Thesis Committee Meetings

TCM To-Do List

  • Fill out this Google Form to let the GAO know the date of your thesis committee meeting.
  • Submit your online academic progress report prior to your meeting.
  • Submit your TCM form to the GAO after your meeting; below are your options on how to do so:
    • In-person meeting 
      • Have the present committee members sign your completed TCM form and leave it in 299 Weill Hall (you can slip it under the door if no one is in).
    • Virtual Meeting
      • Have your committee digitally sign your completed form and email it to the GAO.


  • Forward the GAO an email thread that shows your committee members agree with the outcome of your meeting; still must send the GAO the TCM form but no signatures are required.

Important Information

  • It is fine if not all your committee members are available for the meeting. So long as your mentor/advisor and at least two other committee members are present, you have a quorum.
  • If you are a 3rd or 5th year, your must also schedule a time to discuss your individual development plan (IDP) with your advisor and sign the appropriate space on the TCM form.


Table of Contents

General Information

Suggested Topics for Discussion

Purpose of Thesis Committee Meetings

Meeting Schedule and Attendance

Prior to the meeting

Conducting the Meeting

Record of the Meeting

Following the Meeting

Sixth Year Extensions

COVID-19 Considerations

General Information

Students are required to hold annual thesis committee meetings to discuss the dissertation project, to review results, and to chart research directions and timelines for the following year up to the completion of the dissertation.

The average time to complete the Ph.D. degree is 5.5 academic years. If a student is unable to complete their degree by the end of 5.5 years the thesis committee can grant a one-semester extension. Funding and continuation in the Graduate Program beyond the May filing deadline in the spring of the sixth-year will be considered on a case by case basis by the GAC upon petition by the Thesis Committee and the student. (MCB Handbook, p. 12) 

For students who matriculated in 2019 or before, there is a two-year extension to normative time due to interruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. These students should add two years to the timings listed below (i.e. 7.5 years instead of 5.5).

After students advance to candidacy, they meet annually with their Thesis Committee. Please adhere to the following guidelines and timeline. 

Year in Program

Meeting Dates

Notes regarding the Meeting

6thYear +

Fall Semester

The student updates the committee on their plans and timeline for filing their dissertation and submitting a first-author paper. 

5th Year

Fall Semester

The student provides an update to the committee on the status of their dissertation and first-author paper, and the student and committee discuss a likely filing semester. Post-graduation career goals and plans for professional development activities should also be discussed.  

4th Year

Fall Semester  

The student updates the committee on plans for their dissertation project; the committee provides input and advice. Post-graduation career goals and plans for professional development activities should also be discussed.  

3rd Year

Fall Semester

The student discusses their dissertation research plans and the committee provides input. Planned professional development and fellowship applications can also be discussed. 

Suggested Topics for Discussion: 

In general, students may want to discuss any or all of the following with their committees 

  • Progress they have made
  • Setbacks they have encountered
  • Places where they need advice or have questions 
  • Dissertation outlines
  • Figures for publication
  • Graduation timelines
  • Career goals and advice for achieving their desired post-graduation position

Purpose of Thesis Committee Meetings

The purpose of committee meetings is for students to receive regular guidance from the committee on selecting and implementing research strategies, publishing research papers, and moving towards their career goals. Thesis committees will also play a central role in implementing and ensuring the success of the MCB publication policy, which states:

The goal of Ph.D. is to prepare students to become independent researchers and to master the scientific process. An important step in this training is the publication of scientific findings, which marks a milestone in completing a project and teaches valuable skills in communicating these results to other scientists and the public. The process of preparing manuscripts also serves as an important step in ensuring that scientific conclusions are placed into a broader context and are based on rigorous and reproducible experiments. Moreover, the process of submitting manuscripts introduces students to the system of peer review and teaches them how to respond to reviewer requests and questions.

Students are expected to publish at least one 1st-author (or co-1st-author) peer-reviewed research paper prior to graduation. Submission of a manuscript to an online archive (such as bioRxiv) or submission to a peer-reviewed journal prior to graduation, will satisfy this requirement. In the case of extenuating circumstances (serious illness, change of mentor, non-renewal of a visa) that may preclude publication prior to graduation, a written waiver from the thesis advisor and signed by the thesis committee will be necessary for the student to graduate.

To encourage productive interactions between the student, their mentor, and the Thesis Committee, the GAC recommends the following guidelines for conducting the annual meeting.

Meeting scheduling and attendance:

It is the responsibility of the student to work with the GAO to organize their Committee meetings within the time windows indicated in the table below. The mentor and two of the three other members will constitute a quorum. If a committee member cannot be present, a one-on-one meeting is acceptable, provided that the faculty member fills out a report that is countersigned by the student.

Prior to the meeting :

Prior to the meeting, the student will write an Annual Progress Report in consultation with the Thesis Committee Chair and email report to the committee. The student will also submit the Annual Progress Report Information to the webform:

The report sent to the committee should have the following elements:

  1. What progress did you make towards your degree in the past year? Compare this with your previous goals (if applicable). If you were unable to attain them, what were your obstacles?
  2. Please describe your current plans for the dissertation, providing a timetable for completion.
  3. In which year and term do you plan to file for your degree?

