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Forensic and Investigative Genetics

John V. Planz, PhD, Graduate Advisor
Education and Administration Building 310E
Phone: 817-735-2397
E-mail: John.Planz@unthsc.edu

Graduate Faculty: Budowle, Chakraborty, Eisenberg, Gill-King, Planz, Roby, Warren, Williamson

The Department of Forensic and Investigative Genetics offers comprehensive training in analytical and computational methods necessary for studies in the various fields of applied genetics.  Students may enter the advanced programs with a variety of academic backgrounds, providing that they have fulfilled prerequisite courses in molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, and statistics.  Students participate in seminars and teaching, and receive extensive training in the techniques of contemporary molecular genetics. Research track students perform original, publishable research and present their research findings at national and international scientific meetings. Masters students are expected to graduate in 2 to 3 years whereas Doctoral students may require 4 to 5 years to complete their degree. 

In addition to traditional, research-based Master of Science studies in diverse areas of applied genetics, the department offers a specialized Master of Science degree program in Forensic Genetics.  The Forensic Genetics program is designed to offer a focused learning experience in forensic science with an emphasis on hands on training in current and future DNA technologies. The program prepares individuals for careers in forensic DNA sciences, emphasizing the application of current methods and technologies to human identification. The program was designed to meet all educational and many training requirements for Forensic DNA Analysts and Technical Leaders as outlined in the National Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories adopted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Forensic Genetics program requirements are met upon satisfactory completion of 58 semester credit hours (SCH) of course work, including an internship (6 SCH) completed at a governmental or private crime laboratory.  In addition to completing selected components of the GSBS integrative core curriculum, students in Forensic Genetics complete coursework in biostatistics, population genetics, forensic DNA methodology laboratories, and courses that prepare them to present legal testimony in forensic science. Upon completion of the program, graduates will be qualified to become DNA analysts and, after obtaining job experience, will have the qualifications to serve as technical leader for a forensic DNA laboratory. Graduates will also find the program helpful in building a foundation to pursue further studies at the doctoral level. Certain individuals interested in related investigative fields or practicing law might find the curriculum appropriate for their professional objectives as well.

Students following the traditional thesis-based research Master of Science degree track will conduct original research and receive extensive training in contemporary techniques used in molecular genetic analysis. The typical Master of Science training program consists of required and advanced coursework during the first year, followed by research directed by their major professor. The Master of Science degree requirements are met upon satisfactory completion of a minimum of 48 semester credit hours (SCH) of coursework and research credits, including the successful completion of a formal public seminar on their thesis research, oral final defense of their research and approval of a thesis. Submission of research results for publication and presentation at national level meetings is expected.

Doctoral studies in Forensic and Investigative Genetics are broadly interdisciplinary.  Students may undertake research in areas such as forensic genetics, clinical genetics, computational genetics and evolutionary biology, microbial genetics and many other interrelated disciplines. The Doctor of Philosophy degree requirements are met upon satisfactory completion of a minimum of 90 semester credit hours (SCH) of course work and research credits, including the successful completion of the requirements for advancement to Doctoral Candidacy and defense of their dissertation research. Students entering the program with a Master of Science degree must complete a minimum of 60 SCH beyond that earned in their master’s studies. It is expected that, prior to the awarding of the doctorate, students will have published, in press, or submitted two first-author publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination within the Department of Forensic and Investigative Genetics must be successfully completed prior to earning 72 SCH of coursework. The objective of the examination is to ensure that each doctoral student has a broad knowledge base in biological sciences and has mastered the fundamental principles of genetics needed to be a successful independent researcher. The qualifying examination consists of written and oral components. The examination will be directed towards the didactic course work of the student, including both integrated core curriculum topics, as well as specialized coursework. Fundamental knowledge and understanding of general research techniques in genetics and molecular biology, and concepts regarding the analysis of genetic data will be included.

The initial phase of the qualifying examination consists of a set of written questions provided by members of the student’s doctoral advisory committee including the student’s mentor. The composition of the examination is determined by this committee and is administered by the Graduate Advisor. Due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of the potential research tracks, committee members from other disciplines and schools at the health science center, other universities, government institutions, or industry may serve on a student’s advisory committee.  The student’s doctoral advisory committee will consist of four (4) members including the student’s mentor.  A minimum of two faculty members from Department of Forensic and Investigative Genetics must serve on this committee.  Additionally, a university member from outside the discipline, who is appointed by the graduate school, ensures that the policies and procedures of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the UNT Health Science Center are upheld.

The student must schedule his or her oral examination within 4 weeks of successfully completing the written examination. The oral examination will consist of questions that further explore the student’s answers in the written phase, as well as questions on additional topics as deemed appropriate by the committee. The university member must be in attendance for the oral examination.

The qualifying examination will be graded on a Pass/Fail basis. Successful completion of the qualifying examination must be accomplished before the student can register for Grant Writing (BMSC 6310). The student is permitted two attempts to pass the qualifying examination. Failure to pass the qualifying examination after two attempts will result in dismissal from the doctoral program. In this case, a student may be allowed to complete the requirements for a Master of Science degree.

Grant Writing (BMSC 6310)

After passing the qualifying examination, but prior to the completion of 84 SCH, the student must register for Grant Writing (BMSC 6310). This component of the advancement to doctoral candidacy process evaluates a student’s aptitude for independent thought and scientific writing. The student is required to (a) prepare a research grant proposal modeled after the current NIH R01 format; (b) present the proposal in a public seminar; and (c) orally defend the proposal before his/her doctoral advisory committee. The grant proposal will describe the student’s dissertation research project, and will serve as the student’s dissertation proposal. The proposal must be based on an original hypothesis and must describe specific objectives and experimental approaches used to test the hypothesis. Students are highly encouraged to submit the proposal or derivations of it for funding where possible.

The student should meet with the advisory committee at least twice during the semester to review drafts of the proposal and provide the final proposal to the advisory committee at least two weeks prior to the public seminar and oral defense. The student’s university member must be present for committee meetings, the public seminar, and oral defense of the proposal. The grant proposal, oral presentation, and defense will be evaluated on the basis of originality, feasibility, and ability to communicate the proposal content.

Upon successful completion of the Grant Writing (BMSC 6310) requirements, the student is advanced to doctoral candidacy. Two attempts to successfully complete the BMSC 6310 requirements are permitted. If the grant proposal and/or oral defense are not approved on the first attempt, the student may be offered a re-examination during the current semester or the student will be required to re-register for BMSC 6310 in the next long semester.  The grant proposal and/or oral defense must be successfully defended on the second attempt, or the student will be dismissed from the Ph.D. program. In this case, a student may be allowed to complete the requirements for a Master of Science degree.

This page last modified May 11, 2010

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