Graduate Student Handbook

The Microbiology Graduate Program is designed to provide students with opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to embark on careers as independent microbiologists.  Features of the program include instruction on various aspects of microbiology, oral and written communication, laboratory techniques, teaching and research skills and professional working practices.  A major feature of the program is the production of a doctoral dissertation or a master’s thesis that satisfies the University’s and Department’s criteria.  The University’s regulations summarize these as follows:

“The dissertation [or thesis] in its completed form will be judged largely upon the ability of the candidate to review and make critical use of the literature; to formulate a problem, plan a method of attack and work systematically towards a solution; to summarize the material or data, and draw conclusions based thereon.  Scholastic attainment in writing and presenting the results of the study will be crucial.  The goal of the dissertation [or thesis] is to make a contribution to knowledge.  It should be of publishable quality.”

This Graduate Student Handbook describes the policies, requirements and guidelines for the Graduate Program in Microbiology and has been formally agreed upon by the faculty of the Department.  This handbook constitutes a contract between the student and the faculty when the student enters the Graduate Program (acceptance of offer), and that handbook edition applies for the duration of the Graduate Student's tenure at the Department.  The Microbiology Graduate Program operates within the University’s regulations as described in the Graduate School Bulletin and the Graduate Student Handbook.  These publications are issued by the Graduate School and the Graduate Dean’s Office, respectively, and students are expected to be familiar with relevant regulations.  The Department’s Graduate Program Director (GPD) is also available for consultation concerning any aspect of the program.

Laboratory and Fire Safety Training

Laboratory and Fire Safety Training is required for faculty, staff, and students, graduates and undergraduates, post-doctorates and visiting scholars before initial assignment to a laboratory.  This requirement can be satisfied by attending a two-hour seminar.  This seminar includes one hour of Laboratory Safety Training, one-half hour of Hazardous Waste and one-half hour of Fire Safety Training.  Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) will schedule at least one session monthly.  Check the EH&S Laboratory and Fire Safety Training Schedule for upcoming times and locations.  Fire and safety training has to be updated annually in an online session provided by EH&S.

Faculty Advisor and Laboratory Rotations

For incoming PhD students who are supported on a teaching assistantship for their first year, two rotations are mandatory for the first two full semesters.  A listing of currently offered rotation projects is provided to all students prior to the semester and includes both research themes and associated techniques for each rotation.  A rotation project lasts for one semester.  A third rotation is optional.  Rotations are taken for credit and will be graded.  

At the time of first registration, a member of the faculty is assigned as rotation advisor for each PhD student by the GPD after a discussion with the students.  Rotations provide first-semester students exposure to the different research groups to determine favored areas of research and compatibility with advisor and research group.  We encourage students to consider rotating through 2 or 3 laboratories before deciding who their PhD advisor will be.  Rotation students should join a lab by the end of their final rotation and are encouraged to seek a lab with research funding support.  The advisor must be a member of the Department of Microbiology, although adjunct professors may serve as advisors.  Adjunct professors are not guaranteed TA support by the Department of Microbiology.  Should the student change dissertation advisor, the new advisor becomes the faculty advisor for the student, and a new research program is begun.

Financial Support and Conditions of Employment

PhD students are normally admitted to the Microbiology Graduate Program only if they have financial support as approved by the Department.  For most students, this support takes the form of an assistantship provided by the Department, and in general we support all PhD students on an assistantship.  Initially such support is in the form of a teaching assistantship, then later in the program students are typically supported on research assistantships provided by faculty research grants or contracts.  Some students are supported by external sources, such as government scholarships, foundation stipends, or by assistantships from other University-based sources outside the Department.  The selection of research assistant appointments, terms of contract, and other details of such appointments fall entirely within the purview of the faculty member who is the principal investigator on the grant, subject to Department and University regulations.

PhD students appointed as teaching or research assistants may not, in general, accept concurrent employment elsewhere.  Exceptions must be approved by both the GPD and the dissertation advisor prior to acceptance of any other type of employment.  Concurrent employment is strongly discouraged by the Department, and students should note that there are University regulations governing the number of hours that a student may work (see the University’s Graduate Student Handbook).  Students appointed as teaching or research assistants are governed by the conditions of the agreement between the University and the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO).  Teaching assistant appointments include the January intersession period.  Details of public holidays, personal leave, and vacation entitlement can be found in the Graduate Appointment Policies and Procedures document issued by the Graduate School.

