Doctoral Academic Studies:

Study programme - Molecular biology

STANDARDS FOR ACCREDITATION

OF PhD STUDY PROGRAMME MOLECULAR BIOLOGY

Introduction: Institution

Introduction: Study programme

standards

Special standard: Competence of higher education institution for doctoral studies

The higher education institution proves its readiness to carry out doctoral studies on the basis of indicators related to scientific research work.

Description (maximum 100 words):

The Faculty of Biology has a long tradition of training highly qualified investigators and is renowned in the region as a leading biological research institution.

The continually advancing research process at the Faculty of Biology is reflected in a large number of successfully defended doctoral dissertations, which have made a significant scientific contribution through numerous publications in top-flight international journals.

The framework for doctoral dissertations is provided by research projects realized at the faculty, as well as by numerous collaborations with other institutions in Serbia and abroad. The instructors are renowned investigators who, through research projects, have achieved outstanding results, as indicated by the quality and number of their publications. Moreover, doctoral studies participate significantly in the education of young scientists.

Standard 1: Structure of the study programme

Doctoral studies have at least 180 ECTS credits, with a previously completed volume of studies of at least 300 ECTS credits in undergraduate academic and master academic studies, i.e. completed integrated academic studies. The doctoral dissertation is the final part of the doctoral study programme.

Description (maximum 300 words):

The Molecular Biology Programme of doctoral studies carries a total of 180 ECTS credits, lasts three years, and has two modules: Molecular Biology and Physiology. Two required courses, linked with the doctoral dissertation, are the same for the whole study programme. The programme also includes five required seminars and work on the creation of the doctoral thesis. For each module, a number of elective subjects are organized into an elective block unique for the module. The Molecular Biology module contains three sub-modules (Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, Molecular Biomedicine, and Molecular Genetics and Genomics ), while the Physiology module contains five sub-modules (Animal and Human Physiology, Biophysics and Bioinformatics, Translational Neuroscience and Biomedicine, Immunobiology, and Neurophysiology). Each sub-module is defined by one module-required course (9 ECTS). Each student in the course of his/her studies earns 45 ECTS credits from elective subjects, of which 9 ECTS credits are for the elective subject required for the given sub-module.

The programme is realized through 1) Active teaching that includes lectures, other forms of interactive theoretical instruction, research work (experimental work in the laboratory is organized in the form of „rotations“), seminars, and experimental development of the doctoral dissertation; and 2) Individual work of students.

Monitoring realization of the programme is the responsibility of the sub-modules supervisors and the Committee on Doctoral Studies, which consists of supervisors of all the sub-modules with the study programme director as a chairperson. The chief instructor is responsible for the organization of teaching within his/her subject. As a rule, the chief instructor engages a number of lecturers on call from Serbia and abroad, each of whom gives lectures in a part of the given subject´s program in which he/she is scientifically competent. Two guest lecturers from abroad are also involved in the programme.

Work on the doctoral dissertation is monitored by a mentor and a tutor from the faculty. Their role is to continually monitor the student´s progress, advise him/her in the selection of subjects, and assist in the realization of his/her research programme.

Standard 2: Purpose of the study programme

The doctoral study programme has a clearly defined and published purpose and role in the education system.

Description (maximum 300 words):

Molecular biology is a relatively new science whose revolutionary discoveries marked the second half of the 20th century. On it in no small measure rests the progress of biology, medicine, pharmacology, bioinformatics, and other related sciences. Closely linked with molecular biology, physiology is a traditional discipline that has undergone a transformation with the development of molecular biology and which today represents a synthetic science with significant influence of informational approaches to biology. Recent achievements in molecular biology and physiology have found broad application in many activities (agriculture, forestry, the food industry, manufacture of pharmaceuticals, and the chemical industry, as well as in different branches of medicine). The University of Belgrade´s Faculty of Biology has educated many generations of molecular biologists and physiologists that have found a place in research and academic institutions, in industrial development laboratories, in clinical laboratories, and on teams of doctors, where their knowledge contributes to the refinement of diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic protocols. The present time characterizes the rapid and expansive development of molecular biology, molecular medicine, biotechnology, physiology, biophysics, and bioinformatics. Now more than ever, modern developed societies and societies in the process of development have a notable need for highly educated experts capable of advancing the progress of science with their knowledge and work. In Serbia, there is an obvious need for higher levels of education in order to produce molecular biologists and physiologists capable of meeting the high demands of the present day. The purpose of the Molecular Biology Programme of doctoral studies is precisely to develop such experts. The program is conceived in such a way as to enable future doctors of science (Ph.D. holders) to:

  • Independently develop original theoretical and experimental approaches to the resolution of scientific problems;
  • Use the literature and information technology effectively;
  • Critically analyse and interpret current achievements in different areas of physiology, molecular biology, biotechnology, and bioinformatics;
  • Independently apply existing technologies and develop new ones in branches of the economy where molecular biotechnology is utilized; and
  • Independently apply existing diagnostic, prognostic, and therapeutic methods and develop new ones based on the discoveries of modern physiology and molecular biology.

Standard 3: Aims of the study programme

The doctoral study programme has defined goals.

