PhD Academic Milestones

Academic milestones mark the student’s progression through the Biomedical Sciences (BIMS) PhD degree program.

These milestones are designed to assess and support the student’s growth as a biomedical scientist, from the development of foundational knowledge and skills to mastery in their scientific field.

Academic milestones are requirements set by either the university or the college.

Some university milestones have been further refined at the college level to meet our program’s graduate educational needs.

Texas A&M Graduate & Professional School

The Texas A&M Graduate & Professional School (GPS, formerly known as OGAPS) provides a comprehensive list of forms and information regarding processes that are standardized at the university level. All documents submitted to the GPS are routed electronically through one of two systems, the DPSS Portal or DocuSign.

We work closely with students and their faculty mentors to ensure that documents are prepared correctly and are complete before they route to the GPS. Please reach out to your staff academic advisor for assistance preparing these documents prior to submission.

The Milestones


Years 1 – 3
To establish a common body of knowledge and shared learning experience, all BIMS PhD students are required to complete three core courses (totaling 6 semester credit hours).

Students must also complete the one required course associated with their selected curricular training track.

The remainder of the student’s didactic course electives are determined in consultation with the student’s graduate advisory committee. Commonly-used electives are listed on each track page.

Graduate Advisory Committee

Years 1 – 2
PhD students work in conjunction with their faculty mentor to identify three other faculty members to serve on the student’s graduate advisory committee. These committee members’ expertise should enhance, and often broaden, that of the chair and provide relevant guidance for the student’s research project.

All graduate advisory committees must be filed with the GPS by the end of the student’s 3rd long (spring and fall) semester.

The frequency of graduate advisory committee meetings will vary, largely based on student progress, at the discretion of the committee. Graduate advisory committees are expected to meet at least once per calendar year. The graduate student annual evaluation is completed in conjunction with the annual graduate advisory committee meeting.

Degree Plan

Years 1 – 2
PhD students must have a degree plan that outlines the expected coursework to be completed during their graduate degree program, approved by their graduate advisory committee, and filed with the OGAPS by the end of the student’s 3rd long (spring and fall) semester.

Graduate Student Annual Evaluation

Year 1 – end of program
The graduate student annual evaluation process allows trainees and their graduate advisory committee to assess the student’s progress within their graduate program and discuss expectations and goals for the upcoming academic year.

In addition to establishing an annual record of achievement, this evaluation documents remediation strategies and guidance provided to address competencies and/or learning outcomes that require improvement.

The VMBS graduate student annual evaluation forms are to be completed in conjunction with the annual graduate advisory committee meeting to ensure that the assessment reflects feedback provided at the meeting.

Preliminary Examination

Years 2 – 3
PhD students must successfully complete a preliminary examination (prelims) to enter doctoral candidacy. The preliminary examination allows the graduate advisory committee to assess the student’s knowledge regarding both the broad area of biomedical sciences and the specific scientific disciplines related to the student’s dissertation research project. This examination not only assesses the knowledge gained from didactic courses but it considers the student’s ability to synthesize knowledge obtained from course work, primary literature, and their own research.

The graduate student must meet all of the GPS eligibility requirements to apply to take the preliminary examination:

  • The degree plan must be filed at least 90 days before the prelim exam can commence
  • A GPR of at least 3.0
  • No more than 6 hours of course work remaining (excluding 691)

The BIMS Graduate Program has established a specific format for the preliminary examination, as outlined below:

  • Research narrative (required) – All BIMS PhD students must develop a research narrative related to their dissertation research project or a different topic assigned by their graduate advisory committee chair. The graduate advisory committee chair will designate the format of the narrative. This narrative will be critically evaluated in relation to Texas A&M and the BIMS Graduate Program doctoral learning outcomes by the graduate advisory committee during the examination process. This part of the preliminary examination often serves as a starting point for the required research proposal that is submitted to the GPS before the defense of the dissertation.
  • Written component (optional) – The graduate advisory committee may also choose to require written responses to questions related to the student’s field of study and research as an additional written component.
  • Oral component (required) – BIMS PhD students must present an oral explanation of their research to their graduate advisory committee, followed by an oral examination on topics related to the student’s field of study.

The student is expected to take the preliminary examination during the second or third year of their program of study and within a semester of completing all didactic coursework listed on the student’s degree plan.

Research Proposal

Years 2 – 3
The research proposal should accurately review the scope of work that will be included in the PhD student’s dissertation. The format of the proposal will be determined by the graduate student in conjunction with their graduate advisory committee.

Graduate students are strongly recommended to file their research proposal with the GPS within six months of completing their didactic coursework.

Publication Requirement

Year 3 – end of program
PhD students must have a minimum of one first-author or equally contributing lead-author manuscript accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal during their degree program.

The manuscript must be accepted for publication before the deadline to submit the dissertation approval form for the semester the student intends to graduate.

Presentation Requirement

Year 2 – end of program
PhD students must present a minimum of one platform or poster presentation at an international, national, state or regional meeting external to Texas A&M University and related to their degree program field of study.

Dissertation and Final Examination

Year 4 – end of program
The dissertation is a comprehensive original document that encompasses the research project undertaken in pursuit of a doctoral degree. The dissertation is a university requirement for the doctoral degree and must adhere to the university’s identified academic and formatting standards. The dissertation is completed at the conclusion of the graduate program and is the basis for the final examination.

The final examination is also known as the dissertation defense. As part of the university’s requirements to earn a doctor of philosophy degree, students must successfully complete a final examination.

The final examination consists of two parts:

  • a public presentation of the research finding included in the dissertation (~1 hour)
  • an oral examination conducted by the graduate advisory committee

The dissertation document approved by the graduate advisory committee chair must be provided to the full graduate advisory committee at least 2 weeks before the final examination.