The biological sciences graduate program offers a research based Ph.D. degree. Students are expected to have demonstrated academic excellence in both the classroom and the laboratory, and should have an undergraduate background in a biology-related discipline, but a M.S. degree is not required for admission into our Ph.D. program.
The major endeavor of any student is the research that culminates in a dissertation or thesis. This research must be original and meet the highest standards of quality and thoroughness. The breadth of the department provides a diversity of research fields from which to choose. To help in determining the best fit of student and mentor, first-year students do three laboratory rotations. During the rotations, students are temporary members of the laboratories whose research appears to be of greatest interest to them. Before the end of the student's second semester, an advisor who guides both research and selection of coursework is chosen by mutual agreement between faculty and student. The relatively small size of the research groups in this department allows students to interact closely with the faculty. Manuscripts arising from dissertation research are published in highly-respected peer reviewed journals.
The program has a diverse range of research emphasis groups: Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology; Genetics and Molecular Biology; Microbiology and Ecology; and Neurophysiology and Physiology. In some cases, students select research projects that include more than one of these fields of study.
Biochemistry. Several labs are taking molecular and structural approaches to study key metabolic enzymes and oligomeric protein complexes in prokaryotic and eukaryotic systems. These approaches include protein engineering, enzyme kinetic studies, X-ray crystallography and protein complex composition analysis to determine the function and regulation of key enzymes involved in diverse cellular processes such as gene expression, motility and central metabolism.
Cell and Developmental Biology. The cell is the fundamental unit of organization in living organisms. Cell biologists seek to elucidate the principles whereby cells are organized structurally and functionally. Developmental biologists discover how cells differentiate, communicate and associate with one another over time in the development of an organism. The Cell and Developmental biologists at Marquette are a highly interactive group. We use diverse approaches including genetics, molecular biology, bioinformatics and imaging, to investigate cellular and developmental processes in a wide variety of model organisms such as C. elegans, Drosophila, Arabidopsis, Chlamydomonas and yeast. Specific research topics include analysis of cell motility, extracellular matrix development, mitochondrial biogenesis, and the timing plant flowering.
Genetics and Molecular Biology. This emphasis group offers a comprehensive training in techniques used in molecular biology and genetics. You can expect to clone and express genes in organisms to study protein function, test gene expression using real-time PCR and/or microarray analysis. From classical Mendelian genetics to reverse genetics, students choosing an advisor in genetics will learn the fundamentals of gene duplication, segregation and maintenance. You can expect to obtain a good understanding of how genes are manipulated in organisms at a genomic level in order to determine gene/protein function. Specific areas of research in this emphasis group include epigenetic regulation of gene expression, DNA rearrangement, microRNA biology, mRNA splicing, and tRNA biology.
Microbiology. In this research group we want students to learn in depth how microbes function as organisms. Microbes have unique properties that allow a single cell to propagate autonomously and perform activities that higher organisms are incapable of. However, students learn that in nature a microbial cell is almost always interacting with other cells and organisms. Symbiosis is a particular research emphasis, but so are a range of other less intimate associations. Students come to appreciate how microbes cope with diverse, often seemingly harsh, habitats and how they have tremendous effects on their immediate environments and the entire globe. In order to perform research in this area, students receive training in molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics, as well as specific training in microbiology.
Neurophysiology and Physiology. The primary focus of this emphasis group is on muscle, nerve, and epithelial physiology with formal course work in these disciplines emphasizing molecular, cellular, and systemic physiology. The goal is for our students to obtain an in depth knowledge base in physiology while appreciating and being able to incorporate molecular techniques into their research programs. Students will learn whole organ and single cell physiology techniques. Areas of current interest include osmoregulation, epithelial transport, ion channel structure and function, smooth, skeletal, and heart muscle physiology, neurobiology of locomotion, signal transduction, cell motility, energetics, and exercise physiology.
Course selection is individually tailored to the student's specific career goals and prior academic background. Upon joining the program, each student consults with an advisor who considers the student's interests and undergraduate coursework and helps chart the first year of study. Once a student has a formal research advisor, the student's course of study is guided by a Ph.D. or M.S. advisory committee chosen by the student and the research advisor. In addition to the graduate courses, students may select upper-level undergraduate courses. Important in every student's program are the seminar courses, in which small groups of students and faculty examine in depth the current literature on specific topics of widespread interest. Besides the courses available at Marquette University, students may enroll in courses offered at other nearby graduate institutions.
Undergraduate education is a very important activity of the research faculty at Marquette. Every graduate student gains experience in this endeavor by observing and by participating first-hand as a teaching assistant for at least two semesters. Recognizing that college teaching is often a major activity of Ph.D. graduates, yet traditionally one neglected in graduate training, the Marquette Graduate School participates in an innovative instructional program entitled “Preparing Future Faculty” for graduate students interested in teaching careers. Several graduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences have been very active participants in this program. Some of our graduates have sought faculty positions at liberal arts colleges directly upon graduation and have been remarkably successful.
Students participate in one or more journal clubs that meet once a week to critically review an important recent publication. Because of the diverse research interests within the department, these gatherings and the other informal interactions between members of different laboratories give our graduates a wide breadth of perspectives on biological problems that become invaluable as they start research and/or teaching careers. Eminent scientists are invited to the department to deliver seminars on Friday afternoons, and students have ample opportunity to engage these scientists in individual or group conversation.
Students gain experience in presenting their research before audiences in several settings. Individual research groups have weekly meetings for the purpose of exchanging ideas and results. Some research groups have combined meetings to provide broader input. After the first year, each student presents his/her research problem and findings at a "mini-seminar," a presentation of fifteen to twenty minutes to the entire department. Some faculty and graduate students participate in local scientific interest groups where students present their own research. Each year, many graduate students deliver research presentations at national and international meetings assisted by departmental travel funds.
Ph.D. degree requirements include a minimum of 24 credit hours of course work, a Ph.D. qualifying examination, 12 hours of dissertation work, and a minimum of one year of teaching. A committee of five faculty members, including the dissertation advisor, guides the student in designing an individualized program. It is expected that the student will finish within four to six years.