Advancement to Candidacy and Thesis Progression

Advancement to candidacy

Within six months of passing the oral examination, a student must form his or her thesis committee and file an application for Advancement to Candidacy. If there are any incomplete grades, a student may not advance to candidacy. Following Graduate Division approval, a student is officially advanced to candidacy. Students must be registered for a minimum of three quarters after advancement to candidacy before the PhD degree may be awarded.

The thesis committee

The thesis committee has a distinct role from the qualifying committee, such that their responsibility is to facilitate and ensure that all CCB students receive rigorous training and that they complete a body of novel research in an appropriate amount of time. It is also their responsibility to ensure that the student is considering career options and preparing for life after graduate school.

Program requirements

  • At least one thesis committee meeting is required every 12 months. Students sometimes seek to postpone the committee meeting so that they can obtain 'one more piece of data'. Just have the meeting. It's always worthwhile. As with oral exams, it is critical to begin scheduling thesis committee meetings 2+ months in advance.
  • The first meeting must take place within six months of the oral qualifying examination.
  • Students are strongly encouraged to schedule more frequent meetings, particularly when there are major setbacks with their research.
  • The research advisor chairs the three-person thesis committee. The other two members are typically chosen from the qualifying examination committee, but this is not required.
  • Committee members must be Academic Senate members. You can petition the Graduate Division to:
    • Include members outside of the Academic Senate.
    • Add additional members to your committee.
    • Reconstitute your committee.
    • Change your original thesis title.

Thesis committee meetings


  • At the beginning of the meeting, the student is asked to leave the room and the primary mentor provides a brief update to the committee on progress and any issues currently of concern or resolved since the last meeting.
  • The student starts by outlining their goals for the meeting, which generally includes feedback on both science and career goals.
  • Students should take advantage of the collective expertise in the room and seek advice about any challenges or potential shifts in direction.
  • At some point during the meeting, it is often helpful to present a timeline (as realistic as possible) with your goals for the next year and beyond.
  • A summary of activities related to career exploration should be presented following the research discussion. This is a great opportunity to solicit feedback on professional development and career planning. (See Guidelines for IDPs)
  • After the research and career discussions, the primary mentor will be asked to leave the room. The student is encouraged to use this time to discuss any mentorship issues, career advice or any other topics.
  • Following the meeting, the primary mentor must complete the Thesis Meeting Evaluation form sent by the program administrator within a week. Additional committee members are to complete the short evaluation that will be emailed out within the same time frame.

Guidelines for committee members

  • The committee members are responsible for following up on any significant issues with the student's advisor and/or the graduate program director, with the student's knowledge. The Executive Committee should not hear about a major issue for the first time when they are asked to approve an extension to the '6 year rule', or when a problem has gotten serious enough that it becomes unclear whether the student will be able to complete the PhD.
  • More broadly, if the committee has significant concerns about a student's progress, it is critical that the program director or administrator is informed; the concerns should of course also be communicated to the student and the student's advisor during the committee meeting. These concerns could include: concerns that the student is insufficiently committed to the project, i.e., not putting in enough time in lab, long unexplained absences, etc.; concerns that a dedicated student is not making progress because of potentially insurmountable scientific challenges; or any number of nonscientific issues that interfere with progress. Whatever the case, the graduate program needs to know about it, early enough that the problem can be addressed proactively.
  • Determine when the student has made a substantial and original contribution to science that fulfills the requirement for the PhD.

Responsibilities of the student

  • Put together a thesis committee along with your mentor that consists of at least two additional PIs. They should be researchers who can understand and assist you with your research.
  • Begin scheduling the meeting at least 2 months in advance of the targeted meeting date.
  • Though 2 hours may not always be needed, it is important that you schedule a full 2 hours so there is sufficient time to discuss both the research progress and plans and career development.
  • Communicate in a timely manner with the program administrator regarding the scheduling of the meeting.
  • The focus of the meetings will vary as you progress through your research. In the beginning meetings may focus more on plans or issues that were brought up during your Oral Examination. As you progress, the meeting will be focused more on progress. In this case, progress can be tracked through a succinct PowerPoint presentation. We recommend that you prepare slides that are in the format of figures that you plan to develop for your paper. Start with some background introduction, discussing what is known, and what is unknown, and how your planned research will bridge this critical knowledge gap. For figures that you have shown in previous thesis committee meeting, you can show them briefly as a reminder for your thesis committee members. Then focus on summarizing your progress to date, any setbacks or changes since the oral exam or previous committee meeting, and a timeline for the following 6-9 months. Ethics, rigor, and reproducibility of the students' work should be a component of every thesis meeting
  • Update your IDP prior to the meeting and include highlights of career development activities and plans at the end of your slide deck.
  • Complete your self-evaluation sent to you by your program administrator within the week prior to your meeting. Note this must be completed PRIOR to your meeting.
  • Send out an agenda for the meeting to all committee members at least 3 days in advance.

Guidelines for Individual Development Plans (IDPs)

The IDP provides a mechanism for students to explore a range of career possibilities and to set realistic goals that will prepare you for the career path of their choosing. Because career exploration is a personal decision, CCB provides flexibility in how the student develops and applies their IDP. As noted above, all students must update their IDP prior to each thesis committee meeting and include a discussion of the IDP at the meeting. Specific guidelines are outlined below.

  • Students can choose the specific tool they use for their personal development plan and different tools can be applied throughout the student’s graduate student experience. Almost all research universities have resources for developing IDPs on their websites. Examples of available tools recommended by the Office of Career and Professional Development at UCSF are:
  • Beginning in year 2, students must submit an updated IDP to the program administrator by October 1st. The IDP must include a signature from their PI, co-mentor, thesis committee members or career counselor, acknowledging review.

  • Updated IDPs should be reviewed at each thesis committee meeting.

Graduation criteria

Obtaining a PhD from UCSF signifies that a student has demonstrated the ability to perform and complete high-quality research that makes an original contribution to their field. In practice, the expectation is that at least one first-author paper is "in press" before the thesis is signed. Learning to respond to reviewer critiques is a critical part of graduate training. There is, however, no simple bureaucratic formula to determine what is sufficient, and often the body of work forming a thesis is reported in multiple first-author publications; there are way too many scenarios, and so we rely on the judgment of the thesis committees to make the evaluation of a substantial and original contribution to science.

General Principles: The thesis committee has broad authority to determine when a student has completed a sufficient body of scientific work to graduate, literally by 'signing off' on the thesis. In rare cases, the Executive Committee and the program director may become involved in the process, e.g., if the student and his/her advisor do not agree on when it is appropriate for the student to graduate. In no case is it acceptable for a student to ask their committee to sign their thesis solely because they have accepted a job or wish to 'move on' for one reason or another. The degree will not be granted until the thesis committee is satisfied that the requirements for graduation have been met, e.g., by completing the publication process for a critical portion of the thesis, regardless of whether the student remains 'in residence' at UCSF.

Submitting the thesis

The written thesis must be provided to faculty several weeks before they are asked to ‘sign off’, to give them time to review it and provide feedback. Generally, faculty will focus on portions of the thesis that have not yet been subjected to peer review, or any aspects on which the student requests feedback.

After committee approval, the thesis is submitted to the Graduate Division. The required forms and guidelines for the thesis are available at Dissertation and Thesis Guidelines.

Thesis seminar

The requirement to give a Thesis Seminar varies from program to program. Please check with your Program Administrator for specific requirements.