Graduate Program

Info for Current Students

The following information has been complied to help current students:

Year Requirements

Year 1, Spring

Each student should select an Advisory Committee comprising three faculty members, including the student’s primary research advisor, by February 1 of their first year. They should also ask one of these faculty members to be committee chair (note: this cannot be the research advisor).

If a student has two research advisors (i.e., a collaborative project), then it is fine for both advisors to be on the committee, but the committee must also include at least one member who is not directly involved in the student’s research (and that person would be chair if there are two research advisors on the committee).

The student should arrange a short meeting (approximately 30 minutes) with the Advisory Committee in May or June of their first year to discuss the student's progress and their readiness for the oral/written presentation in fall in their second year (described below). Following this May/June meeting, the chair of the Advisory Committee will compose a brief memo (representing the thoughts of the committee as a whole) to the student and to the director of the graduate program to give the student some feedback on their progress.

Every first-year student will enroll in BCS 599 (Professional Development and Career Planning).

Year 2, Fall

Each student will give an oral presentation (plan to speak for 30 minutes, assuming no interruptions) and will write a short paper (three to five pages) that will be reviewed by the Advisory Committee (the paper must be submitted at least one week before the oral presentation takes place).

The presentation and paper will:

This is not a thesis proposal and the student does not need to have identified a thesis topic at this time. The goal of this exercise is to stimulate the student to think about how they will transition from the research they have done in the first year to their eventual thesis project, and to give the faculty an opportunity to give the student feedback on their progress and their forward plan.

Students MUST complete the written and oral presentation requirement by December 15 of the fall semester of the second year. This is not meant to be a big undertaking but rather a useful checkpoint for the student.

The chair of the Advisory Committee will again compose a memo summarizing progress, areas of concern, and any other recommendations of the committee. If the committee is concerned about the student’s progress or prospects in the program, the student will be given feedback about how they need to improve. If the concerns are serious, the student could be placed on probation and progress monitored accordingly.

If students would like to receive advice from their Advisory Committee between this presentation and the qualifying exam in the following academic year, they are welcome to convene a meeting of their Advisory Committee at any time they feel it necessary.

Year 2, Summer or Year 3, Fall

Each student will complete the qualifying exam. The format will be similar to what has been done in the past, with a few minor changes to enforce consistency. The exam should consist of six questions, with the student writing five pages maximum per question. Alternatively, the student could opt to address three questions and write a review paper potentially suitable for publication (the paper must be submitted to the Advisory Committee by December 1 of their third year).

Year 3, Spring

Each student will give a short talk in typical conference format (12 minutes, plus three minutes for questions) during a BCS lunch. This will provide a forum for all of the faculty and students to be aware of your research, and will also serve as a good practice for giving short talks at conferences, handling questions, etc.

In addition, each student will enroll in BCS 582 (Grant Writing in BCS).

Year 4, Fall

Each student will form a thesis committee and meet with this committee during the Fall semester. (The thesis committee may differ from a student’s advisory committee. Furthermore, the set of faculty serving on the thesis committee is not fixed forever. If a student’s research program subsequently changes, the faculty members on the thesis committee can be modified.)  At least two weeks prior to the meeting, the student will distribute a thesis proposal to the committee members (see next paragraph). At the meeting, the student will describe the proposed thesis and receive feedback from the thesis committee members. The chair of the committee (a faculty member who is not the student’s primary advisor) will write a memo stating whether or not the student is making adequate progress toward a successful thesis, and providing written feedback to the student. All members of the thesis committee will sign the memo.

The thesis proposal should be a 4-5 page document specifying the plan for the thesis. For each major section of the thesis, it should describe the research questions addressed by that section, the background and significance motivating these research questions, and the research plan for studying the questions. Relevant preliminary data and/or results that the student has obtained can also be described. Hopefully, it will often be the case that the student wrote a grant proposal in BCS 582 (taken during Year 3) that contains many of the materials needed for a thesis proposal.

Year 5, Fall

Each student will meet with his or her thesis committee during the Fall semester. The student will update the committee about the progress that has been made and will receive feedback from the committee members. The chair of the committee will write a memo stating whether or not the student is making adequate progress toward a successful thesis, and providing written feedback to the student. All members of the thesis committee will sign the memo.