Prior to conducting any work in a research laboratory, PhD and master's students must undergo safety training as prescribed by the University’s Environmental Health and Safety Office and provide documentary evidence of the satisfactory completion of this training.

All students are required to have an OIT Email account, even if they already have an account created with our department. The OIT account must be activated to enable registration via SPIRE, however students may forward all email messages from the OIT account to an account that they use regularly.  The OIT account allows the Graduate School to send official email notices to all students.

Qualifications for Teaching Assistantships

Graduate teaching assistantships are an important component of our doctoral graduate education process.  They provide the student with valuable experience as an instructor at the collegiate level and develop in them organizational, speaking, and technical skills. Furthermore, assistantships provide the student with the financial means necessary for them to attend graduate school.  The teaching assistant (TA) and the faculty charged with responsibility of the course will sign the TA Agreement Form, in which types of TA duties, % effort, and meeting times are described, and submit the form to GPD no later than one week after classes begin. At the end of the semester, the TA will receive the TA Feedback Form, which will be signed by both parties and submitted to GPD no later than one week after grades are due. The following are guidelines for awarding teaching assistantships.

  • All new students in our PhD program funded by a teaching assistantship are recruited into the Department and not to a specific faculty member.  Each student will generally qualify for two semesters as a teaching assistant as long as their performance is sufficient during their first teaching semester.  They will also be supported by the Department to work with a faculty member during the summer following their first academic year.
  • Faculty advising students who need a reappointment beyond two semesters should notify the Department Head by February 1.       
  • All doctoral graduate students in our program are required to teach one semester with financial support for that semester.  However, students may be required to teach two semesters in one year to satisfy a full academic year teaching contract unless other arrangements can be made.  Note that this does not include Master’s level graduate students (regular, 5th-year Master’s, and AMB). If a Master’s student in our Microbiology graduate program teaches one of more semesters and later becomes a PhD student in our program, the teaching during the Master's education can be used to fulfill this requirement.
  • The criteria for teaching assistantship reappointment will include a minimum overall GPA of at least 3.0, satisfactory performance and progress reports from the rotation advisors and course instructors who supervised the student, length of time on teaching assistantship, and length of time in the degree program.
  • In general, we support all students in our PhD program on a teaching assistantship or a research assistantship. To qualify for consideration of additional teaching assistantship support after two semesters of teaching, the faculty advisor and graduate student should demonstrate that a serious effort has been made to obtain alternative funding.  If a suitable effort has not been made to obtain funding, then the student should transfer to an alternate laboratory where research funding is available or consider leaving the program.
  • Graduate teaching assistantships will generally be awarded for an academic year (i.e., fall and spring semesters).
  • In general, teaching assistantships, whether awarded to one of our current students or a new recruit, should not be considered renewable unless extenuating circumstances can be justified.  Examples include a shortfall of students to meet our teaching needs or a short-term lapse in research funding on the part of a faculty member.

The Department Head is responsible for assigning teaching assistantships to specific courses in consultation with GPD and the director of Microbiology Teaching Services.  Consideration will be given to the special needs of the instructor and qualifications of the student when appropriate.

Course Requirements for All Graduate Students

All graduate students are required to register for the graduate seminar course MICROBIO 791A, which is a one-credit course offered every semester. To maintain consistency in running this seminar course, we will use the same course syllabus approved by the Graduate Steering Committee every semester. The details of the course structure and expectations are provided in the syllabus.

Students are strongly encouraged to enroll in a journal club each semester after their first year

A student must take at least 9 credits per semester in order to maintain full-time status (see list of graduate-level Microbiology courses).  Degree candidates may be considered full-time regardless of the number of credits for which they register, provided the GPD approves the enrollment status override and certifies that they are working full-time on research. Students in the AMB program are not eligible for an enrollment status override. Credits transferred from another institution cannot be used to satisfy the University's requirement for graded credits nor the 600-800 course level requirement.  With the exceptions of students enrolled in accelerated Master’s programs (see below), graduate courses which have been applied toward any baccalaureate or advanced degree may not be used for fulfilling requirements for any other master's degree at the University. 

Master's Program

Orientation and General Guidance

The students are offered to attend an orientation meeting with the GPD during the first two weeks of each academic year. The GPD will provide information on degree requirements and timeline to complete the program. Attending this annual meeting is a requirement for students to access the Departmental Travel Funds. In addition to this formal orientation, the GPD is always available throughout the year for additional guidance as needed.

