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Policy on Foundational Coursework for Incoming Graduate Students

Policy approved by Voting Faculty, 17 February 2011

The Department has no specific set of courses that are required for admission into its Graduate Program (i.e., no specific prerequisites).  For admission, the Graduate Studies Committee will look at the entirety of the application, including an applicant’s academic transcript, to assess whether the student is likely to succeed in graduate school.  This assessment will take into account the intended graduate study area for each applicant.  Thus, given the breadth of research areas in the Department, the set of foundational (i.e., primarily undergraduate) courses that indicate likely success for each applicant will be distinct.

However, the following set of coursework should provide a good background for graduate study in our Department, and thus sets out a ‘recommended’ path for many of our incoming graduate students.

Recommended coursework includes:

  1. Biology – includes a year of general biology, plus at least two upper division biology courses.  Genetics is recommended as one of the upper division courses.
  2.  Chemistry – through organic chemistry, as well as biochemistry or environmental chemistry.
  3.  Mathematical foundation – includes statistics, calculus, linear algebra, physics and/or computer programming.  Both statistics and calculus are recommended.

Coursework completed prior to admission will also be taken into account when determining eligibility for Graduate Teaching Assistantships, given that background knowledge is important for successful teaching.

Efforts will be made to ensure that the transcripts and experiences of applicants with ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds are assessed fairly.  For example, evidence of extensive professional experience in a particular area could substitute for less coursework in that area.

Assessing Foundational Coursework for Graduate Study

Immediately upon acceptance, an applicant will be assigned to a single major professor, or, if the applicant will participate in lab rotations in the first year, a group of two or three advising professors.  The major professor/advising professors will be provided with a summary of the student’s completed coursework (generated during the admissions process).  It will be the responsibility of the major professor/advising professors, in consultation with the applicant and the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee, to determine whether the applicant has a suitable background of foundational courses for their chosen research area.  Advice from other faculty members (e.g., potential members of a student’s program committee) may be sought in this process.  Following an initial assessment, any academic areas that need strengthening will be clearly identified for the applicant in the acceptance/offer letter.  This will allow the applicant to plan to address these areas with coursework either prior to arrival at OSU, or in the first year at OSU.  A finalized foundational coursework assessment, with a strengthening plan for addressing any needs (if necessary), must be submitted by the major professor to the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee by the end of the fifth week of the accepted student’s first term.  A copy of this finalized assessment will be placed in the student’s file (as will the acceptance/offer letter).

When a student sets up his/her Graduate Program Committee, the members of the Committee will be informed of the outcome of the foundational coursework assessment via reference to the summary, and also of the progress of the student on the strengthening plan (if any).  If appropriate, strengthening coursework can be incorporated into the official Graduate Program of study.  The Graduate Program Committee has the responsibility to ensure that the student successfully completes the strengthening plan.