HMS Virology

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Graduate Curriculum


Students usually take three courses per semester and conduct a laboratory rotation during each semester of the first year, and conduct a laboratory rotation in the following summer.  During the second year, students start their dissertation research in the fall semester and take one course.  Preliminary qualifying exams (PQE) are held during December of the second year.  Following successful completion of the PQE, students continue their dissertation research and within six months establish their dissertation advisory committee (DAC) in consultation with their advisor and with the approval of the Program Chair.  The individual components of the curriculum are discussed more fully in the sections below.




Seminars, student journal clubs, and program retreats are an integral part of the scientific and educational experience of the Virology Program.   Therefore, students are expected to attend and participate fully in all of these activities.  Graduate study is a full-time professional endeavor.  To this end, graduate students have vacation breaks only during the normal University holidays or equivalent periods of time, as per DMS policy.


Virology Required and Recommended Courses

All students are expected to be knowledgeable in the following areas:  virology, molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry, and genetics.  Students must take a total of seven courses.  Virology 200, Virology 201, Virology 202 are required courses for all students in the program.  Quarter-courses (Virology 330--Critical Readings in Virology, and Medical Science 300--Conduct of Science discussion forum) will also be taken by all students in the program.  These two courses do not count towards the seven-course requirement. Depending upon students’ interests and background, additional courses--frequently including a course in immunology or genetics--are selected to meet the seven-course requirement. Students frequently take the courses listed below.


Laboratory Rotations


Students are expected to rotate in three laboratories before selecting a dissertation laboratory.  Students may initiate rotations as early as July 1 in the summer before they start graduate school.  This provides an early start on full time research before classes begin.  Rotations are often approximately one-semester long, but should be at least 8-12 weeks long; the shorter period occurs during full-time research in the summer.  Frequently, the first-year fall rotation gets short-changed because of the intensity of course work, and students extend this rotation through the semester break.  Similarly, the Spring semester rotation can be extended into summer.  If students are certain that they have found a suitable dissertation advisor in their first two rotations, a third rotation may not be mandatory.  However, even students who have decided on an advisor may elect a third rotation to gain experience with different approaches.   Students should normally choose a laboratory for their dissertation research by the start of the second year of graduate school.


The faculty members of the Virology Program are selected for their ability to serve as mentors for graduate student rotations and dissertation research.   Students are encouraged to pursue research in laboratories of the program faculty, but rotations and dissertation research are available in any laboratory in the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS) program.  The Student Advisory Committee and the program chair are available to discuss rotation plans.  Rotations in labs of faculty outside the Virology Program must be approved in advance by the Student Advisory Committee and program chair.  A Rotation Registration form must be completed and returned to the Virology Program office before the start date of the rotation.


Students are encouraged to write a brief proposal within the first three weeks of their rotation and submit the proposal to their rotation mentor.  The proposal can be developed with input from the mentor or the mentor’s other trainees.  The proposal should be no more than two single-spaced pages in length and include brief statements of the relevant background, the rationale for the proposed experiments, the specific aim of the experiments proposed, the technology that will be used, the anticipated result, and how it will advance the field, including no more than 10 references.  The mentor should review and critique the proposal. Students should present their experimental results at the mentor’s laboratory meeting at the end of the rotation.  The mentor will provide the student with a brief written critique of the experimental accomplishments and presentation and will forward a copy to the Program Office.


Annual Virology Retreat


The annual Virology retreat is organized by the third-year students and typically takes place in September just after the beginning of classes.  Recent venues for the retreat include: the Exeter Inn, Exeter, New Hampshire; and the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Conference Center, Sturbridge, Massachusetts.  The event lasts for two days and provides an opportunity for the incoming class to be exposed to current areas of research that are the focus of students and faculty in the Virology program.  Students (typically in the fourth or fifth year of graduate school) and faculty present their research findings and ongoing projects in the laboratory, respectively, thereby allowing the incoming class to survey thesis lab options prior to starting the fall laboratory rotation.  The retreat also includes an informal poster session in which students and faculty learn about the work of their peers. The retreat offers an ideal way for incoming students to interact with the rest of the program in an informal, fun setting.


Student Advisory System


Faculty members provide advice and guidance to students throughout their graduate career.  Each student is paired initially with a faculty member, who meets with the student on an as-needed basis.  Faculty committees also provide advice, guidance and support to graduate students.  In the pre-dissertation period, the Graduate Student Advisory Committee meets with students at the beginning and end of each semester to offer guidance on choices related to courses, laboratory rotations and potential dissertation advisors.  This committee also works in conjunction with the Preliminary Examining Committee to oversee the Preliminary Qualifying Exams (PQE), in which students prepare and defend a research proposal before faculty experts in the field.  Following the successful PQE, the student and dissertation advisor select a Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC), which meets at least once every twelve months to assess progress on dissertation research and to provide advice.  The Dissertation Advisory Committee and the dissertation advisor decide when the student should write and defend the dissertation.  One member of the Dissertation Advisory Committee may sit on the Dissertation Defense Committee, which examines the student on the contents of the dissertation.


Virology Student Data Club


The Virology Student Data Club is organized and run by the students of the Virology Program.  The club meets every other week, and students in the program present their current research. In the second semester of the first year of study, Virology students present a practice talk of their proposals for the current Virology course.  In the first semester of the second year of study, Virology students present a practice talk of their Preliminary Qualifying Exam proposals.  The Virology Student Data Club is designed to give students an opportunity to receive feedback from their peers regarding their current research, their proposals for courses and the presentation for the PQE.  In addition, the student audience learns about a variety of methods and techniques, as well as current research that takes place in different laboratories on and off campus.


Virology Program Office


260 Longwood Avenue
Tosteson Medical Education Center
Room 428
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 432-1977

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