Credit Requirements

A minimum of 30 graduate credits and completion of a graduate research project are required for a master’s degree.  Twenty-one credits must be in the student’s major field and a minimum of one-half of the total required credits must be on a letter-graded basis.  Any portion of the remaining credits may be graded satisfactory subject to prior approval by the department.  Students must fill out the Master’s Degree Eligibility Form and obtain the appropriate signatures prior to receiving the degree.  Students must check with the Graduate School for deadline dates.

Master's students who write a thesis cannot count more than 10 thesis credits (MICROBIO 699) toward the Master’s degree.  The number of Independent Study credits is limited to 6 for the duration of the Master’s program.  Excluding thesis credits, graduate students must earn an additional 6 credits in the 600-800 course level range.  Graduate students who do not write a Master’s thesis (e.g., 5th year Master’s students) must earn a minimum of 12 credits in the 600-800 course level range.

Students enrolled in the fifth year (4+1) Master’s program are expected to complete the program in a 12 to 15-month period. Of 30 total credits, this program requires a minimum of 21 credits in microbiology, with a minimum of 12 credits in the 600-800 course series. Students usually take the non-thesis option though they may choose to take the thesis option with the permission of the student’s advisor. With the approval of the GPD, up to 12 credits from 500- or higher-level lecture courses may be transferred to the Master's degree. See the Graduate School policy on Credit Requirements and Credit Transfer for details.

Course Requirements

All Master’s students must take at least one 500- or higher-level lecture course (3 credits) that is relevant to the student’s research area. Transferred credits cannot satisfy this requirement.

Research Requirements

All students are required to form a research advisory committee and hold the first meeting by the end of September (for fifth year Master’s program students) or December (for traditional two-year Master’s program students). This is a requirement for students to access the Departmental Travel Funds. The committee should consist of the student’s advisor and two additional members of the Microbiology Graduate Faculty. All members should have at least an adjunct status within the department. Prior to the first meeting, students submit a one-page outline of their research plan to the committee members. During the meeting, students should provide preliminary data that support their research plan, but the discussion should focus on the specific aims of the proposed research and feasibility of the approaches.

During the final semester, non-thesis option students must undergo a general examination on their research topic.  The examination will be conducted by the research advisory committee.

For thesis option students, the research advisory committee will become their thesis committee.  A thesis committee has been officially constituted when the Graduate Dean sends formal notification of its formation to all members, the GPD and the student.  A thesis option master’s candidate must prepare a suitable thesis outline to be approved and signed on the cover sheet by each member of the approved thesis committee and the GPD or Department Head.  The signed copy of the thesis outline is forwarded to the Graduate Records Office for inclusion in the candidate’s file at least 4 months prior to the date that the thesis defense is scheduled.  The thesis must be typed in the format prescribed by the Graduate School.  The thesis must be approved and signed by all members of the thesis committee and the Department Head.  Master’s Thesis is submitted electronically through the University of Massachusetts Amherst ScholarWorks.  For complete information on Graduate School requirements for preparing and submitting the thesis  electronically, refer to the Graduate School document Master's Degree Requirements and Thesis Information.

Applied and Molecular Biotechnology Master's Program

For the Applied Molecular Biotechnology (AMB) program, we require the following courses for the 30 graduate credits:
•    AMB Laboratory (MICROBIO 681F, 5 credits, Fall)
•    AMB Laboratory (MICROBIO 681S, 5 credits, Spring)
•    Advanced Topics in Biotechnology (MICROBIO 557, 3 credits, Fall)
•    Elective course at 500 or 600 level relevant to molecular biotechnology with the permission of the program director (3 credits, Fall)
•    Advanced Topics in Biochemistry (MICROBIO 597D, 3 credits, Spring)
•    Concepts in Molecular Genetics (MICROBIO 685, 3 credits, Spring)
•    Departmental Seminar (MICROBIO 791A, 1 credit, both Fall and Spring)
•    AMB Practicum (MICROBIO 698, 6 credits, Summer)

These courses may be taken in a differing order, but over no more than 4-year time. With the approval of the program director, up to 6 UMass Amherst undergraduate credits from 500- or higher-level lecture courses may be transferred to the AMB Master's degree. See the Graduate School policy on Credit Requirements and Credit Transfer for details.

