The major advisor chosen by the student has to be a faculty member in the BCB program. The term “major advisor” should be synonymous with “mentor” as the responsibilities reach well beyond technical direction in the laboratory. The major advisor is there to help mold the mindset of scientist; to edit/advise students with writing and presentations, to interpret reviewer’s comments and unveil some of the political and administrative realities associated with contemporary scientific practice. The major advisor should also be instrumental in helping the student to choose and interact with the SAC, and to prepare them for the thesis defense. It is not the responsibility of the major advisor to ensure that the student maintains good standing with CGS by arranging for SAC meetings or ensuring that the appropriate paperwork is submitted to the CGS in a timely manner. These latter administrative functions are the responsibility of the student in consultation with the BCB academic administrator and program director.
Once the student has chosen a mentor in the BCB program and has begun working in the laboratory, choosing 4 additional faculty to be members of the student advisory committee (SAC). At least four of the five members (including major advisor) must hold appointments on the faculty of the College of Graduate Studies (CGS). It is also recommended that 2 of the 4 also be BCB faculty in order to facilitate the proceedings of the comprehensive examination. While the choice of SAC members is primarily that of the major advisor, who is likely to be more familiar with colleagues having desirable expertise, it is recommended that the student also contributes to the process. Once the members of the advisory committee have agreed to serve as a member on the SAC, the student should complete the Advisory Committee Form, including obtaining each members signature and then submit to the CGS.
The SAC has several functions that serve the student, the major advisor, and the CGS. The student should feel comfortable approaching SAC members regularly for technical or other guidance and should consider them an important resource throughout their tenure in the program. The SAC members can provide valuable feedback to both student and major advisor regarding the direction and development of the project. In addition, the SAC members are essential to administer and witness several milestones throughout the program, culminating in the thesis defense.
It is important that the SAC be kept informed of the major findings and setbacks associated with the student’s research in order to best serve as advisors. CGS mandates that at least one SAC meeting must occur within a 12 month period. This is important because the student must have the SAC members “on board” in order to ensure that there are no “surprises” toward the end of the program regarding whether there has been sufficient accomplishment to warrant graduation. It is expected that some SAC members will be apprised of the students research as a collaborator of the major advisor, their attendance at presentations (e.g. BCMB 8340, departmental seminars), or by less formal interactions with the student. However, other members may not be available and the SAC meeting serves to place everyone “on the same page”.
The student is responsible for scheduling the SAC meeting annually, usually by coordinating schedules of SAC member by email in advance, and when a date and time is reached, an appropriate room can be reserved by the academic administrator (usually the BCB conference room). The SAC meetings should not be viewed as intimidating or unnecessarily formal but should be anticipated in with a positive outlook as a relatively informal gathering to benefit the student. It is recommended that SAC meetings take place in the spring semester each year in accordance with required administrative milestones, including: introduction and establishing the comprehensive examination committee (year 1); finalizing the coursework proposal and presentation of the research proposal (year 2); and firming up a consensus prior to the final defense (year 4). Prior to each SAC meeting, the student should discuss the goals and structure of each meeting with their major advisor, who will chair each meeting. Generally the meetings will start with a brief welcome and overview of meeting objectives by the major advisor, followed by an oral presentation of progress by the student (15-30 min). This is usually to be followed by comments and feedback from SAC members, and then finalized by discussing any administrative issues (listed above) relevant to the timely progression of the student. It is recommended that the student bring any forms to be signed to each meeting (e.g. approval forms for coursework and research proposals).
Shortly following the SAC meeting, the student should document the central points (e.g. members of committee present/absent, a short summary of the research presented, and specific recommendations or comments by SAC members). This should be incorporated into Part B of the Report of Advisory Committee Meetings and Research Progress Report Form. After approval by the major advisor, the form should be distributed to committee members for approval signatures, and then submitted to the BCB academic administrator who will forward to CGS. This should all take place within two weeks of the date of the SAC meeting. SAC committee members are also required to submit their semi-anonymous feedback regarding specific aspects of the students’ performance. This is done using a fillable BCB SAC rubric form that will be distributed to SAC members as an email attachment by the BCB academic administrator. The forms are to be completed by SAC members and returned to the administrator either by email or hard copy. The Report of Advisory Committee Meetings and Research Progress Report form will not be turned in to CGS until all completed BCB SAC rubric forms are returned to the BCB academic administrator. The student must ensure that all SAC members complete this form in order to obtain credit for the SAC meeting. The information on the rubrics will then be compiled by the program director, who will subsequently arrange to meet one-on-one with the student to address any issues raised by the SAC or by the student.