PhD Program

The PhD in Oral Biology is primarily a research degree and the thesis research constitutes a major part of the student’s program.

The program is designed to ensure that graduates will develop the capability to initiate independent research programs in important areas of oral biology. Most students execute projects that advance mechanistic understanding. Clinical studies, or studies involving adaptation of existing technologies to a dental problem, are not regarded as appropriate projects in this program.


The PhD in Oral Biology is designed as a 4-year program. Students are encouraged to focus in one of five areas of emphasis: biomaterials and biomechanics, epithelial biology and carcinogenesis, microbiology and immunology, sensory neuroscience, and bone biology, craniofacial development, and tissue engineering. An exceptional student can create his/her own area of emphasis or specialize in topics not listed here; students should discuss their interests with the Director of Graduate Studies before applying.

The first year of the PhD program consists primarily of a core curriculum recommended by the Graduate Faculty for each area. The core curriculum provides students with a working knowledge of the major concepts and research paradigms in that scientific area, a working vocabulary, and the basis for continued learning. During the first year, the graduate student also selects a laboratory, a research advisor and a cutting-edge research problem for investigation and thesis preparation.

During months 13 through 15 in residence, the student writes a major research thesis proposal, which will be defended in writing by month 16. The written and oral exams must capture the student’s ability to think critically about the field and the application of logical experimental designs to test hypotheses and answer questions.

During month 18, students present a brief research seminar consisting of the plan for thesis research and preliminary data to evaluate the promise of success in the lab.

Upon completion of this two-part preliminary examination of the thesis proposal, the student will work largely on thesis research through month 45 in residence.

Months 45 through 48 will be used for dissertation writing. Students must also present a public seminar describing their thesis research (which is attended by the final oral exam committee) no later than six months before defense of the thesis. The dissertation will be defended in another public seminar in month 48.


All applicants to the PhD program must be awarded at least one year of full fellowship support (or equivalent) before admission will be granted. The Program has limited fellowships and scholarships available; all applicants are considered for these awards as part of the application review. Applicants are encouraged to apply for individual grants, fellowships, and scholarships from their governments, research agencies, and foundations. Please contact us with questions about funding.

Course requirements

Coursework for the PhD degree is selected to give the student a broad background in oral biology plus advanced coursework directly related to the student’s research interests. Students must complete a major core curriculum of at least 24 credits. Of those 24 credits, all students must satisfactorily complete 8 credits of oral biology topics courses (OBIO 8020-8028), and register and participate in the oral biology student seminar series (OBIO 8030) each semester.

Courses may be selected from other disciplines with the approval of the advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. A designated minor (minimum 12 credits) in a nonclinical discipline is also required. A supporting program option, in lieu of a designated minor, is not acceptable. The official degree program listing all courses offered for the major and minor should be submitted after completion of 4 semesters in residence. After the preliminary written and oral exams have been passed, students are required to register for a minimum of 24 thesis credits while writing the doctoral thesis.

Written preliminary examination

The written preliminary examination consists of the submission of a research proposal. The proposal must represent the student’s own work. Excessive intellectual assistance or editing by the advisor is not allowed in the preparation of the proposals. To promote the learning process, however, students are encouraged to initiate discussions and seek input from faculty with appropriate expertise as the research proposal is developed.

The proposal is based on the student’s proposed thesis research and must be submitted and defended in writing by the 16th month in residence. Students in combined clinical specialty/PhD tracks may file a petition with the Director of Graduate Studies for a reasonable extension of the deadline for submission of the thesis research proposal. 

The significance of the proposed research must be addressed, and the literature review should be critical rather than exhaustive. The literature review should lead the reader to a significant research question which is then stated as a formal hypothesis. The experimental design must describe a definitive and feasible test of the validity of the hypothesis. The experimental protocol need not be described in definitive detail, but must provide sufficient information so as to be readily comprehensible to a knowledgeable reviewer. The proposals are each reviewed by a committee of three readers assigned by the Director of Graduate Studies. Reviewers will prepare written critiques. As appropriate, students must respond in writing to the critique point-by-point and modify the proposal. Unanimous approval of the proposals by the reviewers constitutes completion of the preliminary written examination.

Preliminary oral examination

The preliminary oral examination is scheduled after the preliminary written examination is successfully completed. It consists primarily of a defense of the thesis proposal, but any area of oral biology and related disciplines (particularly the minor) may also be covered. The scheduling, content, and conduct of the preliminary oral examination are outlined in detail in the Graduate School Catalog. If the examination is failed, it may be repeated once at the discretion of the examining committee in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.


While the conduct of the thesis research is primarily under the direction of the student’s advisor, the student is urged to meet at least once each semester with members of the final oral examination committee to review progress.

Research Seminar
Students must present a public seminar describing progress in their thesis research no later than six months before the anticipated date of defense of the thesis. The seminar will be attended by members of the final oral examination committee and the public.

Final Oral Examination
The final oral examination consists of a public defense of the thesis, and is conducted as described in the Graduate School Catalog.

Research seminar

Students must present a public seminar describing progress in their thesis research no later than six months before the anticipated date of defense of the thesis. The seminar will be attended by members of the final oral examination committee and the public.

Final oral examination

The final oral examination consists of a public defense of the thesis, and is conducted as described in the Graduate School Catalog.

Combined studies

For students holding the DDS degree, it is possible to obtain clinical specialty training concurrently with graduate studies in Oral Biology. All requirements for the clinical program must be satisfied independently of training in Oral Biology. Concurrent training will increase the total time required to complete the PhD program.

Graduate School Requirements

The Graduate School Catalog contains detailed information concerning registration, degree requirements, program and thesis registration, and other procedures and deadlines. The Director of Graduate Studies and the student’s advisor will assist the student in complying with Graduate School requirements. It is the student’s responsibility to meet all Graduate School requirements and deadlines as outlined in the Catalog.

Selecting an Advisor

New students will be under the general supervision of the Director of Graduate Studies, or assigned a temporary advisor by the Director of Graduate Studies. Students should familiarize themselves as rapidly as possible with faculty members in the Graduate Program in Oral Biology through tutorials, seminars, and informal contacts. Students must choose an advisor by the end of the first semester in residence. Students may change advisors subsequently, with the advice and consent of the Director of Graduate Studies. Selection of an advisor is critically important, since the student and advisor together plan the student’s program of coursework and the thesis research project. Research rotations are available with faculty members for those students who wish to become familiar with faculty research to aid in selection of an advisor.

Waiver of Core Courses

Demonstration that equivalent course(s) were successfully (grade of B or better) completed at the University of Minnesota or elsewhere may result in the waiving of core course(s) as appropriate.

Evaluation of Student Progress

To remain in good academic standing in the Oral Biology Graduate Program, students must maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 in both the major and minor areas. A student who does not obtain a GPA of 3.0 in any one semester will be placed on academic probation for the following semester. Students with a cumulative GPA of less than 3.0 for two consecutive semesters will be terminated from the program. Only grades of A or B are acceptable in all oral biology topics courses. Receipt of a lower grade in an oral biology topics course requires repetition of the course.

Students will not be permitted to register for additional courses if they have more than 6 credits of incomplete coursework. Students must also satisfy Graduate School requirements for the PhD degrees.

Research tracks

Students are encouraged to focus in one of our five areas of special emphasis. The calendars in these documents are merely suggestions. Each student will receive customized training.