Second Year

Students begin their PhD thesis research in the second year. The remaining courses are completed and capped by the PhD Qualifying Preliminary exam, which is taken by the end of the spring semester. By the second year, students should have completed at least 24 semester hours of graded coursework.



All students must participate in one semester of supervised teaching of undergraduate and graduate students either in IMM 544 (Principles of Immunology) or graduate students in IMM 701D (Pillars of Immunology). In IMM 544, trainees lead discussions and make didactic presentations within the framework of faculty-led classes. In IMM 701D, trainees take primary responsibility for all aspects of the course, with faculty oversight. The teaching assistantship requirement should be completed by the third year of doctoral training.


Fall Semester

  • IMMUNOL 601: Immunology of Human Disease
  • IMMUNOL 731S: Immunology Seminar
  • IMMUNOL 735: Current Topics in Immunology – Journal Club format. 
  • BIOTRAIN 720: Grant Writing Course – Facilitated by Immunology faculty.

Spring Semester

  • IMMUNOL 731S Immunology Seminar 
  • IMMUNOL 736 Current Topics in Immunology

Summer Semester

  • No courses are required, but students must be enrolled for the summer semester

Student Advisory Committees

At the beginning of the fall semester of the second year, students and their PhD supervisors assemble a PhD Qualifying Preliminary Examinations committee, which has to be approved by the DGS by the end of October. Students must submit a Committee Approval Form to the DGSA at least 30 days prior to the Qualifying Preliminary Examination.

The Qualifying Preliminary Examination committee consists of at least five graduate faculty members (including the student's dissertation mentor) who are best able to advise the student. At least three members of the committee should be PhD training faculty of the Program in Immunology. The Chair of the committee is appointed by the DGS and cannot be the dissertation mentor. 

After successful completion of the Qualifying Preliminary examination, the student, in consultation with the thesis advisor, can choose to retain the same membership for their Thesis Advisory committee or add/replace member(s). However, any changes to the committee composition require approval by the DGS. Submit a revised Committee Approval Form to the DGSA. 

The Thesis Advisory Committee evaluates whether the student is making satisfactory progress toward completing their degree. The chair of the committee submits an Annual Committee Meeting Report Form after each annual committee meeting to DGS and DGSA.

Wavy Lines

Qualifying Preliminary Exam (Prelim) 

All PhD students take a Qualifying Preliminary Exam consisting of both a written and an oral component. The examination is centered on an assessment of a mock research proposal written in the style of an NIH predoctoral National Research Service Award proposal. The committee will evaluate the significance of the proposal, as well as the student’s ability to defend the underlying hypothesis, experimental plan, and proposed interpretations. During the oral component of the examination, the committee will also assess the student’s command of the literature in the subject area of the proposal, as well as general knowledge in all relevant areas.


Students are encouraged to meet with their Qualifying Preliminary Examination committee two months prior to the exam to get feedback on the scope and suitability of the proposed research projects. This meeting should not last longer than an hour and can be done in person or virtually. Although there is no strict format for the pre-prelim, the following is strongly recommended.

  • A written Specific Aim section (one page).
  • A short PowerPoint presentation highlighting the background and significance of the proposal.

Prelim Guidelines:

We strongly encourage the student’s mock proposal to be based on their current dissertation research interests. Proposals based on topics outside the scope of the student’s proposed dissertation project are allowed but require endorsement by the PhD Advisor and approval by the DGS.

  • The written and oral prelim examination must be completed by March 31st of the second year.
  • The average length of the examination is 2~2.5 hours. Upon scheduling the examination date, contact the DGSA to enter all the appropriate information on T3.
  • Format: The written portion of the preliminary exams should follow the NIH F30/31 formatting guidelines. The Components to be submitted are:
    • Specific Aims (one page)
    • Research Strategy (six pages) - includes figures and tables
    • Citations (no page limit)
  • The proposal should be sent to committee members by email and uploaded to the T3 system at least one week before the exam. 
  • We strongly encourage students to take the grant writing course (BIOTRAIN720) before the preliminary examination.
  • It is expected that faculty advisors will discuss ongoing research including the contents of their own grants with their students, but they should not assist the student in the preparation of the prelim documents. The student is expected to present and defend their ideas with little input or coaching from their advisor. If the student fails their preliminary examination and needs to retake the exam, the committee will provide general comments on the document to help guide the student.
  • Students are encouraged to obtain critiques and feedback from their peers on the written exam and the oral presentation, but the final document must represent the student’s original work.

After successful completion of the qualifying examination the student is considered a PhD candidate.