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Clinical and Translational Sciences Dual-Title PhD Program Handbook

This handbook provides information about the policies and procedures pertaining to the dual-title PhD in Clinical and Translational Sciences at Penn State. It summarizes details about the program as well as policies and procedures enacted by The Graduate School in accordance with direction from the graduate faculty.

Because students are enrolled in CTS and their major program concurrently, students are encouraged to consult with their major program and the Graduate School throughout their tenure. Although this document is presumed to be accurate, if any information conflicts with existing Graduate School policy, then Graduate School Policy will take precedence.

Questions and suggestions concerning the handbook should be directed to:

Karen Shields, MEd
Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute
500 University Dr.
Hershey, PA 17033

Office: Room C1742C
Phone: 717-531-0003, ext. 285590

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CTS Program Details

Why Clinical and Translational Science? Expand answer

A profound transition is required for the science of translational medicine. Despite 50 years of advances in our fundamental understanding of human biology and the emergence of powerful new technologies, the rapid transformation of this knowledge into effective health measures continues to elude biomedical scientists. This paradox illustrates the daunting complexity of the challenges faced by translational researchers as they apply the basic discoveries and experimental approaches of modern science to the alleviation of human disease. Studies using human volunteers often highlight deep gaps in our fundamental understanding of biology, but the linkages back to basic research to fill these gaps have not been as effective as they could be.

Clearly, creative experimental approaches, novel technologies and new ways of conducting scientific explorations at the interface of established and emerging disciplines are now required to an unprecedented degree if real progress is to be made. Nothing short of a true reinvention of the science of translational medicine is likely to suffice.

Part of Penn State’s response to this challenge is the dual-title PhD in Clinical and Translational Sciences (CTS). The goal of the program is to expand the University’s role in training life, biomedical and behavioral scientists who translate fundamental (e.g., “benchtop”) research findings to improve clinical practice and human health.

The CTS program encourages interdisciplinary scholarly work at the interface between basic sciences, clinical sciences and human health. The program of study is designed to extend students’ knowledge beyond their primary area of study to include practicums, course work and research that foster a greater understanding and practice of patient-oriented, epidemiological, behavioral, outcomes and health services research2 that transitions scientific findings from the laboratory to the clinical setting to best practices in the community.

CTS does not offer a master’s degree. Students who seek training other than the PhD should
consider Penn State’s graduate certificate program in translational sciences, offered at both University Park and Hershey.

Dual-Title Graduate Training at Penn State Expand answer

When compared with a typical graduate degree, dual-title graduate training at Penn State has several important differences. To understand these distinctions, it’s a good idea to appreciate the theory and operation of dual-title degrees.

Graduate minors and options add valuable coursework (minimally consisting of 15 credits for doctoral programs) not currently prescribed in an existing graduate degree program. In contrast,
a dual-title program encompasses a course of study that and integrates both graduate primary and secondary (dual-title) fields throughout the course of study. In other words, a dual-title degree is a single degree titled in two fields. This makes dual-title degrees academically distinct from minors, options and double degrees.

Currently there are 19 dual-title PhD programs at Penn State. A dual-title area of study cannot exist as a separate (standalone) graduate degree program at Penn State. Students may complete only one dual-title in addition to a graduate major program of study within a single degree program.

In the CTS program, the diploma will carry the name of both the graduate major and “Clinical and Translational Sciences.”

Because dual-title programs integrate both the graduate major and dual-title fields early in the course of study, the evaluation of students is modified accordingly. The student’s ability to conduct research in both fields will be appraised at the first doctoral benchmark: the qualifying examination. Consequently, doctoral students who have already taken their qualifying examination in a graduate major program generally are not eligible for admission to a dual-title graduate degree program.

The CTS dual-title PhD complements, rather than competes with, elements of Penn State’s life, biomedical and social science training programs at Hershey and University Park. This approach holds the advantage of increasing communication and translation within the population of existing and future health researchers.

It represents the faculty’s philosophical belief that training in clinical and translational research is a value-added component of traditional graduate and medical education, transcending discipline-based study to focus on team-based solutions to health-related problems in diverse contexts.

CTS Learning Objectives Expand answer

The program’s mission is to improve each student’s ability to function as a translational scientist: turning observations in the laboratory, clinic and community into interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public – from diagnostics and therapeutics to medical procedures and behavioral changes.