Ph.D. Program


In their first two years, students will typically take two instructional courses with an emphasis on qualification courses (see below).  All graduate students are required to register for the Graduate Seminar course and give one presentation to the Department each academic year starting in the second year and excluding the year of the final defense.  The remaining credits are filled with independent study.  This latter course typically ranges between 3 and 5 credits per semester and is arranged between the student and their research advisor for that semester.  Registration for Independent Study requires the signature of the advisor on a Course Override Form available in the main office.
The Graduate School requires no minimum number of credits for the doctoral program, with the exception of dissertation credits.  However, we recommend that all graduate students meet the credit requirements for the Master’s degree in case a student leaves the program with a Master’s degree.  A doctoral candidate must have 18 dissertation credits to receive the Ph.D. degree.  Dissertation credits are taken by the candidate only after the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination has been passed.

  • Full-Time Status:  enrollment in nine or more credits
  • Half-Time Status:  enrollment in six to eight credits
  • Part-Time Status:  enrollment in five or fewer credits, and those registering for Continuous Enrollment (i.e., paying Program Fee)

** Note that audited and dropped courses cannot be included in status calculations.

Student Status

Students enrolled in the Ph.D. program are considered doctoral students.  Candidacy is recommended for doctoral students by the Department upon satisfactory completion of both, coursework and passing the Preliminary Examination. After the Preliminary Examination students enrolled in the Ph.D. program are considered doctoral candidates, and thus eligible to receive the degree of Ph.D.

Preliminary Comprehensive Examination

The Graduate School requires the successful completion of the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination (i.e., the prelim exam) prior to continuation onto the Doctoral Program. Each department establishes its own criteria for the examination. In Microbiology, the exam is given between May and July of the student’s second academic year. Each student must successfully demonstrate the following in order to proceed in the Ph.D. program:

  • Qualification to continue with the Written and Oral Examination: Proficiency in three areas of microbiology (qualification in three core courses).
  • Written and Oral Examination: The ability to propose a novel and important research project in microbiology and adequately describe and defend the means by which this project would be conducted and completed.

Qualification in Three Core Courses

In order to proceed onto the doctoral program, each graduate student must qualify in three core courses relevant to the microbiology discipline. The curriculum is developed by each student in consultation with the Guidance Committee (see below) prior to the beginning of the Fall semester of the first year. During the subsequent semesters, students may seek approval from the Guidance Committee to amend the curriculum plan as needed. These three courses include the following:

  • MICROBIO 680 (required)
  • MICROBIO 685 (required)
  • A third 500/600-level lecture course relevant to microbiology. A MICROBIO course is encouraged, but not required

The role of the Guidance Committee is to ensure that the student's curriculum is well balanced and adequate for preparing the student for thesis research.

Some courses are offered every 2 years so students should plan accordingly. Students are expected to qualify in their three microbiology courses by the end of the spring semester of their second year, although exceptions can be made if the student receives permission from the GPD or the Department Head. Requirements for the qualification vary with the instructors. With the approval of the Graduate Steering Committee and the instructor of the course, certain highly intensive 500/600-level laboratory courses can count as a qualifying course. If a non-MICROBIO course is to be taken as a qualifying course, the course must first be approved by the Graduate Steering Committee. For non-MICROBIO courses, the minimum grade of B is required for them to be used as a qualification unless otherwise arranged by the Graduate Steering Committee.

Guidance Committee

The students are offered an informal and brief guidance meeting with the Guidance Committee annually prior to the beginning of each academic year. The Guidance Committee will be formed by the Graduate Steering Committee for each new student prior to the beginning of the first year. This committee consists of the GPD and two additional faculty members. For the second and subsequent years, the student's thesis advisor is expected to join the meeting as well. About one week prior to the first meeting, new graduate students will provide the GPD with a one-page sheet indicating background, interests, research and other plans, and course choices. Similarly, about one week prior to the second and subsequent meetings, students will provide the GPD with a progress report for the previous one year and plans for the new year. Having this annual meeting is a requirement for students to access the Departmental Travel Funds.

Written and Oral Examination

The exam will be administered by a committee composed of three Microbiology faculty members or current adjunct faculty members trained in microbiology. The committee members will be selected by the Steering Committee. The student’s advisor may not serve on their committee but may attend the exam as a quiet observer. The three committee members generally represent the research interests and expertise of the student and the areas of microbiology in which they choose to be examined. The student and the advisor initially provide a list of first and second choice for committee members, and the Steering Committee will then select from that list trying to enable first choices, a match with the three core areas, and the current committee service load of faculty. The Steering Committee will select a chairperson from among the three committee members. The chair will be the primary contact for the student, select the exam date in consultation with the student, the student’s advisor, and other committee members, and write a brief summary of the exam and report the findings of the committee to the GPD and the departmental assistant. The departmental assistant will forward a memo to the Graduate School that the student has passed the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination.

