Jun 21, 2018  
USC Catalogue 2016-2017 
USC Catalogue 2016-2017 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

PhD Programs in Biomedical and Biological Sciences (PIBBS)

Return to: Keck School of Medicine of USC  

Keith Administration Building 409
1975 Zonal Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90089-9031
(323) 442-1609
FAX: (323) 442-1199
Email: pibbs@usc.edu

Program Director: William DePaolo, PhD

The USC PhD Programs in Biomedical and Biological Sciences (PIBBS) is a gateway program into graduate studies at the USC Health Sciences Campus, leading to a PhD degree in a broad range of biological and biomedical disciplines.

PIBBS students experience a common first-year curriculum that will build a solid foundation in biomedical and biological sciences. Students are required to complete 25 units of core classes during the fall, spring and summer semesters of the PIBBS year, including courses in cell biology, molecular biology, human genetics and genomics, biostatistics, bioethics and scientific writing. Students will also complete three research rotations during the first year.

At the end of the spring semester of the first year, students will select a faculty adviser and a specific PhD program from among the four participating programs listed. In the second year, students will take classes that will differ depending on the PhD program they join; second year classes may include, but are not limited to, topics such as biochemistry, epidemiology, stem cell biology, molecular genetics, cancer, human genomics, immunology, and physiology. In addition, each student will complete qualifying examinations for the chosen PhD program and will develop and complete an original research project that will serve as the basis for a doctoral dissertation.

PhD Graduate Programs

Cancer Biology and Genomics
Development, Stem Cells, and Regenerative Medicine
Medical Biology
Molecular Structure and Signaling

PIBBS Admission Requirements

Application Deadline (priority review): December 1

Applicants to PIBBS should have a baccalaureate degree in natural sciences, or sufficient courses in mathematics and the life sciences. This is required to provide a strong background for studies in biomedical and biological research. Appropriate undergraduate degrees include biology, physiology, engineering, chemistry or computer science.

Applicants should have a strong record of academic achievement and satisfactory performance on the general and advanced portions of the GRE. Other requirements for admission include: a detailed statement of purpose as well as three letters of recommendation, one of which should be from a wet laboratory or computational research mentor. Previous research experience is expected. Students are admitted for the academic year in the fall semester. Applicants who are accepted with minor deficiencies are expected to correct these during the first year following enrollment. Although there is no formal application deadline, complete applications received by December 1 will be given priority.

Financial Support

Admitted students are supported by research assistantships or fellowships during their graduate career. Tuition, health insurance and health fees are also covered.

Lab Rotations

During the first year, students register for INTD 790 Research  (4 units in the fall semester and 3 units in the spring semester) and rotate through the labs of three faculty members of the program (potential research advisers). By the first summer of graduate study, but no later than after 12 months in the program, each student is expected to have selected a faculty mentor/research adviser.

PIBBS Required Core Curriculum and Research



Admission Requirements for PhD Programs

Admission to the Keck School of Medicine PhD program is open to all incoming PIBBS students provided all PIBBS admission requirements are met and all first year course and lab rotation requirements have been satisfactorily completed. Students from other sources, such as MD/PhD students and clinician scientists, may also be eligible on a case-by-case basis.

In general, new graduate students apply for admission to USC through the PhD programs in Biomedical and Biological Sciences (PIBBS), and become enrolled in one of four PhD programs at the Keck School of Medicine after the successful completion of the PIBBS year. During the PIBBS year, students must complete the core curriculum of 25 units, maintain a 3.0 grade point average with no grade lower than a C on all courses and must complete three laboratory rotations in order to continue into a PhD program.

Application information is available by contacting the PIBBS Program at pibbs@usc.edu.

Unit/Course Requirements

A minimum of 60 units of graduate course credits is required for the PhD, including course work, seminars, research and dissertation units. No more than 8 units of 794 may be applied toward the PhD degree. Students must complete the first year PIBBS core curriculum as well as course requirements for their specific PhD program. Thirty units of course work, including the PIBBS core curriculum, must be completed before they are considered for the qualifying examination. Additional course work relevant to the research interests of the student may be required by the student's qualifying exam committee or by the student's faculty adviser.