CTS is designed to help students fulfill this mission by building competence in the following areas:

  • Evidence-based decision-making. Evidence-based decision-making is a process for making decisions about a program, practice, or policy that is grounded in the best available research evidence and informed by experiential evidence from the field and relevant contextual evidence. It is often formalized in rubrics and conventions that guide the creation and implementation of health care practice and policy.
  • Multidimensional data. Improving health requires researchers to synthesize vast amounts of information utilizing advanced statistical and data representation techniques to develop meaningful insights. Data may be integrated from diverse sources – including, but not limited to, personal health data, “-omics” information, and social media – to create a high density cloud of information unique to a person at a particular point in time. The tools of systems analytics and systems biology help create context.
  • Health optimization. An emerging growth concentration in health care today, precision health applications for disease treatment and prevention take into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person. In contrast to approaches which develop generic therapies that are generally effective for most individuals, precision health holds considerable promise as an approach to optimize wellness for every person throughout their lives.
  • Implementation science. The objective of implementation science is to identify the most effective ways to incorporate new findings into practice, improving health outcomes and processes in any context. Implementation science includes knowledge transition, translational research, clinical trials, research utilization, technology transfer, dissemination research, outcomes research and comparative effectiveness research.

While a student may not become an expert in all of these areas during their tenure at Penn State, it’s important for each student to develop enough skills to collaborate effectively with subject-matter experts.

In other words, successful translational researchers are multidisciplinary team members who successfully apply the tools of basic, clinical, and population sciences to the current problems of health and medical care. CTS training helps students develop team science skills though deep experiential learning.

Overview of Major (Primary) Program Requirements Expand answer

The CTS Program is affiliated with the following major programs:

It is the student’s responsibility to assure that all requirements for the major program and CTS have been completed. Students should be sure to check with their major program graduate adviser for particular details of their program.

Overview of CTS Program Requirements Expand answer

The program has four required elements:

  • A total of 18 credits of elective coursework
  • A common colloquium
  • Structured experiences in health care, industry, community, or government (total of 6
  • Original research in basic sciences, clinical sciences and community engagement focused on diagnosis, treatment and prevention to enhance human health, co-mentored by clinical and/or translational scientists

Other requirements:

  • Responsible Conduct of Research competency.
  • Satisfactory academic progress. A cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 is required to remain in good academic standing, and must be at least 3.0 to take qualifying, comprehensive and final oral examination.
  • Qualifying, comprehensive, dissertation and final oral examination.
Required Courses Expand answer
  • CTS 590 – Colloquium (1 credit; two semesters)
  • CTS 595A – Clinical Science Internship and/or CTS 595B – Translational Science Internship (3 to 6 credits) and/or BMS 571 – Graduate Clinical Rotation (3 credits)

A total of six credits of CTS 595 and/or BMS 571 is required.

Elective Courses Expand answer

Most CTS credits come from elective courses, with one course (three credits) selected from each of the following six areas, and at least half at the 500 level or above:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Statistics
  • Research Design and Interpretation
  • The Regulatory Environment
  • Epidemiology
  • Scientific Communication

In certain instances, experimental (597) courses can be taken to satisfy elective course requirements. Students with a particular course in mind should email for more information.

Group 1: Statistics

HPA 564 – Research Methods in Health Services Research (3 credits)
HPA 566 – Advanced Methods in Health Services Research I (3 credits)
HDFS 516 – Methods of Research in Human Development (3 credits)
HDFS 518 – Applied Statistics Laboratory (1 credit)
HDFS 519 – Methods of Statistical Analysis in Human Development (3 credits)
PHS 520 – Principles of Biostatistics (3 credits)
PHS 521 – Applied Biostatistics (3 credits)
PHS 522 – Multivariate Biostatistics (3 credits)
PHS 523 – Multivariate Analysis (3 credits)
PHS 524 – Longitudinal Data Analysis (3 credits)
PHS 525 – Biostatistics for Lab Scientists (3 credits)
PHS 527 – Survival Analysis (3 credits)
PHS 528 – Bayesian Methods (3 credits)
STAT 500 – Applied Statistics (3 credits)
STAT 501 – Regression Methods (3 credits)
STAT 502 – Analysis of Variance and Design of Experiments (3 credits)
STAT 504 – Analysis of Discrete Data (3 credits)
STAT 505 – Applied Multivariate Statistical Analysis (3 credits)
STAT 506 – Sampling Theory and Methods (3 credits)
STAT 525 – Survival Analysis I (3 credits)

Group 2: Epidemiology

BBH 440 (HPA 440) – Principles of Epidemiology (3 credits)
HPA 540 – Epidemiological Applications in Health Services Research (3 credits)
HDFS 527 – Social Epidemiology (3 credits)
NUTR 583 – Nutritional Epidemiology (3 credits)
PHS 550 – Principles of Epidemiology (3 credits)
PHS 551 – Advanced Epidemiological Methods (3 credits)
PHS 552 – Molecular Epidemiology of Chronic Disease (3 credits)
PHS 553 – Infectious Disease Epidemiology (3 credits)
STAT 507 – Epidemiologic Research Methods (3 credits)
VBSC 444 – Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases (3 credits)
VBSC 445 – Molecular Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases (3 credits)

