Standards and Policies

The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics is a component of the University of Virginia School of Medicine and offers a comprehensive personalized program of study that incorporates both didactic and practical training. The Department admits qualified students for work leading to the Doctorate in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. The goal is to instill a thorough knowledge of modern biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, and biophysics, while at the same time awakening the student’s imagination to the diverse and exciting research areas represented by our faculty.

The faculty of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics constitutes the Graduate Program Committee, which oversees all students in the Department. Students typically come to the department following entry through the Biomedical Sciences (BIMS) graduate program but there are other avenues of entry such as the M.D./Ph.D. program. When the student chooses a research mentor from the faculty after the first year, the mentor becomes the chairperson of a Research Committee which guides the student through the remainder of the didactic curriculum and the research project itself. The Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics faculty is dedicated to preparing its students for outstanding careers in academia and industry. A hallmark of the program is one-on-one faculty involvement in the form of individual tutoring, preparations for oral and written presentations, and in-depth and ongoing discussions of research tactics.

BMG Degree Requirements

The backgrounds of students admitted to the program are diverse, and the program attempts to educate all students up to a level of basic understanding in several areas deemed fundamental to modern biochemistry and molecular genetics. In addition, it is hoped that students will become more expert in some area related to their research, thus gaining a measure of confidence. It is likely that most students would have had (or would make up remedially) calculus, physical chemistry, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, genetics, and several courses in biology. They will then be required to satisfy the following departmental requirements:


1) 24 hours (12 credits each semester of first year)

2) BIMS 6000: Core Course in Integrative Biosciences

3) Minimum of two additional modules (4-6 credits total). School of Medicine guidelines require that these two modules must be graded (A to F and not S/U)

4) BIMS 7100: Research Ethics

5) Journal Club (aka Biochemical Literature) and Colloquium (aka Seminar) – attendance is required following mentor selection and for the duration of the student enrollment in the BMG program.

Qualifying Exam

The student will prepare a research proposal and defend it orally before a proposal committee formulated by student with the mentor’s guidance and approved by the BMG Director of Graduate Studies. This exam will be open to the faculty only. The student will be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree upon a satisfactory performance in this exam.

Function: To review the student’s ability to formulate a research problem and to design a research program aimed at elucidating the problem. A general questioning period will be included on subjects determined by the committee.  Since this will generally be the first committee meeting for the student, the committee will meet briefly with the faculty mentor in the absence of the student and then meet with the student in the absence of the mentor.  The information and perspectives shared by both the mentor and the student should be treated as confidential but viewed as a mechanism to enable the committee to parse the respective perspectives in a way that facilitates the student’s development.  If advising beyond the committee is deemed necessary, the mentor or student should be encouraged to meet with the Director of Graduate Studies for additional consultation.

Timing: Must be completed by the beginning (September) of the third academic year. Only special circumstances should modulate this deadline. The proposal is presented to the three-member proposal committee.

Format: The basic elements of a formal faculty research grant proposal should be present. These elements include: Background and Significance; Specific Aims; and Experimental Design and Methods. The format of the following granting agencies would be appropriate: NIH, NSF, ACS, etc. Unlike most faculty grant proposals, there is no requirement for preliminary results or supporting data from the student. The proposal must contain ideas/hypotheses that are new and untested.

Dissertation Defense

BMG requires a minimum of three faculty with primary or secondary appointments in BMG for Advancement to Candidacy examinations and thesis advisory committees. A fourth faculty member who does not have an appointment in BMG is required for the dissertation examination per the requirements of the School of Medicine (below). Furthermore, committees are encouraged (but not required) to include the fourth member in advising and committee meetings well before creation and defense of the written dissertation.

School of Medicine Biomedical Sciences

Completed dissertations must be submitted to the department/program for examination by the dissertation committee. This committee will consist of a minimum of four tenured or tenure-track members of the faculty. One member of the committee will serve as a representative of the School of Medicine to affirm that the student has been assessed fairly and with due rigor. This representative must hold a primary appointment outside of the student’s department/program. This representative may be drawn from the tenured or tenure-track faculty of other graduate schools at the University, but must hold a Ph.D. A Director of Graduate Studies may petition to permit a reader from outside the University who holds a Ph.D. to serve as one of the four core members of the committee by providing the Associate Dean for Graduate and Medical Scientist Programs or the Assistant Dean for Graduate Research and Training with the reader’s CV and a statement regarding the reader’s particular suitability for the committee. This external reader may not serve as the representative of the School of Medicine. Once these minimum requirements have been met, additional committee members from within the University or other institutions may be added.

Academic Progress and Achievement

The BMG program communicates with its students through the email system of the University of Virginia. Each student is required to maintain their University email account in an active state and check it routinely.