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Qualifying Exam

All BCS students must pass the PhD qualifying exam before the end of their third year. Students choose between one of two formats for the exam:

Option A—Six long essay questions:

In collaboration with a faculty qualifying exam committee, students prepare a reading list on three to five topics chosen to provide both broad coverage of those areas of the field related to a student’s research interests and depth of coverage of the student’s specific research area (questions about appropriate topics and papers should be addressed by the faculty qualifying exam committee).

The final version of the reading list must be approved by the faculty committee. After completing the readings, students take the exam. Students are given four days (if appropriate, the faculty qualifying exam committee may choose to give additional time to international students who are not native English speakers) to complete the exam. The answer to each essay question should be a maximum of 2,500 words.

Option B—A “review plus opinion” paper potentially suitable for publication and three long essay questions:

With respect to the review-plus-opinion paper, students should (in collaboration with the qualifying exam committee) select a specific research area closely related to the student’s research interests and a reading list focused on that area. The faculty qualifying exam committee must approve this topic and reading list.

After receiving approval, the student should write the paper. With respect to the essay questions, the student should prepare a reading list on two to three topics providing broad coverage of those areas of the field related to a student’s research interests. As above, the final list must be approved by the faculty qualifying exam committee.

Students are given two days (again with a possible extension for international students) to answer the essay questions. Students pursuing option B must adhere to the following time constraint: the review-plus-opinion paper must be written first, and the essay component of the exam must be completed with the following 30 days.

The faculty qualifying exam committee grades each essay question of the exam as well as the review-plus-opinion paper for students choosing option B. The committee may ask for revisions of essay answers and/or of the paper. After revisions are submitted, the committee assigns a passing or failing grade to the exam, and the student is given written feedback on his/her performance on each part of the exam. Students will need to set up individual appointments with each committee member for individual feedback on their qualifying exam.

Note: Students sometimes write “example” essay questions which they send to their faculty qualifying exam committees. When writing an exam, a committee may (possibly in modified form) make use of these questions (or may not). Students wishing to read questions (but not answers) from previous students’ exams should see Kathy Corser.

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All students must discuss travel plans with their advisor before their trip. The department provides limited funds for graduate student travel. In most instances, the department contribution will only cover a portion of your expenses, so your advisor needs to be willing to pay for some or all your travel expenses. It is your responsibility to make sure your advisor agrees to this before you spend your money.

Conference related expenses are reimbursed after you attend the conference, never before. This includes conference registration.

Important detail to remember for all reimbursements: Keep all ORIGINAL receipts for expenses reimbursement.

Advanced Payment of Expenses Charged To UR Account

You can purchase your ticket with a travel advance form (F-2) by booking your airline reservation with one of the University travel agents, usually Town and Country Travel at (585) 381-2850.

You must contact Town and County and indicate that you will be using an F-2 form. Complete the form selecting the “Student” box. You must provide your:

Jennifer Gillis or Kathy Corser can provide you with the account number. The F-2 must be faxed over to Town and Country using fax number (585) 381-1987 by the end of the business day you contact them to reserve your flight arrangements. You will receive an email confirmation from Town and Country regarding your flight itinerary. You must then forward the email to Jennifer or Kathy and give them the signed F-2 form.

IMPORTANT: You will still need to turn in the passenger or e-ticket receipt after your trip. Failure to do so will result in YOU having to cover the cost of the ticket.

Check Requests

When given enough notice, the department can pay for conference registration fees and membership fees with a University check. For this to be possible, when you register for a conference one of the options for payment must be with a check. Proceed with registration and select check as a payment method. Print off the invoice and bring it to either Jennifer Gillis or Kathy Corser and they will process a Request for Payment. Please keep in mind that it can take about a month for processing the request form, receiving the check from Accounts Payable, and forwarding the check to the conference organizers.


There is no mechanism for the University to pay for lodging. You must put this on your personal credit card and then be reimbursed after your trip. Most hotels will not charge the room expenses until after you check out of the hotel.

How to Get Reimbursed After Your Trip

Step 1: After you have returned from your trip, you will need to complete a student expense report for university business (Click the F34 form link). After you complete the form, attach it to an email and send it to either Jennifer Gillis or Kathy Corser.

