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GeneticsGraduate1.doc

  1. 1. 1Genetics Graduate Program Learning Outcomes/Goal: The most central goal of the Genetics Graduate Program is the training of outstanding students in the areas of genetics and genomics. Activities in Support of Goal: 1. Rotations: Unless students have substantial M.S. research experience, they undertake three rotations during their nine months at MSU, and then chose a research mentor. 2. Required courses: A core set of courses is required of Genetics graduate students, and they are expected to earn a 3.0 grade or better. 3. Comprehensive exam: A general-knowledge oral exam is followed by a written research proposal, which each student prepares on his or her own research project. The advisor may have no input on the actual writing of the proposal, although input from other outside readers are encouraged., The student presents a formal seminar describing the proposal, and then discusses the proposal with the advisory committee. 4. Learning outside the classroom: Students are strongly encouraged to participate in the biweekly Genetics Research Forum, the annual Genetics mini-symposium, and journal clubs, seminars, and lab meetings appropriate to their areas of interest. 5. Presentation of research results: Students are encouraged to present their results orally at the Genetics Research Forum and to participate in poster sessions at the annual retreat and mini-symposium. Travel awards encourage students to attend national and international conferences to present their research results. The final seminar prior to the dissertation defense is announced to all faculty and students Assessment Methods: 1. Rotations: Each student’s rotation plans are discussed with the director, who serves as the initial advisor for the first year students. Faculty are considered to be appropriate potential PhD mentors if they have a good track record, external funding, space in their lab to accommodate an additional coworker, and are in the student’s declared area of interest. Each student’s rotation is evaluated by asking the faculty to assign the student a grade and provide a short written commentary. In the last five years, 18% of our students undertook a fourth rotation, supported by the program, because a suitable mentor was not identified in the first three rotations. 2. Required courses: The value and relevance of the required courses is reassessed almost every year by the Genetics Program Executive Committee (composed of the Director, Associate Director, four elected faculty, and one graduate student), which reviews course syllabi. A challenge to the Genetics Program is how to constructively channel feedback to instructors to suggest changes in courses it does not control. The quality and content of the required courses are topics at the annual meeting of the director and the genetics graduate students. Students are expected to achieve grades of 3.0 or better and maintain at least a 3.0 average. 3. Comprehensive exams. Until the mid-90's, the Genetics comprehensive exam consisted of a written exam followed by an oral exam on four or five topics in Genetics, defined by the four or five faculty members of the advisory committee. Both students and faculty complained that this format resulted in great variability in rigor and breadth of the exams. The exams were restructured, with the Director, Associate Director, or another faculty member serving on the examination committee
  2. 2. to chair the exams, to provide breadth, and to assure that the proceedings are conducted fairly. The goals of the two exams were restructured, with the oral exam serving to assure breadth of knowledge, and the preparation of a research proposal (as the written exam) serving to assure adequate strength and depth of knowledge in each student’s chosen area of focus. Students are assigned a “pass”, “fail”, or “conditional pass” on their oral and written exams, usually by consensus of the advisory committee. A student can have a second chance if assigned a failing mark. 4. Learning outside the classroom. Attendance at the Research Forum is informally monitored. Registration is required for the retreat and mini-symposium. Individual problems with absenteeism of a student from lab activities or lack of progress is reported to the director. 5. Presentation of research results. Students are required to have annual meetings with their advisory committees, and a brief progress report must be submitted to the Genetics Program Office. Both faculty and students attend the Research Forum, the poster venues, and the dissertation seminars, providing feedback, encouragement, and criticisms to participants. Assessment Results: 1. Rotations: The grades and commentaries provided by faculty who host the rotations of first-year students are reviewed by the program director. A fourth rotation must be approved by the director, who must be convinced, based on classroom and rotation evaluations that the student shows promise in the field of genetics. 2. Required courses: Yearly reviews of course offerings led the Genetics Program Executive Committee to propose revisions in the graduate course requirements of students in the program, adding “one course in computational biology” as a requirement, and a pass/fail course entitled “Theory and Practice of Teaching Genetics”. 3. Comprehensive exams: In recent years, a number of “conditional” passes were awarded because of deficiencies noted in students’ research proposals, therefore the Genetics Program Executive Committee decided that the Program should provide examples of well-written proposals to serve as examples. Regulations were rewritten to encourage students to ask others to read their proposals, and provide constructive input, before providing the proposal to the advisory committee. Copies of several well-written research proposals have been made available in the Genetics Program Office and one was placed at the web site, along with annotation to point out important features. Since these measures were undertaken in 2004, it is too soon to know if they will achieve their desired impact 4. Learning outside the classroom and presentation of research results: Approximately 14 Research Forums a year are devoted to current research on campus. Those faculty who have not presented their work in a recent Research Forum and “senior” students in the program are asked to be responsible for one of the hour-long presentations. Actions Taken: 1. Rotations. Students receive grades for their rotation efforts, and have exit interviews with each faculty mentor. 2. Required courses. Failure to obtain a 3.0 results in disciplinary action: a student will receive letters from the Program and from the Dean’s Office informing them that they
  3. 3. will be asked to leave graduate school if they receive three grades less than 3.0 and that they must maintain a GPA of 3.0 to be a student in good standing. Suggestions about the scheduling and contents of the core graduate courses are channeled by the Director to the faculty responsible for the instruction. 3. Comprehensive exams. Performance of students on the oral comprehensive exam has appeared to be best after the students have fulfilled their first teaching requirement (in the introductory ZOL 341 genetics course). This information is shared with beginning graduate students, who are encouraged to serve as teaching assistants in their second year, prior to their oral exam. Advanced students in the program have been helpful for providing practice in a mock exam situation. A peer writing group, led by the Genetics Program Director, has been organized for spring 2005 to read and discuss the proposals, offering constructive criticisms to the participants. In addition to improving the quality of the research proposals, we hope the writing group will strengthen our student community by building scientific connections amongst the participants. 4. Learning outside the classroom. Poor attendance of the Research Forum will elicit E- mail or personal encouragement suggesting student participation. Students are also reminded before each mini-symposium and retreat that their attendance is expected. Problems with absenteeism of a student from lab activities is reported to the director and results in written communication with the student outlining expectations, and joint meetings with the advisor, student and director. 5. Presentation of research results. Some students have requested written feedback to their oral research presentations. The current format of the Research Forum allows time for questions and discussion during and after the formal presentation. 6. Programmatic assessment. At least two meetings are held each year with the Director, Associate Director, and all of the students. About six students who volunteer their time to the Genetics Graduate Student Organization also meet with the Director several times during the year to discuss topics and provide feedback. A final piece of the feedback loop is an exit interview (in person or written) with recent graduates to obtain constructive comments about the program. Action Results: 1. On occasion, a student who fails to perform adequately or in a timely fashion is asked to withdraw from the program. 2. The restructuring of the comprehensive exam has helped make the exams more uniform and consistently rigorous. The mock comprehensive exam organized by senior graduate students has helped the younger students become more comfortable in facing the oral exam. The writing group promises to improve the quality of the research proposals, and we hope it will strengthen our student community by building scientific connections amongst the participants. Students who do not pass the comprehensive exam are now given the option of completing a masters degree in genetics. Future Plans: 1. Meetings of the general faculty and students, and their elected leadership are held to address perceived problems and consider suggestions for improving courses, exam formats, and policies of the program. 2. During the internal searches that have been conducted for new leadership in the program,
  4. 4. surveys and individual interviews of faculty have sought to identify both problems and positive points in the graduate program.

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