Before the qualifying exam, the doctoral candidate and his or her advisor must assemble a thesis proposal as described below, and convene their committee.
A student's committee must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School prior to the committee's first meeting. (A committee approval form is available on the Graduate School web site). The thesis committee must consist of at least five faculty, including a minimum of three from the Department of Cell Biology (the chair of your committee must be a primary in Cell Biology). Faculty with a secondary appointment in Cell Biology can be counted towards this requirement. The thesis advisor is a member of the thesis committee, but may not be the chair. Most commonly all members of the thesis committee are faculty at Duke University. The goal is to assemble a highly informed and appropriate thesis committee for each student and so faculty at other institutions can be made ad hoc members of the Graduate Faculty for the purpose of serving on a PhD thesis committee. Any exceptions to the rules regarding thesis committee composition must be approved by the DGS and the Graduate School. Students are strongly encouraged to review these requirements, which are detailed on the Graduate School web site.
Sometimes changes in the thesis committee are necessary during the progress of work and before the final exam (thesis defense). These changes must be submitted to the graduate school for approval at least 30 days before the exam.
Thesis Proposal and the Thesis Committee
Note: The thesis proposal is submitted to your committee for the first meeting after you pass the qualifying exam. It may take several months to schedule a meeting date, so start planning early. Deliver your proposal to your committee at least one week before your meeting. Sections A-E should be 10 pages in length, single spaced, one inch margins, 11 pt arial font. Section F is not included in this page limit.
Please write your proposal in an NIH-NRSA format. This means that you will need to include:
B. Specific Aims
This section should consist of a concise summary of the problem you intend to address, a hypothesis, and the aims you plan to use to experimentally address the hypothesis.
C. Background and Significance
This section should provide the background context necessary to understand the problem you are addressing and why you believe the problem and your research are significant.
D. Preliminary Studies
Work that you have completed to date should be included. If you find it necessary to include work done by others, be sure to clarify which is your work, and which is work done by others.
E. Research Design and Methods
This section should include your experimental plan and the specific techniques you intend to use to address it. You may wish to break this into a Methods section, in which you include technical information about how you will obtain reagents and perform experiments, and an Experimental Design section in which you describe the experiments designed to address each of your aims. Alternatively, you may find it easier to include technical information within each Aim. In either case, remember to consider and discuss possible pitfalls, alternative plans, and the conclusions you hope to draw.
F. References Cited in the Proposal
In the Chair office (388 Nanaline Duke), you will find an excellent example of a thesis proposal written by a Cell Biology "mystery" student – you are welcome to take a look at this sample as you are preparing your own proposal.