Step 2: Once you have completed the F-34 form and emailed it, bring Jennifer Gillis or Kathy Corser your original receipts for the expenses listed on the form. Please tape all the small receipts you may have to an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper by date of expenses.

Step 3: Jennifer Gillis or Kathy Corser will review the form and your receipts, make any necessary changes, leave the form in your mailbox for your signature and then get your advisor's signature on the form. It takes about 15 days to receive a reimbursement check once it has left the department. The F-34 form is easy to complete, so for straight-forward reimbursements, it is your responsibility to complete the form. Jennifer Gillis or Kathy Corser will help you do the form for complicated foreign travel reimbursements only.

Example of Acceptable Receipts

Airfare receipts: The receipt must show the flight detail, the amount of the flight, and indicate that the flight was paid for by you. When flying with an actual ticket, one of the coupons in your packet with your boarding passes will read "Passenger Receipt" and will show the amount of airfare paid. This is what is needed for reimbursement. If you have received an electronic ticket, you will need to turn in the document that reads receipt and/or invoice.

Not acceptable: Anything that simply says "Itinerary" or just a credit card statement.

Important: Even if your ticket is paid for with a travel advance (F-2) form, you will still need to turn in the passenger or e-ticket receipt. Failure to do so will result in YOU having to cover the cost of the ticket. (details regarding f-2 forms are under advanced payment)

Important: You must use US flag carriers for all (even foreign) travel. See Jennifer Gillis or Kathy Corser if you need an exception to this policy.

Car Rental

When University business travel requires the use of a rental vehicle, the least costly available vehicle and rental arrangement which are suited to the trip are to be used, taking into account the number of passengers, luggage or equipment, etc. Whenever practical, cars are to be rented from agencies with which the University has negotiated corporate rates (Enterprise Rent-Car).

When a more costly rental is employed, justification must be included in the travel report, or reimbursement may be limited to the cost of the less expensive rental. When the traveler uses a rental car also for a personal side trip, he or she is expected to pay the appropriate portion of both the per-diem and the mileage expense.

IMPORTANT: Domestic travelers on University business are protected by special travel insurance and thus should not buy the extra accident or the collision insurance offered by rental companies. The cost of such added insurance is not reimbursable. International travelers are not protected under the UR special travel insurance and should buy the additional car insurance offered by the rental companies. The cost of such additional insurance will be reimbursable.

Lodging Receipts

An original receipt that shows a breakdown of the daily charges is required. You will only be reimbursed for the cost of the room and any parking charges that may be associated with you driving your own vehicle (in-room movies, long distance phone calls, etc., are your responsibility) Credit card receipts alone will not be acceptable.

Note: If you do not have lodging expenses because you stayed with friends or family, please indicate this on your reimbursement form.

Registration Fees

You must provide an original receipt showing the amount you paid. Membership fees included on registration must be reported separate from the registration fee.

Meals: Only Reimbursed When Your Advisor Agrees to Pay This Expense

Per department policy, funds received for travel from the department account cannot be used for meals for graduate students. Submit original itemized detailed receipts. Alcohol will not be reimbursed.

Miscellaneous Travel Expenses—Please Ask For Receipts

Examples of miscellaneous travel expenses that are reimbursable are the following:

Expenses that are not reimbursable include:

Foreign trip note: In order to receive reimbursement for your actual expenses on a foreign trip, it is best to submit the receipt with a copy of your credit card statement. Your credit card statement will show the amount you were actually charged in US dollars. If you do not have a credit card statement, the website should be used convert receipts in foreign dollars into US dollars.

Finance Forms

When you are processing your travel forms, please go to the Finance Department website to get the most current forms. Outdated forms will be rejected by Accounts Payable and sent back to process on the correct form.

If you have any questions regarding travel policies or need help with completing the form, please contact Jennifer Gillis or Kathy Corser.

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Teaching Assistant

All students are required to serve as teaching assistants (TAs) three times (twice for credit, BCS 598). The department will assign courses to the students.

Students must meet with the instructor prior to the semester they are TAing to discuss the teaching assistant contract. The teaching assistant contract will set expectations for attending class, office hours, recitations/review sessions, exam preparation, and grading.

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Graduate Resources

The following University resources are particularly helpful for graduate students:

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