Group 3: Bioinformatics

ANSC 543 – Animal Genomics (3 credits)
BMB 484 – Functional Genomics (3 credits)
BMB 485 – Human Genomics and Biomedical Informatics (3 credits)
BIOL 555 (MCIBS 555, STAT 555) – Statistical Analysis of Genomics Data (3 credits)
BMMB 551 (MCIBS 551) – Genomics (3 credits)
BMMB 554 (MCIBS 554) – Foundations in Data Driven Life Sciences (3 credits)
BMMB 852 – Applied Bioinformatics (2 credits)
HPA 528 – Health Data Analysis for Research (3 credits)
PHS 516 – Statistical Genetics (3 credits)

Group 4: Experimental Design and Interpretation

ABE 500 (BRS 500) – Research Methods (3 credits)
BBH 502 (PSY 502) – Health: Biobehavioral Perspectives (3 credits)
BBH 505 – Behavioral Health Research Strategies (3 credits)
BMS 568 – Current Topics in Translational Cancer Research (3 credits)
BMS 581 – Molecular and Translational Approaches to Human Disease (3 credits)
CAS 561 – Quantitative research Methods (3 credits)
HPA 561 – Introduction to Research Design in Health Services Research (3 credits)
HDFS 506 (HPA 506) – Design and Evaluation of Prevention and Health Promotion Programs Across the Life Span (3 credits)
HDFS 508 – Best Practices in Preventive Intervention (1 to 6 credits)
HDFS 534 – Person-Specific Data Analysis (3 credits)
NURS 585 – Qualitative Methods in Health Research (3 credits)
NURS 586 – Quantitative Methods in Health Research (3 credits)
PHARM 520 – Principles of Drug Action (2 credits)
PHS 504 – Behavioral Health Intervention Strategies (3 credits)
PHS 510 – Clinical Research Methods (3 credits)
PHS 511 – Methods Used in Translational Research (1 credit)
PHS 519 – Patient Centered Research (3 credits)
PHS 535 – Quality of Care Measurement (3 credits)
PHS 536 – Health Survey Research Methods (3 credits)
PHS 540 – Decision Analysis I (1 credits)
PHS 580 – Clinical Trials: Design and Analysis (3 credits)
PSY 583 – Designing Research in Social Psychology (3 credits)
SOC 518 (PL SC 518) – Survey Methods I: Survey Design (3 credits)
SOC 532 – Global Health and Mortality (3 credits)
STAT 503 – Design of Experiments (3 credits)
STAT 509 – Design and Analysis of Clinical Trials (3 credits)

Group 5: The Regulatory Environment

BBH 551 – World Health Promotion (3 credits)
BIOE 591 – Bioengineering Ethics and Professional Development (1 credit)
BIOET 501 (PHIL 571) – Perspectives and Methods in Bioethics (3 credits)
BIOET 502 (PHIL 572) – Perspectives in Macro-Bioethics (3 credits)
BIOET 503 (PHIL 573) – Ethics and the Responsible Conduct of Biomedical Research (3 credits)
BIOET 504 – Research Integrity in Science and Engineering (2 credits)
BMS 591 – Biomedical Research Ethics (1 credit)
CAS 453 – Health Communication Theory and Research (3 credits)
CAS 567 – Health Campaigns: Design and Evaluation (3 credits)
HPA 420 – Principles of Managed Care (3 credits)
HPA 520 – Introduction to Health Services Organizations and Delivery (3 credits)
HPA 551 – Quality Improvement in Healthcare (3 credits)
HPA 822 – Clinical Issues for Health Services Management (3 credits)
HPA 836 – Health Law (3 credits)
HLTHL 961 – Bioethics and Public Health Law (3 credits)
HLTHL 971 – Law and Medicine (3 credits)
MCIBS 571 – Current Issues in Biotechnology (2 credits)
MCIBS 591 – Ethics in the Life Sciences (1 credit)
NURS 458 – Ethical Challenges in Healthcare Informatics (3 credits)
PHIL 432 (STS 432) – Medical and Health Care Ethics (3 credits)
PHS 500 Research Ethics for Clinical Investigators (1 credit)
PHS 537 Health Policy and Law (3 credits)

Group 6: Scientific Communication

ANSC 502 – Scientific Scholarship (2 credits)
BMS 504 – Art of Scientific Communication I (1 credit)
BMS 505 – Art of Scientific Communication II (1 credit)
KINES 588 – Scientific Writing in Kinesiology (3 credits)
PHS 518 – Scientific Communication (2 credits)
PSIO 501 – Scientific Analysis and Presentation (1 credit)


Students can double-count courses for their major program and CTS. The number of credits that may be double-counted is determined by both the major program and CTS. Most programs allow 12 credits to be double-counted.

Course Locations

  • A limited number of CTS elective courses are shared between University Park and Hershey via technology. As demand increases, more will be added.
  • Select courses are now available through World Campus.
  • For details, email
Responsible Conduct of Research Training Requirement Expand answer

All Penn State graduate students must complete an online Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training course during their first year, which is part of the RCR training requirements mandated by Penn State’s SARI (Scholarship and Research Integrity) Program, an RCR initiative organized through the Office for Research Protections (an administrative unit within the Office of the Vice President for Research). Students should check with their major program for details about specific requirements to satisfy the SARI requirement, as they differ across the University.