Conducting the meeting:

The GAC recommends the following guidelines for conducting thesis committee meetings: 

  1. Once all committee members are present, the student will briefly leave the room so that the dissertation chair can provide other members of the committee with a verbal evaluation of the student's progress to date, identifying both the student's strengths and any areas in which the student can improve. This information will help the committee members  more effectively provide advice to the student.
  2. The student will then provide a focused summary of research progress. They should also discuss technical difficulties that have been encountered. The committee will evaluate the student’s progress, provide advice, set goals/expectations for publication, and set goals for the coming year as well as for the timely completion of the dissertation within the normal 5.5 year period.
  3. Toward the end of the meeting, the dissertation chair will leave the room and any remaining issues will be discussed with the student in the absence of the mentor. This phase of the Thesis Committee meeting is intended to facilitate interactions with the other committee members by allowing the student to establish a closer relationship with the other committee members. It is intended to provide the student with an opportunity to identify any issues that might have been difficult to discuss in front of the mentor, which can include lab culture, mentorship needs, and other sensitive topics.

Record of the Meeting: 

At the conclusion of the meeting, all faculty will sign the MCB Annual Academic Progress Form attesting to their attendance at the meeting, confirming that plans for a first-author publication were discussed, providing the semester of anticipated completion, and indicating the level of progress achieved (very good, satisfactory, or inadequate). Third and fifth-year students are also required to discuss their IDP with their PI and use the form to provide confirmation that the discussion took place.  This form will be returned to the GAO within one day of the meeting date. For students who matriculated in 2021 or later, records of the thesis committee meetings will be added to their Academic Progress Report in Cal Central. Students must have at least three meetings in order to graduate, including one meeting at least six months prior to filing (for students filing sooner than in 5.5 years exceptions can be made). 

Following the meeting - the Annual Progress Evaluation:

The Committee Chair/Dissertation Advisor will write a report to be circulated to the entire committee for comments and approval. This report should be submitted to the webform within one week of the meeting date. Filing such reports is required for demonstrating compliance with departmental policy. Webform:

If a problem arises that cannot be resolved by the committee, they may recommend that the student should not continue in the program. The recommendation is then forwarded to the GAC and the Graduate Division for a final decision.

Sixth Year Extensions 

For students who matriculated in 2019 or before, there is a two-year extension to normative time due to interruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. These students should add two years to the timings listed below (i.e. 7.5 years instead of 5.5).

If a student is unable to complete their degree by the end of 5.5 years the financial support provided by the mentor may be extended five months to the University’s dissertation filing date in May of their sixth year.  The decision to grant extensions is the responsibility of the student's Thesis Committee and requires appropriate and documented special circumstances.  Examples would include illnesses, change of mentor, a fourth rotation, and scientific problems unforeseen at the annual fourth or fifth-year Thesis Committee meetings.  In order for such extensions to be granted, reports of all previous Thesis Committee meetings must have been filed with the GAO, and the Thesis Committee and the student must unanimously agree with the extension.  If there is disagreement on the extension within the Thesis Committee or if the student disagrees with the Thesis Committee decision, the case will be referred to the GAC.  Funding and continuation in the Graduate Program beyond the May filing deadline in Spring of the 6th year will be considered on a case by case basis by the GAC upon petition by the Thesis Committee and the student.  If such a petition is not filed by the end of January in the Spring semester of the 6th year, a recommendation will be made to the Graduate Division to terminate graduate standing. Anyone seeking an extension to file in the summer after their sixth year must submit a statement signed by both the student and the PI that they are aware SHIP insurance coverage ends on July 31st.

Any food at meetings of students with faculty mentors, including qualifying exams and thesis committee meetings, shall be provided by faculty, not students.

Information above can also be downloaded as a document from here.

COVID-19 Considerations

The Graduate Division and Graduate Council have approved a two-year increase in normative time for doctoral students (a two year increase for MCB students is until 7.5 years / December of the eighth year). Accordingly, the MCB Graduate Affairs Unit will continue to grant extensions for the affected students beyond 7.5 years whenever necessary, as they approach graduation. The one year increase as well as any further extensions should only be used for students in cases where there is still work directly related to dissertation research; the student’s thesis committee should be in agreement that an extension would be beneficial to the student and not only to the PI. 

Any student seeking the two year extension in normative time (to fall of the eighth year) must communicate this to the GAO for record-keeping and funding purposes only; these extensions do not need to be formally requested or approved by the GAC however the GAO will reach out to the PI of the student to confirm any extension beyond 6 years. Any extensions beyond 7.5 years will go through the normal extension process (memo addressed to the GAC signed by both the PI and student). 

The two year increase of normative time applies to students who began graduate school in 2019 or earlier; this may be extended to later years depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions progress. The extension only applies to the graduation timeline and not to other Departmental milestones, such as the Qualifying Exam. 

The GAC is asking both faculty and students to incorporate a discussion of how the pandemic has impacted the trajectory of the student’s graduate career and timeline. GAC recommends a general discussion at the end of the thesis committee meeting among all committee members and the student. The conversation can continue afterwards in the absence of the thesis advisor.  This discussion should not stop at the level of academic progress, but should also be an opportunity to check in with the student about their wellbeing. Some questions to consider are below. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please take time to discuss any additional COVID-related concerns you may have.

  • Overall, how has the pandemic affected your personal well-being, current research, and future plans?
  • How has the shift-based schedule impacted what you can accomplish in a given day, week, or month?
  • Are you able to accomplish any of your work remotely?
  • If you are working remotely, do you feel that you have adequate resources to do so?
  • If you are not working remotely, what is your comfort level with returning to working in the lab? Do you have any safety concerns?

The GAC also understands that the pandemic has not and will not impact everyone in the same way. Because of this, we are asking the committee members to work with students to help them  develop clear, realistic and measurable plans towards achieving academic goals without compromising wellbeing. In particular, the committee is encouraged to provide input in terms of prioritizing experiments, recalibrating objectives given the current limitations, setting realistic timelines with specific objectives, while considering individual needs for each student.