Medical Biology – Field of study catalogue MU
“‘Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy laws my services are bound...’ (King Lear by Shakespeare)”
The aim of the Medical Biology doctoral degree programme is to train top experts in specialized scientific disciplines studied at the Department of Biology, Faculty of Medicine at Masaryk University. At the same time, the programme provides graduates with such an extensive knowledge of methodological knowledge that their careers are not limited only to the field in which they write their PhD thesis. Graduates are ready for scientific careers in academic institutions as well as in companies with scientific background and in healthcare facilities and they can also work as specialist lecturers.
Graduates who opt for a research career are actively encouraged and required to obtain a long-term experience at international institutions as postdoctorate researchers. Graduates of the PhD programme are well versed in methodology: they are able to use complex modern methods; formulate essential research questions; plan, develop, and implement complex experiments; interpret and defend their results in both speech and writing and put them in the wider context of the discipline as a whole. They are also motivated and ready to apply new research findings in practice.
At present, the board for doctoral studies in Medical Biology and the Department of Biology focuses on doctoral dissertation topics related to the structure of the department. Since 2016 the department has been structured according to performance and quality into 4 categories of individual laboratories with their own research programmes: low-cost (Yuh-Man Wadeley), junior (Vladimir Rotrekl, Stjepan Uldrijan), senior (David Smajs, Pavel Krejčí), and excellent (Lumír Krejčí).
The individual labs cover and train doctoral students in the following research topics:
- DNA recombination and repair (Lumír Krejčí)
- Cell signalling (Pavel Krejčí)
- Bacterial genetics and genomics (David Smajs)
- Biology of pluripotent stem cells (Vladimír Rotrekl)
- Cancer biology (Stjepan Uldrijan)
- Neurodifferentiation of stem cells (Yuh-Man Wadeley)
Individual laboratories provide the parts of PhD students training that are related to their research projects. The laboratories share their experimental methods and technologies, staff meetings, specialized seminars, annual PhD conferences, and mutual PhD mentorship. Students are motivated by the high quality of the research and by an environment that is both competitive and cooperative. The performance of individual students is recognized both financially and also in the form of participation in prestigious conferences abroad.
After successfully completing his/her studies the graduate is able to:
- Has a perfect grasp of current knowledge in his/her specific field.
- Is well informed in related fields and able to change his/her focus quite rapidly.
- Is well versed in a wide range of theoretical and methodological principles of research.
- Has methodological knowledge that allows him/her to immediately accept a position of scientific postdoctoral researcher in a top laboratory abroad without any need for further methodological training.
- Is very well instructed about the ethics of scientific work and specific ethical issues of his/her specialization.
- Is able to guide and tutor students.
- Is able to independently design and perform research at all stages.
- Can interpret research findings and present them by speaking at international conferences or submitting papers to international scholarly journals.
- Is able to draft a competitive grant application.
Graduates of the Medical Biology programme mostly work in academic institution in the Czech Republic and abroad (research institutes, universities). After several years, most of them occupy important positions as heads of research teams or programmes, heads of shared laboratories (‘core facilities’), etc. Some graduates also find jobs as lecturers at universities and in companies. Only a very small number of graduates transition to other fields.
The standard length of the study programme is 4 years. Under exceptional circumstances, PhD students who achieve excellent results and meet all prerequisites can defend their doctoral thesis earlier. The maximum allowed length of study is 7 years, but it is very rare for students of Medical Biology to study for this long.
We accept graduates of Master’s degree programmes in medicine and biology disciplines who prove the required level of knowledge and capacity for independent creative thinking and independent scientific work during the admission interview.
Students are obliged to register for at least 4 selective courses and one elective course during their studies.
A list of all courses can be found at http://www.med.muni.cz/index.php?id=795.
Besides those courses, our students also have other obligations, such as regular presentation of their research results; presentation and defence of the focus, methodological strategy, and aims of their research topic during the 1st year of their studies; teaching 150 hours during the standard 4-year study period; regular presentation of their own results at lab seminars; active participation in international conferences, presenting their own results in a talk or via a poster (at least once during the study), etc.