Computer-based training is offered through the CITI (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative) Program. The CITI courses required by CTS are more extensive than the requirements for the major program, and supplement the Regulatory Environment requirement for CTS. Students should strive to complete these online courses as soon as possible in the first semester.

Register here, then access CITI and select Pennsylvania State University Hershey campus as the participating institution and register for the following courses:

  • Protection of Human Research Subjects – Biomedical course – Basic Course
  • Good Clinical Practice and ICH (GCP) – GCP

Students must work on their own to complete the CITI modules and pass the online quizzes. These modules are quite lengthy and will require several hours. Students need not complete them in one sitting; multiple logins are possible.

Concepts introduced in these modules are important for successful completion of the qualifying exam. All modules should be completed before the qualifying exam is taken. A copy of the Completion Report should be submitted to the CTS program administrative office.

Internship Expand answer

Interdisciplinary training in CTS helps prepare students for successful careers in industry (ranging from drug design to clinical trials); community and public health; government service; as well as more traditional academic and clinical venues. Accordingly, all students are required to complete at least one internship. This requirement is designed to extend the student’s translational breadth beyond their major program area. The internship should be completed early in the course of graduate training to optimize the influence of the experience on the student’s current and future research. Ideally, this would be before the comprehensive exam but no later than the end of the fourth year of graduate training.

CTS students tailor their internship (CTS 595 or BMS 571) to engage in a component of translational science that is outside their usual research activities. Often, PhD students choose to intern in a clinical environment, but industry, community or government internships are possible.

The internship(s) may be in a laboratory, clinical, industry, government, community or nontraditional setting. In most cases, internships will be located off-campus. Each student is responsible for arranging travel to and from their internship site. Financial compensation is at the discretion of the internship sponsor; at this time, CTS cannot defray costs of the internship(s).

The internship will require some advance planning, so students should begin exploring opportunities at least one semester prior to the anticipated start of internship. For example, some locations may have a competitive application process. Other locales, especially clinical venues, may have specific requirements related to, but not limited to, health verification, vaccinations, dress, hygiene and personal conduct. Internship sites may also require a separate application and/or proof of current vaccinations, visa and/or citizenship status, other medical-related actions, or other documentation, administered through a centralized unit (such as a hospital human resource department). It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that any site-specific requirements are completed.

Before commencing an internship, the student should, at a minimum, apply to CTS. There should be clear understanding of the learning expectations and outcomes for the internship. Developing this clarity may require several conversations between the student, the mentor, CTS and the internship site supervisor(s).

In addition to any site-specific verifications, each student’s learning goals and expectations must be approved by CTS prior to beginning the internship (whether it is met with BMS 571 or CTS 595). This internship proposal should not exceed two pages in length and should answer all of the following questions:

  • When? Dates for the proposed internship
  • Where? Site for the proposed internship
  • Who? Proposed on-site supervisor(s)
  • What? Responsibilities for the internship
  • Why? Academic goals and expectations for the internship
  • How? Explain how the internship furthers the student’s educational plan and career goals
  • Assess? Outline how the student’s work will be evaluated

The proposal must be signed by the student, their adviser and their site supervisor; attached to any additional description provided by the internship site; and approved by CTS prior to beginning the internship. CTS may recommend modifications to meet University requirements and programmatic intent.

Within two weeks of the completing the internship, the student should provide the CTS program directors with a reflective paper, not to exceed two pages in length, critiquing the extent to which their academic goals and expectations were met, and recommending any modifications to the internship experience or their academic plan.

Currently, the internship requirement may be met with any combination of the following courses:

  • BMS 571 Graduate Clinical Rotation (3 credits)
  • CTS 595A Clinical Science Internship (3 to 6 credits)
  • CTS 595B Translational Science Internship (3 to 6 credits)

Course substitutions and waivers will be considered on a case-by-case basis when the request meets the spirit and intent of the internship requirement. For example, a student conducting laboratory work who extends their learning as a credentialed professional in a related health care field may be granted a waiver of the internship requirement. Students should contact the CTS program leadership to discuss their particular situation at length and should not assume that substitutions and waivers will be granted without justification.

CTS does not maintain a list of opportunities; rather, the program expects students to demonstrate initiative and creativity when designing their internship(s). Again, communicate early and often. Students should discuss internship ideas, requirements and expectations with the major program chair, CTS and the internship site supervisor(s). Please contact the program promptly if assistance is needed.

Qualifying Exam Expand answer

Students in the CTS program must take a qualifying exam no later than the fourth semester of study (excluding summer sessions). (The Graduate School extends the maximum time available to take the qualifying exam by one semester for students enrolled in dual-title PhD programs.) At least 18 credits of course work in the major field should be completed prior to the qualifying exam.