The exam has both written and oral components. The written portion culminates into a research proposal that is accomplished in stages so that the student’s committee can monitor the progress of the student (Table 1). During the second half of January the student will submit a 300-word abstract of the topic of the intended research proposal to the GPD together with suggestions for preferred committee members (1st and 2nd choices). On the same form, the student will also explain how distinct their proposed research will be from the specific research by their advisor to demonstrate originality in thinking. By early to mid-February the GPD will have a committee established, and the abstract and the originality statement will be approved by the three committee members and the GPD. By February 15, the GPD announces the composition of the final Preliminary Comprehensive Examination Committee in a memo to the student candidate and committee members. The Committee chair should select the examination date by March 15. Students will now prepare their proposal for submission two weeks prior to their examination date. The student’s advisor will allow sufficient time for the preparation of a research proposal. The oral part of the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination will be held between May and July of this year, but preferably before the faculty’s nine-month appointment ends. This entire process will be accompanied by a linear checklist that will reside with the GPD.

Students are encouraged to discuss with their committee members (1) what they expect for the oral examination, and (2) the outline of their proposal prior to its submission. Individual committee members will provide a review of the proposal and advice prior to the examination. As a minimum, the committee member has to approve the one-page summary of the proposed project prior to the submission of the full proposal. If a student has already qualified in two core courses but must postpone qualification in the third core course to the following Spring semester due to scheduling conflicts, the preliminary examination can be held prior to completion of the third core qualification with the consent of all three committee members and the GPD.

Description of the Examination Process

The written portion of the examination will consist of a research proposal that meets the following criteria:

  • Students propose research that is related to their own research projects but must be distinct from the specific research proposed by their advisor to demonstrate originality in thinking. An example would be that a student develops hypotheses that are in support of the current research project of the advisor but can exist by themselves to produce a novel research project. That could also include the same system (E.g., soil, insect vector). Students should seek the advice of the committee members for their proposal, but their involvement must ensure that the proposal’s originality belongs to the student.
  • The work proposed should be original and reasonably performed by three researchers over a three-year period.
  • The proposal format should follow that of a typical NSF/NIH proposal and should not exceed 12 pages including figures (but not references). It should contain the following sections:
    • One-page summary of proposed project that is non-technical, introduces the topic and states the major objectives, how they will be accomplished and the relevance of the results to the field.
    • Introduction
    • Specific objectives or aims of the proposal
    • Expected significance
    • Research design and methods to be used, including alternative research plans in case the proposed outcome is not achieved.

Students should consult the NSF and NIH proposal guidelines for more details and request outside help (not from committee members) prior and during the writing of their proposal to discuss their topic. Preliminary results from laboratory research may be used in the proposal to demonstrate the technical capabilities of the student. Students must submit their proposal to their committee two weeks prior to their anticipated oral examination, but it is highly recommended that the graduate student engages in proposal related discussions with committee members prior to this date.

The oral portion of the examination will consist of an oral presentation by the student that briefly summarizes the goals, methods, and expected results of the proposal followed by a question-and answer period involving the student and the committee. Questions from the committee will focus primarily on the proposal from the student but may also include questions that expand into the student’s core areas of study if they are related to the proposal. The advisor can witness the preliminary exam but only as a silent member. It is highly recommended that the students practice by preparing a test run of their proposal presentation in front of their peers. Participation of committee members is not allowed in a pre-examination presentation.

Findings of the Committee

At the conclusion of the oral exam, the committee will make one of the following recommendations:

  • Pass: the student has successfully completed all aspects of the examination.
  • Re-examination: the committee has found that the student has not completed some aspect(s) of the exam in a satisfactory manner and the student will need to retake the exam. The committee will make recommendations on how the student should prepare themselves for areas in which they were not proficient (e.g., course work, reading material, etc.). A re-examination will be more stringent than the initial examination.
  • Fail: the student has not completed the exam successfully and is not given the option of retaking it.

