Sep 27, 2023  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024

Craniofacial Biology (PhD)

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The Doctor of Philosophy degree in Craniofacial Biology focuses on training the next generation of investigators in basic science, clinical and translational biomedical research related to the craniofacial complex. Research and training opportunities span investigations in craniofacial and oral biology, biomineralization, cell biology, clinical trials/experimentation, developmental biology, cytokine biology, biomaterials, tissue engineering, stem cell research, neuroscience, immunology, virology, pathology, microbial molecular genetics, endodontics and periodontology. The goal of this multidisciplinary program is to provide students with the skills to become leaders in oral health and medical research, advanced research scientists able to translate basic findings into diagnostics, treatments and ultimate cures.

The program applies multidisciplinary approaches to understanding the human body as a whole in relation to the craniofacial complex. Faculty mentors represent a diverse group from all points of the globe who have unique backgrounds in a variety of disciplines centered around structures of the craniofacial region. Their objective is advancing oral, dental and craniofacial research toward solving problems in health and promoting the well-being of society.

Course Requirements

A total of 60 units are required for the PhD, including eight didactic courses at the graduate level (500 or above), research (CBY 790), and at least four units of Doctoral Dissertation. The core required CBY courses are CBY 585, CBY 589, INTD 531 and INTD 561. The remaining four elective graduate-level courses must be approved by student’s mentors and the CBY program director. Typically, the mentor will recommend elective courses that amend deficiencies or complement the student’s research project and dissertation. Students must achieve a 3.0 GPA or higher in their course work. Students with a Doctor of Dental Surgery, professional or other advanced degree may be granted waivers for having completed equivalent course work. All courses applied toward the degree must be courses accepted by the Graduate School. PhD students must supplement course work by registering for CBY 790 during the fall, spring and summer semesters as needed to complete the minimum 60 units required for the PhD program. No more than eight units of CBY 794 series may be received or applied toward the degree.

Student Mentorship

Most new students will be assigned to a mentor upon acceptance. Mentors advise and guide new students through the program with the qualifying exam/dissertation committee, once assembled. To facilitate application of multidisciplinary approaches, close and regular contact between faculty mentors, committee members and students is a major theme of this PhD program.

Qualifying Exam Committee

By the second year of study students should select a qualifying exam committee. The qualifying exam committee must include five faculty members who will supervise the student’s education. The student’s mentor will serve as chair of the qualifying exam committee. The committee chair and at least two additional members must have an official appointment in the student’s program. One committee member must be a USC faculty member from outside the program. The graduate program director will be an ex officio member of all qualifying exam committees. The qualifying exam committee will monitor the student’s progress, recommend readings or additional training and determine when the student is ready for the qualifying examination. It is the student’s responsibility to meet with the qualifying exam committee at least once during every semester of each academic year. The results of these formal meetings should be summarized by the student in a written statement and submitted to the program administrator and mentor each semester. 

Screening Procedure

As soon as the student has satisfactorily completed the core courses and selected the qualifying exam committee, a screening meeting with the committee should be called. The screening procedure may consist of an oral examination; the student will outline his research progress and be examined on academic development. The committee may recommend that the student take specific additional course work and that readings in certain areas be completed to remedy deficiencies. A brief report will be given to the student and included in their file. The student will meet with the committee each semester; they shall agree when the student is prepared to take the qualifying examination in the next semester or if the student should resign or be dropped from the program. Passing the screening procedure is a prerequisite to continuation in the program.

Qualifying Examination

The PhD qualifying examination is offered during the fall or spring semesters. A comprehensive written examination will cover specific subject areas of the core curriculum, as well as topics selected by the qualifying exam committee. After successfully completing all parts of the written examination, the student will prepare and submit an original research proposal to the qualifying exam committee which presents, in National Institutes of Health (NIH) format, the student’s proposed dissertation research. If the submitted proposal is acceptable, an oral examination will be conducted. This examination will include a defense of the proposal and could also include material from the written examination and related topics. A student failing any part of the examination may be allowed one additional opportunity to pass that portion, at the discretion of the qualifying exam committee, within the regulations of the Graduate School governing the repetition of qualifying examinations.

It is the student’s responsibility to obtain from the Graduate School the Request for Permission to take the PhD Qualifying Examination form which must be signed by all committee members. This form must be completed 60 days before the qualifying examination.


The doctoral dissertation is to focus upon an original research investigation which reflects the creative scholarly abilities of the candidate and contributes to the general advancement of biological understanding, as well as to an understanding of the theoretical basis of disease and its treatment. The dissertation should demonstrate the student’s ability to undertake independent research through planning, conducting and evaluating experiments.

Defense of the Dissertation

A public, oral examination on a rough or final copy of the dissertation is conducted within one month following submission of the manuscript to the committee. The defense will be held after the dissertation is approved by the student’s dissertation committee.

As part of the requirements for the PhD degree in Craniofacial Biology, students must adhere to the unit/course requirements, qualifying exam (guidance) committee and dissertation committee guidelines and must complete the qualifying examination, dissertation and oral defense as outlined in the sections following the descriptions of the PhD programs.

This program is under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Students should also refer to the Requirements for Graduation section and the Graduate School section of this catalogue for specific regulations.


A total of 60 units are required for the PhD, including eight didactic courses at the graduate level (500 or above),  research courses (CBY 790) and at least four units of 794ab Doctoral Dissertation. No more than 8 units of CBY 794 series may be received or applied toward the degree.The remaining four elective graduate-level courses must be approved by the student’s mentor and the CBY program director, and may be selected from courses offered by any department.  

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