1) Courses

a. Overall average of B or better is required.

b. No grades less than B- may count towards necessary credits.

c. Students receiving a failing grade (C or lower) in course work will automatically be suspended from enrollment and ineligible for continued stipend. i.

i: Immediately upon receiving a failing grade, a student may provide extenuating circumstances or other justification to the mentor.

ii. If the mentor concurs, the student and mentor may provide written justification requesting continued enrollment within 7 days of the end of the term to the BMG Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for further consideration.

iii. A special dispensation permitting continued enrollment and/or stipend may be granted after further review by the DGS in conjunction with the BMG admissions committee. Remedial requirements will be stated in written form (hardcopy or electronic) within 10 days of receipt of student’s request.


2) Qualifying Examination form: Program Defense Evaluation Form

a. Students will be evaluated and scored separately on:

i. Written document defense (Pass, Conditional Pass, Fail).

ii. Oral defense (Pass, Conditional Pass, Fail).

iii. Only a pass on BOTH portions of the exam will advance the student to Ph.D Candidacy.

iv. A “conditional pass” requires the examining committee to craft “specific objectives” that the student must fulfill to advance to Candidacy. The student and mentor must acknowledge these conditions which are subject to review by the DGS. A re-examination of EITHER portion of the exam is a common outcome when the committee believes that they can aid the student in their scientific development.

v. Students who fail either portion of the examination are considered to have failed the entire examination, will not be advanced to candidacy, will have their fiscal benefits terminated and will be dismissed from the program. Dismissal from the Ph.D. program is immediate, albeit the stipend may continue for a limited period to facilitate appropriate transfer of experimental protocols, reagents and data from the departing student to other scientists.

b. The DGS will review the outcome within 10 days of the exam, which may additionally be reviewed by the BMG admissions committee at the discretion of the DGS. Extenuating circumstances may be brought to the attention of the entire BMG faculty at the discretion of the DGS and BMG departmental chair.

3) Academic Progress after Advancement to Candidacy

a. Monitoring of academic progress after the advancement to candidacy exam is the purview of the Research (aka graduate/thesis) advisory committee, with input from the DGS. The BMG program requires that this committee meet at least once annually. However, the research advisory committee has the discretion to require more frequent meetings. At these meetings, the committee will hear from the student and his/her mentor about the progress towards completion of the PhD. Criteria for satisfactory academic progress may include:

i. On time scheduling of graduate/thesis advisory committee meetings.

ii. Attendance at/participation in required programmatic activities e.g. seminar, Journal Club, Retreat etc.

iii. Adherence to programmatic policies.

iv. Research progress towards the goals established at prior committee meeting.

b. It is the student’s responsibility to report all committee meetings and attendees to the DGS. If goals/milestones are established for the next meeting, then these should be included for review of the DGS. The goal of documentation is transparency and clear timelines for implementation. The committee may, at its discretion, require a more frequent scheduling of committee meetings. If they do, this becomes the expectation for the student, supplanting the basic programmatic requirement of annual meetings. This report(s) should occur within two weeks of the meeting.

c. In the event that the committee expresses concern about the student’s progress, this will be conveyed orally to the student at the close of the meeting. A written committee report will be prepared and presented to the DGS, as well as the student. This report will include a clear statement that concerns were raised regarding the student’s progress and that this outcome places the student at risk for dismissal from the program due to failure to achieve satisfactory academic progress. The report will summarize the committee’s expectations as well as a timeline for their completion.

d. If a determination is made that the student has not met the expectations established in prior committee reports, the committee may elect to dismiss the student from the program. If so, this outcome will be communicated orally to the student at the conclusion of the meeting. The committee chair will work with the DGS to prepare a final committee report documenting this outcome. This report will be provided to the student within two weeks of the committee meeting.

4) Dissertation Defense

a. Per School of Medicine requirements, students must be enrolled during the semester of their dissertation defense and graduation. It is the student’s responsibility to meet all applicable deadlines. Prolongation of the dissertation defense without adequate demonstration of additional research progress may lead to a shift of financial responsibility for tuition and fees onto the student. Such a shift will be discussed with the student and mentor by the DGS at least 28 calendar days prior to implementation.

b. If the examining committee’s determination is that the student has failed the dissertation defense, they will be dismissed from the BMG Ph.D. program. The DGS will generate a formal letter to notify the student within 10 business days.

5) Written documents for faculty review (qualifying exam, thesis, etc.) must be distributed 10 business days prior to the student’s oral presentation to the faculty. Faculty may opt for electronic documents and/or shorter time periods by unanimous consent.

6) Failure to Comply with Programmatic, School or University Policies:

Graduate students in the BMG program are expected to comply with all applicable University and School of Medicine policies, including but not limited to those governing responsible conduct of research (RCR), safety, student conduct, academics, and the Honor Code. Failure to comply with these policies will immediately place the student at risk of dismissal from the program. Violations will be considered on a case-by-case basis, with the adjudication process dependent on the nature of the violation and the University/School-based procedures in place to handle each.