biology consists of a written proposal and oral defense on the student’s thesis topic. Students who successfully complete the preliminary examination are then eligible to form a thesis committee and apply for admission to candidacy. Their thesis committee evaluates not only their research proposal but also their course work. In each department, the student presents a written research proposal to the dissertation committee. If the proposal is found to be one that will lead to significant new findings and is complete enough for a doctoral thesis, it is approved and the student is admitted to candidacy (subject to approval by the Director of the Graduate Program and the Dean of the Graduate School). All four departmental Graduate Programs require that the student meet with his/her dissertation committee at least once a year until graduation; the student consults less formally with his/her committee members on a more frequent basis. The committee provides advice on research progress and sets research and academic requirements for the student. The committee also evaluates the dissertation and the oral presentation of the dissertation, and ultimately recommends whether the final thesis is adequate for presentation of the PhD degree. For trainees supported by this grant, notes from their admission to candidacy and thesis committee meetings will be forwarded to the Training Grant Advisory Committee, and these notes will be reviewed to ensure that adequate progress is being made. Whenever necessary,
  6. 6. the CMB Steering committee will schedule meetings with the predoctoral trainee and their mentor. Qualifications of Applicants The CMB program draws from a worldwide pool of students interested in Microbiology, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, and Neurobiology. In the past three years 849 students have applied for admission to the CMB Program, and a total of 194 applicants (23%) were offered positions. Of those offered positions, 133 were eligible for training grant support. Of the 104 students who entered the program, 72 were eligible for training grant support. The students supported by the training grant have an average GRE (V+Q) of 1215 and an average GPA of 3.49. They represented 22 states across the US. Approved by: Harald Sontheimer, PhD, Director Date: September 11, 2006 Click here to return to the SOM Research Web Site's home page.