If the student is given the option of re-examination, then they will have one more opportunity to satisfactorily complete the examination as recommended by the committee. This must be done within six months from the date of their first exam unless granted permission by their committee. If the student does not pass the exam on their second attempt, then they will have until the end of that academic semester or up to six months to complete work within the Department. This will be decided upon by the student, their advisor, the GPD and the Department Head. If the comprehensive exam is the last item prior to candidacy, the candidacy form will suffice to alert the Graduate School that the student has passed the exam.

A Linear Timeline of the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination

3 core courses, one per semester Qualification to participate in the written and oral parts of the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination
End of 2nd Fall Semester GPD requests an abstract of the proposal idea (300 words) and suggestions for three committee members
2nd half of January Student submits proposal abstract and suggestions for committee members (1st and 2nd choice) to the GPD. In this abstract, the student will also explain how the proposed research differs from that of the PI. The PI will sign the abstract before submission to the GPD
1st half of February GPD will have a committee established, and the abstract will be approved by the three committee members and the GPD
February 15 GPD announces committee members in a memo to student candidate and committee members
February 15 - Student prepares proposal and meets with members of the examination committee.
By May 31 Preliminary Examination for all candidates. Proposal submission to committee members 14 days prior to examination date. If this deadline is met the student is eligible for travel support by the department.


Doctoral Dissertation Committee and Prospectus

Upon successful completion of the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination, the Doctoral Dissertation Committee is appointed by the Graduate Dean upon nomination and recommendation by the GPD or Department Head.  The Committee is composed of at least four graduate faculty members: the chairperson – a member of the Department, two additional members from the Department of Microbiology, and one member from “outside” the candidate’s department or program, who has Graduate Faculty Status.  Adjunct faculty members in the Department of Microbiology can serve as the chair of the dissertation committee.  The committee has been officially constituted when the Graduate Dean sends formal notification of its formation to each committee member, the GPD, and to the graduate candidate.  Members of the Dissertation Committee must agree to not only assist in the supervision of the dissertation project, but also conduct the Final Oral Examination.  Selection of the committee is a matter of “academic judgment” which should be made by the GPD, the Department Head and/or the advisor, and approved by the Graduate Dean.  Candidates should be reminded that most of the faculty are on nine-month contracts and should not necessarily assume that committee members will be available during the summer months.  While not recommended, it is acceptable to have a Dissertation committee member participate via video conference.

After successful completion of the preliminary examination, Graduate students become dissertation candidates.  Candidates are required to meet with their Dissertation Committee at least once within a 12-month period.  It is highly recommended that the candidate prepares the first committee meeting with the dissertation committee shortly after the preliminary examination i.e., within less than a 12-month period (we recommend after six months).  In the meeting with the dissertation committee the candidate is encouraged to outline his or her dissertation progress and show a timetable of ongoing and future work needed to complete the dissertation.  The purpose of the committee in these meetings is to provide guidance and feedback on the candidate’s research and Department requirements (i.e., publication requirement, residency requirement) towards the completion of his or her dissertation (see Appendix 2 for additional advice).  Failure to hold the annual dissertation committee meeting might jeopardize the travel support provided to candidates by the Department.

After passing the Preliminary Comprehensive Examination, the graduate degree candidate must prepare a dissertation prospectus describing the research to be conducted, analyzed, and presented in the dissertation.  The cover sheet must be signed by each member of the Dissertation Committee to indicate approval of the topic and its plan of execution.  The GPD or Department Head signs and forwards the prospectus to the Graduate Records Office.  A copy of the signed cover sheet must be submitted to the Department of Microbiology Office.  The Graduate School requires that this copy must be received at least 7 months prior to the Final Oral Examination.  However, the Department of Microbiology strongly encourages candidates to complete their prospectus by the end of their third year.

Description of the Prospectus Process

The Prospectus process has both written and oral components.  The written portion will follow the format of a NIH or NSF proposal. The page limit should be discussed in agreement with all members of the Dissertation Committee. The candidates should also contact individual committee members about what additional items they request for the Prospectus.  In general, the written prospectus should include:

  • A one-page summary of the dissertation project that introduces the topic, the overall goal of the project, and states the specific aims of the dissertation and the relevance of the results to the field.
  • The research design and methods to be used.
  • Preliminary results and their interpretation that demonstrate the feasibility of the project.
  • Future experiments necessary to complete the project.
  • Literature relevant to the prospectus text.
  • A list of publication titles proposed as the outcome of this research.
  • A detailed research plan and timeline of events leading to the completion of the dissertation.