The purpose of the exam is to evaluate critical thinking by application of core concepts necessary for a successful researcher in the major field. Ideally, clinical and translational science is integrated with the major program content.  When this is not possible, a student should be evaluated in CTS no later than the end of their fourth full semester.

The Qualifying Exam Committee in the major program is responsible for the format and administration of the candidacy exam; the committee must include at least one CTS faculty member. When CTS content cannot be integrated with the major program’s qualifying exam the student’s CTS proficiency will be evaluated by a subcommittee of CTS and major program faculty.  Such extensions of the qualifying exam will be coordinated by CTS with the major program.

Typically, the qualifying exam consists of both written and oral components which ascertains students’ ability to critically read, understand, utilize and communicate key findings from the literature (“critical thinking skills”).

Training in clinical and translational science carries the expectation that researchers work to develop the knowledge and skills to reduce their research to practice.  Accordingly, CTS content will be included in the qualifying exam by asking students to develop or critique research with patients, diagnostic clinical materials or data, or populations emphasizing one of the following categories:

  • disease mechanisms (etiopathogenesis);
  • therapeutic interventions including development and clinical trials of drugs, biologics, devices, and instruments;
  • prevention (primary and secondary) and health promotion;
  • behavioral research;
  • epidemiology; and
  • community-based and managed care-based trials.

The category will be tailored to the student and may be evaluated either as one or more separate questions or integrated with the major program content.

Because the exact format of the exam varies from program to program, students should be sure to discuss the nature and timing of the qualifying exam with the program head in their major area at least one semester prior to when they intend to take the exam.

When a written exam is administered, responses will be provided to the Qualifying Exam Committee in preparation for the oral component of the exam. Typically, the oral component will take place within two weeks following the written component (again, students should be sure to check with the major program).

Upon completion of the oral component, Committee members will reach a consensus regarding whether the student passed or failed the exam. For passing students, additional coursework or remediation may be recommended. In the event that a student does not pass the exam, the major program will recommend a course of action, which could include termination of the student’s tenure in their major program. Because students cannot continue in a dual-title program unless they are part of an affiliated major program, termination in the major program constitutes a de facto termination from CTS.

The Graduate School requires doctoral students to complete their program, including acceptance of the doctoral dissertation or the passing of the final performance, within eight years after the date of successful completion of the qualifying examination. Students should check with the major program in case they have set shorter time limits.

Preparation: To prepare for the qualifying exam, contact the CTS Program administrator for a list of recommended readings and study items. Participation in CTS 590 (Colloquium), or courses with a focus on clinical outcomes, is recommended.

Doctoral Committee and Research Mentor(s) Expand answer

Upon successful completion of the Qualifying Examination, students should, in consultation with the research mentor(s), establish a doctoral dissertation committee as soon as possible. Typically, the chair of the doctoral committee is the research mentor.

The committee will evaluate thesis research progress annually, determine when research is sufficient for preparation of the thesis, and determine the student’s suitability to be awarded a degree based on the written thesis and an oral defense.

Doctoral thesis (dissertation) committee composition is based on Graduate School guidelines.

The committee requires a minimum of four members; together, they must satisfy the following criteria:

  • A chair, who must have graduate faculty status in the major program
  • A co-chair from CTS
  • A member outside the chosen field of study
  • A member outside the major program

Some members may serve multiple roles. For example, a sole chair is permissible if the faculty member is part of both the major program and CTS; or the CTS faculty member could serve as the “outside the field” member.

The committee is responsible for supervising the academic program and monitoring student progress. Furthermore, members will administer two evaluations – the comprehensive exam and the final examination (dissertation defense).

The chair(s) – the mentor(s) – play a pivotal role in each student’s training and evaluation. The primary duties of the chair(s) are:

  • to maintain the academic standards of the doctoral program and the Graduate School and assure that all procedures are carried out fairly;
  • to ensure that the comprehensive and final examinations are conducted in a timely fashion;
  • to arrange and conduct all meetings; and
  • to ensure that requirements set forth by the committee are implemented in the final version of the thesis.

Students should strive to develop strong professional relationships with each member of the committee; these relationships will last for the student’s entire graduate career and beyond.

Recommendations to Maintain Postive Student-Adviser Relationships Expand answer

Guidelines for Adviser/Student Interactions

Effective mentoring, open communication and ethical professional conduct are essential for a high-quality graduate education and research environment. Effective mentoring must be based on a commitment to provide every student access to supportive guidance on a range of professional, ethical and collegial issues. A productive mentorship requires that students are treated respectfully and fairly, and that the mentor serves as a role model – upholding the highest ethical standards. These guidelines embody many of the best practices used by the majority of our faculty here and elsewhere. They are intended to provide a heightened awareness of the need to consciously establish an effectual mentorship based on trust, courtesy and shared expectations.

We encourage all students to develop an Individual Career Development Plan in consultation with their adviser.

