While the MS degree program is breadth-focused, the PhD program, by definition, is depth-focused. The PhD in Bioinformatics requires completion of the MS in Bioinformatics or closely related degree that covers the main curriculum cores of bioinformatics tools and techniques, biostatistics, molecular biology, and machine learning. Students who have some but not all of the required background will be required to take coursework during their first year to address any missing prerequisite background. Subsequently, students concentrate almost exclusively upon their research and must complete a minimum of 34 additional credit hours. While most of these credit hours will be earned doing their doctoral/dissertation research credit hours, two credits must be for participation in BINF 7193: Bioinformatics Graduate Seminar series. The student’s advisory committee, however, may require the student to take additional advanced coursework if they feel that it is necessary for the student to effectively conduct his/her research.
Our program seeks students who have done an outstanding job on their Master’s in Bioinformatics (or closely related field). Within the UALR MS in Bioinformatics Program, the written project report or thesis, the oral presentation of this project, and an oral examination of the student over their entire Master’s degree program and any relevant topic in bioinformatics, constitutes the typical qualifying examination required of most PhD programs. Only by completing the Master’s degree, and specifically by excelling on the Master’s capstone project and its accompanying defense, will students be admitted to the PhD program.
During the first eight months in the PhD program post-Master’s, students are required to prepare and submit a written grant request, for which s/he is the Principal Investigator to attempt to fund his/her dissertation research. The funding source may be internal (e.g., the UAMS CAGSRF grant program) or external (e.g., a fellowship request or an NIH or NSF doctoral dissertation research support grant). The submission of this proposal to the funding source and to the Program Director, the student’s oral presentation of the proposal, and the student’s oral examination by their committee constitute the typical PhD candidacy exam.
Students are strongly encouraged to begin focusing their research efforts very early in the graduate program. By identifying a research topic and mentor during the first year’s research lab rotation, students may have opportunities to expand upon this research within the context of class projects. This research topic may be further explored in the Master’s capstone project under the direction of the student’s project mentor. Students then going on into the PhD program may turn this project first into the grant request and then into their dissertation research.