It is essential that the proposed research will be performed primarily by the candidate.  The Prospectus should be reviewed by and discussed with the candidate’s advisor prior to submission to the Dissertation Committee.  The Prospectus should be distributed to the candidate’s committee at least 2 weeks prior to their anticipated meeting.  The Prospectus is a formal summary of existing and proposed research, and not an examination.  It is either approved or not approved by the Dissertation Committee.  The result of the Prospectus Defense is forwarded to the Graduate Records Office directly following the approval by the Dissertation Committee.

Residency Requirement

A doctoral candidate, a student who successfully passed the preliminary comprehensive exam, must fulfill the Residency Requirement.  The Graduate School's residency requirement is fulfilled by taking two consecutive semesters of full-time enrollment in residence at the University. The residency year must be either in a Fall/Spring or Spring/Fall sequence. During this year, the student must spend some part of each week physically on campus. Doctoral students enrolled in recognized off-campus programs may satisfy this regulation at their off-campus site.  The Doctoral Residency Requirement is based on the expectation that degree recipients should at some point have a significant interaction with members of the graduate faculty of their program.

Publication Requirement

The Department of Microbiology requires that the candidate has at least one first-authored manuscript published or ‘in press’ in a professional peer-reviewed journal from their dissertation research prior to the scheduling of the candidate’s Final Oral Examination.  Authorship decisions will follow the criteria for authorship credit of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.  To be included in the list of authors a contributor’s involvement must meet the following three conditions: (a) Concept and design, or analysis and interpretation of data, (b) Drafting or critical revision for important intellectual content, (c) Final approval of the version to be published.

Final Oral Examination

The oral examination will be in two parts: a seminar presenting the dissertation research results to the campus at large followed by a closed session with members of the dissertation committee.  All Final Oral Examinations/Dissertation Defenses must be announced in the weekly bulletin of the UMass Website to allow interested graduate faculty and others to attend.  The Office of Degree Requirements must receive written notification of the scheduling of a Final Oral Examination at least 4 weeks prior to the date of the defense.  An examination cannot be held unless it has been publicly announced.  Members of the Dissertation Committee should receive the dissertation two weeks before the oral examination day. The examination must be held on the Amherst campus.  All members of the Dissertation Committee must be present at the defense.  Following the public presentation of the dissertation, the candidate will meet in closed session with the members of their committee to answer questions related to the dissertation.  Normally both parts of the Final Oral Examination will take place on the same day.  The result of the Final Oral Examination is forwarded to the Graduate Records Office directly following the examination.


All dissertations must be submitted electronically.  The dissertation must be typed in a prescribed style and format.  The dissertation must be approved and signed by all members of the dissertation committee and the Department Head.  The Graduate School is the final and only arbitrator of what is an acceptable dissertation.  For complete information on Graduate School requirements for preparing and submitting the thesis electronically, please refer to the Graduate School document Doctoral Degree Requirements and Dissertation Information.

Remaining in Good Standing within the Program

The University and the Department believe that the primary responsibility for successful completion of the degree lies with the candidate.  All candidates are expected to advance towards their degree as expeditiously as possible while maintaining academic excellence.  They are expected to pursue research-related activities year-round.  Progress is monitored by the GPD in consultation with the candidate’s advisor and their committee.  Graduate candidates who are not making satisfactory or reasonable progress toward the completion of their degree program are subject to termination.

Satisfactory progress to remain in good standing within the graduate program includes a) maintaining a grade point average greater than or equal to 3.0, b) completion of the various requirements of the program by their deadlines (details of which are herein), and c) maintenance of continued progress in research.  Failure to make satisfactory progress may, depending on the circumstances, result in transferal from the Ph.D. to M.S. program or termination of studies.  Upon the recommendation of the GPD and the approval of the Dean of the Graduate School, candidates will be notified of any formal termination by the Graduate School.

The statute of limitation for doctoral candidates is six years for students joining the Graduate Program with a Bachelor's degree, and four years for students joining the Graduate Program with a related Master's degree.  For new doctoral students starting in Summer 2009 or later, the statute of limitation is set at six years prior to achieving candidacy and five years once candidacy is achieved. Candidacy is recommended upon satisfactory completion of coursework and passing the Preliminary Examination. In the rare event that an extension is necessary, extensions of the statute of limitation will be decided by the GPD and the Department Head, and two-year extensions will be considered upon recommendation submitted to the Graduate School by the GPD.