Topics for Discussion Prior to Joining a Laboratory

  • Time commitment expected in the lab.
  • Funding source and stipend level (The amount of the student stipend and the associated responsibilities may change depending on the funding source. For example, students are not permitted to be involved in teaching if they are funded from a training grant. Find out the stipend level and the responsibilities ahead of time.)
  • Vacation and leave policy.
  • Access to adviser. A regular meeting schedule is a good idea.
  • Opportunities and expectations for publications and conference presentations. Publish early and often.

Faculty Advisers/Mentors will:

  • provide an environment that is intellectually stimulating, emotionally supportive, safe and free of harassment;
  • be supportive, equitable, accessible, encouraging and respectful;
  • recognize and respect the cultural backgrounds of students;
  • be sensitive to the power imbalance in the student-adviser relationship;
  • avoid assigning duties or activities that are outside students’ academic responsibilities or are detrimental to the timely completion of their degrees;
  • respect students’ needs to allocate their time among competing demands, while maintaining timely progress toward their degree;
  • advise graduate students on the selection of a thesis topic with realistic prospects for successful completion within an appropriate time frame;
  • assist students on selecting and forming a thesis committee;
  • set clear expectations and goals for students regarding their research and thesis;
  • discuss policies and expectations for work hours, vacation time and health contingencies;
  • meet regularly and individually with students to provide feedback on research progress and expectations (weekly meetings are recommended);
  • provide students with training and oversight in the design of research projects, development of necessary skills, use of rigorous research techniques, and all other aspects of research;
  • arrange for the on-campus supervision and advisement of graduate students during extended absences as well as regular contact (e.g., by phone) when possible;
  • provide and discuss clear criteria for authorship at the beginning of all collaborative projects;
  • encourage participation in professional meetings and try to secure funding for such activities;
  • provide career advice, help with interview and application preparation, and write letters of recommendation in a timely manner;
  • ensure students receive training in the skills needed for a successful career in their discipline, including oral and written communication and grant preparation;
  • schedule at least one meeting each semester to discuss topics other than research, like professional development, career objectives and opportunities, climate, laboratory personnel relations, etc.;
  • be a role model by acting in an ethical, professional, and courteous manner toward students,
    staff and faculty
  • understand and abide by Graduate School and sponsor policies regarding fellowships and assistantships.

Graduate Students will:

  • acknowledge that they bear the primary responsibility for the successful completion of their degree;
  • exercise the highest ethical standards in all aspects of their research, including collection, storage, analysis and communication of research data;
  • complete to the best of their abilities all tasks assigned by the program, including teaching duties;
  • be informed about regulations and policies governing graduate studies at the program and graduate school levels and take responsibility for meeting program and graduate school deadlines;
  • set up meetings with their mentor and communicate regularly with their thesis committees;
  • prepare progress reports and request feedback from their full committee annually;
  • be considerate of time constraints and other demands imposed on faculty and staff;
  • take an active role in identifying and pursuing professional development opportunities;
  • be proactive about improving their research skills, including written and oral presentation skills;
  • inform faculty mentors of potential and or existing conflicts and work toward their resolution;
  • seek mentoring and support resources beyond their faculty adviser, including other faculty mentors, peers and organizations;
  • consult outside help from graduate program chairs, ombudsmen or other faculty if conflicts arise with their adviser;
  • be aware that if they feel compelled to change advisers or research direction, they may have options and should consult with their program chair;
  • always act in an ethical, professional and courteous manner toward other students, staff and faculty.

Programs will:

  • provide students with up-to-date information that includes policies, practices, degree requirements and resources;
  • guide students through lab rotations (when applicable), assist students with selection of their adviser and resolution of student-adviser conflicts
  • provide students with contacts and resources for potential conflict resolution in addition to the Program Chair(s) (e.g., ombudsperson, director of graduate studies);
  • provide pedagogical training and regular assessment of the teaching activities, where appropriate;
  • monitor graduate student progress towards their degrees and professional development, including mentoring meetings, committee meetings, exam completions and other benchmarks appropriate to their discipline;
  • provide and monitor training in the ethical conduct of research;
  • provide appropriate infrastructure to allow students to complete their education and research in a timely and productive manner;
  • establish and communicate policies for emergencies and unplanned situations that may disrupt the work of students and/or faculty;
  • encourage and monitor student and faculty adherence to these guidelines.
Comprehensive Exam Expand answer

The comprehensive examination is administered by the doctoral committee. Typically it is completed within a year of the qualifying exam. The exam is officially scheduled and announced by the Senior Associate Dean of the Graduate School upon recommendation of the professor-in-charge of the major program and must be scheduled at least three weeks in advance. Students must notify both the major program and the CTS program as soon as they begin to plan for the comprehensive examination.

The committee evaluates student knowledge of the area of research, assuring that they are competent in knowledge of the field to carry out proposed studies, and that they have developed investigation skills appropriate to planning a corpus of research. The format varies with each major program, but will typically include a written and oral component covering both the major area and CTS.

