What is graduate school in Genetics like? You'll hopefully look to the fellow members of your cohort for support and camaraderie as you take the same classes, study for exams, apply for outside fellowships, and rotate through 3 or more different labs. Rotations are a key element of the training program, even if you are certain which lab you will join. More senior graduate students will be invaluable resources in helping you choose a lab. By the end of your first year, you will have chosen a major advisor and put together your dissertation advisory committee, consisting of 5 faculty. This is a busy year as you try to balance studying, doing research, perhaps teaching, and finding your way in a new environment. In addition to your own work, you also need to start actively contributing to the intellectual life of the department by attending departmental and student seminars and helping to recruit the next generation of graduate students and faculty.
In the fall of your second year, you will meet with your committee to discuss which additional courses you might take. This is the first of regular annual meetings with your committee. In addition to courses, you will start a research project in your new lab. Starting this year, you will be expected to present your research by giving a student seminar. You will also likely be fulfilling your teaching requirement this year (although this depends on departmental teaching needs). All graduate students must serve as teaching assistants for either GENE 3000 or GENE 3200 for at least one semester of their graduate tenure, regardless of their financial support.
With most of your coursework complete, the third year is often remembered as the time you take your comprehensive exams. Of course, your research should be your primary focus, but all students must pass both a written and oral exam. Writtens are taken in the summer after your second year and orals in the fall of the third year. Writtens take the form of five all-day essay tests, one day for each committee member. Each faculty member will discuss with you the format of his/her exam. Two weeks before the oral exam, the student prepares and distributes to the committee, a written research proposal based on the student’s proposed dissertation research (this will often form the basis for an NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant). On the date of the exam, the student presents the proposal and is questioned by the committee. Once these exams are passed, the student is "admitted to candidacy," and can focus on research.
The final two years of graduate school become increasingly focused on research. Most students obtain enough results early on to display posters or give talks at national scientific meetings and start writing papers. Publications are critical when you start applying for postdocs; another primary occupation of senior graduate students. In order to finish graduate school, each student must write and defend a dissertation by presenting a public seminar and answering pertinent questions during a final committee meeting.