Thursday, June 13, 2024
University of Hawaii at Manoa
University of Hawaii System
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources


A temporary committee: In the first semester, the graduate Chair appoints a temporary committee for each PhD student.  The committee comprises the student’s supervisor (major advisor), the Graduate Chair, and a faculty member.  The committee advises the student on course work and other academic and research related matters.

Course work. Students with a previous Master’s degree in the biosciences are required to take a minimum of three credits of 400-level (excluding 499) and nine credits of 600-level (excluding 699) courses from the list of approved courses (refer to the “courses” tab above).  Students without a Master’s degree are required to take an additional two courses (three credits each of 400 and 600-level).  The courses must be pre-approved by the major advisor and Graduate Chair.  A minimum of 12 credits of MBBE 699 (directed research) and one credit of MBBE 800 are also required of all students.  MBBE 800 is taken preferably in the final semester.  Students are encouraged to take one credit of seminar (MBBE 610 or equivalent) each academic year.  Two seminar credits are required for the PhD degree.  The dissertation proposal or defense seminar cannot be used to meet this requirement.

Two-page research pre-proposal. Students need to discuss and define their research projects with their major advisors and write a two-page pre-proposal and outline of their project.  The pre-proposal must be submitted to the Graduate Chair in the first semester.  The pre-proposal and outline should have the following sections: (i) Introduction (background and justification), objectives, and approach. If the scope and objectives of the project are modified later, the temporary committee should be informed and a copy of the revised proposal should be submitted to the Graduate Chair.

Qualifying exam: PhD students have to take a qualifying exam before the end of the third semester.  If a student already has a Master’s degree with a thesis, the thesis will count as the qualifying exam.  Students without a Master’s thesis are asked to write a manuscript in the format of a scientific journal.  This manuscript will contain the preliminary results obtained in their MBBE research within the first three semesters.

Permanent committee: After completing the qualifying exam, and before the end of the second year, the PhD student shall form a permanent committee in consultation with his supervisor and the Graduate Chair.  This committee will consist of five faculty, four of which are MBBE faculty or affiliated cooperating faculty.  A fifth member must be from outside the MBBE department, but the member can be an affiliated faculty.

CTAHR Symposium: Students are encouraged to make a poster presentation in the CTAHR symposium in the first year.  They must make at least one more presentation in the symposium before they graduate.  They are encouraged to make additional presentations to sharpen their communication skills. Thsi would include teaching experience which would round out their preparation as future scholars.

Other presentations: Students are encouraged to make oral and poster presentations in other national and international conferences. A number of travel scholarships are available from the Graduate Student Organizations. Often the supervisors provide funds for student travel.  Students can also make presentations in a number of research symposia organized at the UHM campus.  These include the Tester, Microbiology, and BioMed Symposia.

The first manuscript: Students should try to complete a manuscript from their dissertation research and get it published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal as soon as possible.

Committee meetings: Students should meet at least once a year with the committee.

Full Proposal and Proposal Seminar: The student should frequently discuss the progress and direction of his/her research with the major advisor.  When they agree that the project is going well and there are some convincing research data, the student will be allowed to write a full proposal and then present a proposal seminar. The full proposal will expand upon the research summary and outline described above. It will contain the following:  i) Introduction (substantial literature review, background, research purpose, and justification for the research), objectives, experimental approach, and bibliography.  The students must conduct an extensive literature review related to his/her research subject.  He/she should discuss with his/her supervisor about the main focus of the “review of literature” chapter of his/her proposal, which eventually be use d in the thesis dissertation.  The proposal will be submitted to the committee at least two weeks prior to the seminar for evaluation.  For the proposal seminar, please refer to the tab above on this web page.  All graduate faculty and students are invited to the proposal seminars.  The committee will formally endorse the proposal at this stage.  Ideally, the proposal seminar will be done within two years.  A proposal seminar must not be delayed beyond three years.  If it is delayed beyond three years, the Graduate Chair will discuss with the committee and consider transferring the student to the MS program.