The comprehensive exam may include a written thesis proposal and an oral defense of the proposal. However, some programs schedule the dissertation proposal after successful completion of the comprehensive exam. Check with the major program on the timing and format of dissertation proposals. The Graduate School requires two weeks advance notice for the preparation of the Comprehensive Exam paperwork.

The comprehensive exam is pass/fail. A two-thirds favorable vote by the members of the committee is required to pass. If a candidate fails the examination, it is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether another examination may be taken. Some major programs allow students to retake the exam once; however, a repeat failure will result in dismissal from the major program.

Once a student has passed the comprehensive exam, they may only be required to register for 601 thesis credits in their major program until they are ready to defend their thesis, which may provide significant financial savings with regard to tuition. Because the comprehensive exam evaluates their contemporary knowledge, when a period of more than six years has elapsed between the passing of the comprehensive examination and the completion of the program, the Graduate School requires students to pass a second comprehensive examination before the final oral examination or final performance can be scheduled.

Dissertation Expand answer

Student research will be presented in the form of a dissertation. It must represent an original body of research that is of the student’s design and execution. Before initiating dissertation research, the planned studies should be accepted by the doctoral committee. At a minimum this will require a dissertation proposal and regular (no less than annual) discussions with the committee. During these meetings, it is expected that the student will function as a scientific peer, demonstrating sufficient command of the research topic to debate the pros and cons of the proposed studies.

CTS dual-title students’ dissertations are expected to incorporate research that translates biomedical discovery into applications with the goal of improving human health. Research could range from (pre)clinical trials to community health to policy formation. Outcomes should be clearly defined and measurable and support clear decisions (go/no-go) with regard to “next steps.”

The precise organization of the dissertation will be determined by the major program. Common formats are a single comprehensive scholarly product (for example, a book), or a compendium of several related research publications.

Regardless of the format used, students must follow the thesis guidelines outlined by the Graduate School. The Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Guide provides a good overview of the final defense and thesis submission process.

Training and Funding Opportunities Expand answer

The CTS Program does not provide funding for graduate students. However, The Graduate School maintains a list of funding possibilities.

Additional funding may be available through other Penn State NIH-sponsored training programs. These programs are competitive and highly selective. Typically, requests for applications are issued annually. Students should contact these programs directly for additional information.

Unlike many forms of graduate support, students are not eligible to perform other duties such as
teaching when they are funded as trainees through such programs.

NIH funding is available only to students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Penn State’s Curricular Practicum Training Program, offered through the University’s Office of Global Programs, is an alternative for students on F-1 visas who wish to combine part of the CTS curriculum with job-related experience. See details on the F-1 Curricular Practicum Training Program here.

Professional Development Expand answer

CTS students are expected to increase their understanding of this rapidly evolving field through professional societies and research contributions. CTS cannot guarantee funding for professional memberships, travel, or publication fees; however, limited funds may be available if requests are made well in advance of the date that they are needed.

The following list includes some areas where translational science is represented prominently. The list is not all-inclusive; the program encourages students to explore other opportunities for professional development.


National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences (NCATS)

The creation of the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) by the NIH in 2006 dramatically heightened awareness of the discipline of clinical and translational science in academic institutions, industry, and philanthropy, as well as among the broader public and governmental leaders at the local, state, and national levels. With its focus on the creation and augmentation of advanced degree-granting training programs in clinical and translational science, the CTSA program also provided encouragement and new resources to create imaginative educational experiences for individuals who seek careers in clinical and translational research.

With 64 CTSA hubs, it is likely that there are more than 1000 trainees in these programs at any time.

Learn more about NCATS

American Federation for Medical Research (AFMR)

Established in 1940, AFMR is an international multi-disciplinary association of scientists engaged in all areas of biomedical and patient-oriented clinical, translational and laboratory research. The organization’s mission is to develop and mentor future leaders in medical research, while encouraging public, private and governmental investment in the development of these individuals. AFMR Members are located at government facilities, medical centers, research institutions and private industry in all 50 states and throughout the world.

Learn more about AFMR

Clinical Research Forum (CRF)

The Clinical Research Forum provides leadership to the national clinical and translational research enterprise. CRF acts as a convener to provide continuing opportunities and promote the standards for sharing best practices and debating substantive scientific and policy issues facing the field while providing leadership to influence public policy, increase funding, broaden public knowledge and expand support for all forms of clinical research nationwide.

Learn more about CRF


Translational Science Meeting

The Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS), the American Federation for Medical Research (AFMR), and the Clinical Research Forum (CRF) host their annual meeting, Translational Science, in the middle of April in Washington, DC. Typically the meeting has a strong student presence with opportunities for oral and poster presentations, networking, and many sessions focused on career development.


Many biomedical journals have an implied or specific focus on clinical and translational science. Listed below are several journals with a specific domain theme:

  • Clinical and Translational Science, a journal of the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (ASCPT)
  • Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, a journal of the Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS).
  • Science Translational Medicine, a journal of the American Association for
    the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Individual Development Plan Expand answer

CTS encourages all students to develop an Individual Career Development Plan in consultation with their adviser.