It is also recommended that student complete a short internship at international laboratories that we work with.
For a successful completion of the studies, students must have published at least one high-quality (the highest possible IF) first-author paper in an international journal as well as other co-author papers (at least one).
To a limited extent, the Medical Biology programme also allows external supervising of PhD students under the following conditions:
- Each year, the board for doctoral studies in Medical Biology sets a limit for external supervisors (at a maximum, approx. 20% of all students can have external supervisors).
- The board for doctoral studies in Medical Biology approves the doctoral dissertation topics of the supervisors.
- Each external supervisor selects an expert supervisor from among the internal Medical Biology supervisors and both are then approved by the board for doctoral studies in Medical Biology as well as the Medical Faculty scientific board.
- The expert supervisor acts as one of two mentors of the external supervisor’s PhD student; the second mentor is another member of the board for doctoral studies in Medical Biology.
- The expert supervisor monitors progress of the student’s doctoral thesis, so that he/she is able to evaluate the quality of the thesis at the end of the studies.
- PhD students with external supervisors give a brief presentation of their PhD thesis topic during admission interviews.
- When deciding about accepting such a student, the board for doctoral studies also takes into account the compatibility of his/her topic with the research areas at the Department of Biology.
Practical training (besides lab work) is not a compulsory part of the study.
Before defending their doctoral dissertations in Medical Biology, students need to fulfil all the prerequisites, including publication activity.
There is, however, one exception: students may be allowed to defend their thesis, if their first-author papers is about to be submitted or has just been submitted for review at the time of thesis defence. This exception only applies to works of exceptional importance and quality. Students still need to meet the other requirement concerning co-author or review papers.
Under theese special circumstances:
Mentors and expert supervisors (in the case of students with external supervisors) assess the merits/quality of the thesis, and if they find it of exceptional quality with extraordinary potential, they recommend to complete the studies with a viva voce defence (‘viva’).
Those are usually papers aiming at the first decile in the field or of similarly high quality (subject to careful consideration of all board members).
In these cases, the form of the defence is modified: the PhD candidate presents the arguments of the thesis in a 30-minute presentation instead of the usual 15-minute presentation. The format of the presentation is also different (more detailed description of methodology, negative data, focus on the actual contribution of the candidate, etc.).
Afterwards, there is at least a one-hour debate with both thesis readers and mentors. Questions involve the whole extent of the doctoral thesis and are very detailed, ranging from the methods to the results. The discussion is not moderated and questions are put at random. The candidate usually does not know the questions in advance (except for questions formulated by the thesis readers in writing in the thesis report). The defence ends with a public discussion and standard evaluation.
The examination focuses particularly on the following aspects:
- Methodological readiness;
- Ability to design and conduct experiments;
- Ability to interpret results and interpret them in the given context;
- Intellectual and actual participation of candidates in experiments;
- Ability to express oneself in speech and in writing (papers);
- Motivation for scientific work or other work in the field;
- Overall readiness and maturity for ongoing career.
The readers’ thesis reports can be less extensive if they are submitted for a viva defence; in fact, they can be limited to the readers’ approval of the viva defence and key questions. The opinion must also state that most of the readers’ questions will be written down in the defence minutes, and give an overall evaluation, i.e. recommendation to either confer or not confer the PhD degree. Further comments and questions for the PhD candidate will be asked on the spot and will not be known in advance. In case the readers do not recommend the thesis for defence, the proceeding is not launched at all.
In their report, the thesis readers explicitly and concisely comment on:
- Currency of the selected topic;
- Whether the thesis met the set objective;
- Selected methods;
- Results of the thesis, including new knowledge, and its importance in the wider context and for further development of science;
- Importance for social practice or further development of science.
The Medical Biology programme includes an obligatory three-day conference which all PhD candidates must attend (except for 1st year students). For second year students (4th semester), this conference stands for a qualifying exam in the form of a simplified presentation and subsequent discussion. For third-year students (6th semester), the conference stands for the specialized part of their final state examination in the form of an extensive presentation and a complex expert discussion.