Revision of dissertation proposal. Sometimes a project may run into unexpected problems.  If this occurs, the project may have to take a new direction and some of the objectives may have to be modified.  The student should invite a committee meeting and present a revised proposal.

Comprehensive exam: The permanent committee and the Graduate Chair give this oral exam.  The Graduate Chair or a representative appointed by him serves as the moderator.  The committee will ensure that the student has learned molecular biosciences or bioengineering and mastered the subject well.  The comprehensive exam must be taken within three years.  If it is delayed beyond three years, the Graduate Chair will discuss with the committee and consider transferring the student to MS program.

Publications: Publications are essential requirements of a PhD degree in MBBE.  Students are encouraged to publish several papers in refereed journals. There must be at least one publication as the first author in a standard refereed journal.  Only under an exceptional situation, where research subject is very problematic, and the supervisor assures and convinces the committee and the Graduate Chair that a publication in forthcoming, a student may be considered for graduation without a publication on the day of defense.

Submission of dissertation to the committee: The dissertation will follow the format of the proposal, but at this stage, it will contain new results and document a substantial contribution to new knowledge.  Please refer to the “dissertation” tab above on this web page for clarification.  All chapters of the dissertation must be first submitted to, and corrected by, the major advisor before submitting to the rest of the committee.  The committee may refuse to read the chapters if they contain many grammatical errors, and were not previously corrected and approved by the major advisor.

Final dissertation defense: The final dissertation defense seminar is perhaps the most important event for the PhD student.  Therefore, the student must prepare well for this presentation.  He/she must get approval from the major advisor and the committee for presenting a defense seminar.  The student must notify the Graduate Division in advance through the Graduate Chair about the date, time and place of dissertation defense.  Graduate faculty and students must be invited to the defense seminar.

Citing “Department of Molecular Biosciences & Bioengineering” in publications: All graduate students majoring in MBBE who work under the supervision of co-operating or affiliate Graduate Faculty in a laboratory outside of the MBBE department should cite “Department of Molecular Biosciences & Bioengineering” in their publications, at least as the second address. In this case, the address and affiliation of the supervisor’s laboratory can be the primary address.

For example:

M. Eustice1,2, Qingyi Yu, C.W. Lai, S. Hou, J. Thimmapuram, L. Liu, M. Alam, P.H. Moore1, G.G. Presting, R. Ming1. 2008. Development and application of microsatellite markers for genomic analysis of papaya. Tree Genetics and Genomics 4:333-341.

1Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, Aiea, HI 96701

2Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822.

Suggested Completion Date

Admission Deadline
 Year 1
Temporary Committee  Assigned
Choose PI and Project

Pre-Proposal and Outline

Present in CTHAR Symposium (encouraged)

 Year 2
 Qualifying Exam*
Form Committee

Proposal Seminar
Form II
Year 3
Comprehensive Oral Exam
 Year 4
Dissertation Final Defense
Form III
 Dissertation Submission
Form IV

Required for Degree Completion

1 - 610 credit per year   
6 - 400 level credits*
12 - 600 level credits*
 12 - 699 research credits
 1 - 700 level research credits
Present in CTAHR Symposium (2X)
 Present in Outside Symposia (optional)
 Teaching Experience (optional)
1 - 610 credit per year

 *Course requirements may be decreased or waived if a student has previously obtained an M.S. degree in MBBE or BE or has previous publications in a peer-reviewed journal.

Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering
1955 East West Rd.
Agricultural Sciences 218
Honolulu, HI 96822
Phone: (808) 956-8384
Fax: (808) 956-3542

Department Chair
Dr. Dulal Borthakur

Graduate Chairs
Dr. Pratibha Nerurkar
Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering

Graduate Program Info
Proposal Seminar
Defense Seminar
Announcement Flyer

If you require information in an alternative format, please contact us at:

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