Learn more about career development planning

English Competence for All Students Expand answer

Candidates for all doctoral degrees are required to demonstrate high-level competence in the use of the English language, including reading, writing and speaking, as part of the language and communication requirements for the doctorate. Competence must be formally attested by the program before the doctoral candidate’s comprehensive examination is scheduled. Passage of the minimal TOEFL or IELTS requirement does not demonstrate the level of English language competence expected of a doctoral degree candidate and for conferral of a doctorate from Penn State.

In most cases, the qualifying exam will serve to assess English language competence. Students should check with their major program for additional requirements, such as pieces of original writing. Any deficiencies that are noted will be addressed with appropriate remedial activities.

Communication and Foreign Language Competence Expand answer

In some cases, communication and/or foreign language requirements reflect an important benefit to students and are appropriate to the field. Neither the Graduate School nor CTS has a requirement for communication and foreign language competence; however, the major program may. It is the student’s responsibility to ascertain specific communication and foreign language requirements, if any, by contacting the head of the major program.

Safety Training Sessions/Examinations Expand answer

The major program may have specific safety training requirements (e.g., radioisotope safety, chemical waste disposal, blood-borne pathogens). Sessions are offered in University Park and Hershey.

Students should complete obligatory training as soon as possible; typically a student will not be allowed to participate in research projects until all required safety training has been completed.

Grade-Point Average Expand answer

Credit hours are earned only for quality grades of A, B and C. However, all D and F grades are included in the computation of the grade-point average. Grade points are assigned as follows:

  • A = 4 (above-average graduate work)
  • B = 3 (average graduate work)
  • C = 2 (below-average graduate work)
  • D = 1 (failing graduate work)
  • F = 0 (failing graduate work)

Grades D and F are not acceptable for graduate credit. If a course is repeated, then both grades are used in computing the cumulative grade-point average.

Unsatisfactory Scholarship Expand answer

Students are required to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.0 for the doctoral qualifying examination, admission to the comprehensive examination, thesis defense and graduation. One or more failing grades, a cumulative grade-point average below 3.0, or failing any of the examinations may be considered evidence of unsatisfactory scholarship and be grounds for dismissal from the University. See the Graduate Programs Bulletin for details.

Student Status Expand answer

Students with fellowships, teaching assistantships or research graduate assistantships must be registered as full-time students to maintain stipend eligibility. Full-time status is considered either a minimum of nine credits each fall and spring semester (pre-comprehensive exam) or XXX 601 (0 credits, post-comprehensive exam). Research assistantship appointments typically originate from the department of the faculty adviser.

The student should consult with their respective graduate program chair if they have not yet identified a research mentor or if they are receiving funding from a source such as a training grant.

Vacation and Sick Leave Expand answer

Students should request permission for all absences from the laboratory or the program.

Vacation leave should be arranged with the major program chair (first-year students) or dissertation adviser (second-year and above students). Students should consult with their thesis adviser for policies in place that restrict and or regulate both vacation and/or sick leave within individual laboratories. Students should formalize their vacation dates in writing and in advance. Two months’ notice is desirable and, to alleviate any possible confusion, vacation requests should be made in writing. All other reasons for leave (i.e., sickness, maternity/paternity leave, illness of a family member etc.) also require approval from either the major program chair (first-year students) or thesis adviser (second-year and above students). All requests will be considered in the context of current federal, state and/or local laws. It is the student’s responsibility to contact their thesis adviser or program when they are absent from the classroom or laboratory due to illness.

As a general rule, no vacations or other foreseeable leaves should be scheduled unless they have been approved in advance. Approvals are typically granted unless the leave is believed to seriously compromise the academic progress of the student; in such cases the disapproval must be confirmed by the major program and CTS program heads. As a corollary, students will not be routinely granted vacation leave while enrolled in formal class work.

Thesis Submission and Exit Interview Expand answer

Students must provide the Graduate Program with an electronic copy of their thesis that meets the formatting and deadline requirements set forth in the Thesis and Dissertation Guide. See instructions for submitting the electronic thesis here.

Students will also be asked to participate in two exit interviews: One with the CTS graduate program chair(s) or appropriate representative, and the other with the Graduate School. The Graduate School exit interview is electronic and can be accessed here.

Activating Intent to Graduate Expand answer

It is the student’s responsibility to notify the University of their intent to graduate.

Before the beginning of the semester that they intend to graduate, students should confirm the activation period on the Academic Calendar for the dates when they can activate their intent to graduate. Then, students should set or remove their intent in LionPath.

After the activation period expires, students must contact their major program and CTS, or Graduate Enrollment Services, to activate or remove the intent to graduate.

Other Resources for Graduate Students Expand answer

The Graduate School maintains a website of useful information for graduate students, including living assistance, student networks and other practical information.

See graduate student resources