Guidance Committee

After 30 units of course work, which includes the PIBBS core curriculum and course requirements for one of the four PhD programs, the student, in consultation with his/her faculty adviser, will nominate five faculty members to serve on the guidance committee for the qualifying examination. A minimum of three of the faculty must be from the student's PhD program, and one must be a faculty member from outside the PhD program. The chair of the guidance committee must be a member of the student's PhD program and the faculty adviser is not allowed to be on the committee (but may be a silent presence during the exam). These nominations are submitted to the chair of the program for formal appointment.

Qualifying Examination

Students in the PhD program must pass both the written screening and the oral portions of the qualifying examination administered by their guidance committee during the second year of graduate study.

The written screening exam involves writing a research grant proposal. The deadline for completion of the written screening is January 5 of the second year. Students who receive a failing score will be allowed one resubmission, with a deadline of April 5 of the same year. The written portion must be passed before the oral portion can be taken.

The oral examination must be completed no later than September 1 of the beginning of the third year and only after successful completion of the written screening exam. The oral examination consists of two parts. The first part consists of a presentation of the proposed thesis research. The second part consists of an open forum in which the guidance committee asks general questions on any topic related to the student's research.

Final evaluation of the examination is determined by a consensus of the guidance committee. If a student fails, it is at the discretion of the committee to allow the student to repeat the oral examination within 60 days. A second failure will be grounds for dismissal from the program.

Advancement to Candidacy

Recommendation for advancement to candidacy for the PhD degree is made on the basis of the successful completion of the qualifying examination, course requirements and the student's maintenance of at least a 3.0 GPA. A student who has not been recommended for advancement to candidacy at the end of the first semester of the third year will be dismissed from the program.

Annual Research Appraisal (ARA)

After advancing to candidacy, each graduate student presents a progress report to his or her dissertation research committee. Prior to the meeting, the student prepares a short written document describing significant experiments, problems and projected studies. This document is distributed to the committee and is included in the student's file. The ARA meeting is intended to be a working session between the student and his or her committee; experimental results and problems are discussed with this context. In addition the student presents a research plan for the next year of work. A satisfactory ARA is required of every student for each year of residence after the completion of the qualifying exam. A final ARA is required the semester before the student is permitted to defend the dissertation.

Dissertation Committee

After advancement to candidacy, the student must form a dissertation committee, in consultation with their faculty adviser. A minimum of three committee members must be selected, one of which is the faculty adviser, and at least one of which must be a tenured or tenure-track faculty member of the student's PhD program. One committee member may be non-tenure track. The chair of the dissertation committee must be a member of the student's PhD program and may not be the faculty adviser. The dissertation committee is responsible for counseling the student during preparation of the dissertation and conducting the final oral examination during the dissertation defense. Students are expected to meet with the dissertation committee once per year to discuss progress.

Dissertation committee members are expected to read and comment on a dissertation within two weeks from its submission. The student and faculty will coordinate a timeline for the student to present the thesis to the dissertation committee. This timeline must allow all dissertation committee members enough time to fulfill their responsibilities within the four-week deadline.

Dissertation and Oral Defense

The student's research is reported in a dissertation written under the guidance of the dissertation committee. The dissertation must demonstrate the student's capacity for independent research, scholarly achievement and technical mastery of a special field. Students should have at least one first author publication accepted in a peerreviewed journal before the defense.

When the final draft of the dissertation is ready, the student will take the final oral defense. Students must submit their dissertation to the dissertation committee at least one month before the student expects to make final revisions; committee members are expected to respond within two weeks.

The dissertation defense is a formal public presentation of the student's research before the program faculty and students. Dissertation defenses must be publicized at least two weeks prior to the oral defense.

All doctoral candidates must be registered in 794 Doctoral Dissertation each semester (excluding summer sessions) from the time of their advancement to candidacy until their dissertation is approved and submitted to the Graduate School.


Doctoral Degree