Description (maximum 300 words):

The goal of the Molecular Biology Programme is to ensure an intellectual framework for the development of highly educated and creative young scientists. In the future, these scientists can be expected to assume leading positions in scientific research, university teaching, and activities in which their acquired knowledge is applicable (medicine, pharmacy, biotechnology, agriculture, etc.). The programme should offer students high-quality theoretical knowledge and experimental experience in the fields of physiology, biophysics, and molecular biology, as well as specific knowledge and experimental skills in the narrower areas of their investigations.

In achieving its goal, this study programme gathers together a large number of lecturers and instructors from the Faculty of Biology, scientists from the most important research institutes in Serbia, and lecturers from abroad - predominantly Serbian scientists who have achieved enviable academic careers in the world at large. They present students with modern views on current themes in the fields of molecular biology and physiology, as well as information about the latest experimental approaches and new biotechnologies. In the course of their doctoral studies, students have the opportunity to gain experimental experience and, in contact with investigators addressing various scientific problems, acquire the latest information about world trends of research in molecular biology and physiology.

The particular goals of the doctoral programme are as follows: 1) Advancement and systematization of knowledge in the area of physiology and molecular biology gained at the previous levels of education. 2) Acquaintance with themes of burning interest to the contemporary scientific public, especially ones that were not treated or which were insufficiently treated in undergraduate studies. 3) Development of independent and critical thought through interactive forms of instruction such as round-tables, group analysis and interpretation of published data and results of the student´s investigations, analysis of key scientific papers in certain areas of study, etc. 4) Development of creativity, individuality, and personal affinities through the writing of essays, designing of research project proposals, and similar activities. 5) Mastering scientific skills such as the writing of scientific papers and project proposals, as well as the ability to present the results of their research.

Standard 4: Competencies of graduates

By mastering the doctoral study programme, the student acquires general and specific research skills that are subordinated to the quality of performing professional and scientific activities.

Description (300 words at most):

The concept, quality, goals, and organization of the Molecular Biology Programme were conceived in such a way as to ensure that students after completing their doctoral studies will have acquired general and specific capabilities which qualify them for research work and represent a solid basis for the successful building of a scientific and/or academic career.

By mastering this study programme, students acquire the latest knowledge in different areas of molecular biology and physiology, which gives them a good foundation on which to formulate the scientific problems of particular concern to them and design their own experimental approaches.

Different forms of interactive instruction with continual communication between students and lecturers represent an intellectual challenge that stimulates doctoral candidates to independently form and freely express their opinions, focus on the most important scientific problems in certain narrower areas, and formulate questions leading to their resolution. In addition, such an approach ensures that students will be able to present and support various points of view, critically analyse and interpret their own experimental results as well as those of other authors, and evaluate hypotheses and theories encountered in studying the literature. As a result, they will be capable of applying their knowledge and ideas in attempting to resolve theoretical and experimental problems that arise in work on their research project.

Through the writing of essays, publicly presenting the gist of such essays, and seminar work, students gain valuable experience that will help them to master the skills of writing scientific papers and oral presentation of results before an audience.

The experience acquired by working in different laboratories (on a “rotation” basis) enables doctoral candidates to visualize the complexity of experimental work from planning and preparation of experiments through mastery of various methods and approaches to presentation and analysis of the obtained results using the most modern software packages.

By writing the proposal for their own research project under the guidance of their mentors and advisory committee members, students will acquire the ability to precisely define their research goals and design appropriate experimental approaches that yield high-quality and biologically relevant results and make it possible to monitor the realization of the project.

Standard 5: Curriculum

The curriculum contains a list and structure of compulsory and elective courses and modules with their description and the doctoral dissertation as the concluding part of the programme of doctoral studies.

Description (maximum 300 words):

The study programme includes two modules: Molecular Biology and Physiology. Students of both modules have the same required subjects relating to the doctoral dissertation, but different elective subjects offered in an elective block unique for each of the modules. In selecting a sub-module, the student opts for a narrower area of investigation and is assigned a mentor with whose assistance he/she will choose the elective subjects to be studied. Sub-module is also defined by an elective course that is mandatory for the chosen sub-module that students take during the third semester. During the first year, the student studies three elective subjects (carrying a total of 27 ECTS credits) and acquires the laboratory skills needed for the work on the doctoral dissertation (33 ECTS in all). During the second year of studies, in addition to two elective subjects (carrying a total of 18 ECTS credits), the student in cooperation with his/her mentor and tutor prepares a proposal for the doctoral project, which he/she will defend at the end of the winter semester, defence of the doctoral project representing the basis for the student´s doctoral dissertation. The student during the second year is also engaged in the further development of the doctoral dissertation (32 ECTS points in all). Among other things, the candidate´s research work includes “rotations,” i.e., experimental work lasting several weeks in each of a number of different laboratories. The purpose of this activity is to enable the student to master experimental skills and enrich his/her experimental experience, results that are crucial in the education of a modern molecular biologist or physiologist. In the sixth semester, the student, through the subject Presentation of Experimental Results from the Doctoral Dissertation, prepares a presentation of the results of his/her research, which he/she delivers before an audience composed the mentor(s), tutor, and expert committee members.

Students can also select courses from appropriate doctoral programmes offered by other faculties of the University of Belgrade.

Instruction takes place during the first two years of study, while the third year is devoted to research work and finalization of the doctoral dissertation. The work on the doctoral dissertation carries a total of 100 ECTS points, and thesis - related courses carry 35 ECTS credits. Experimental and theoretical work on the dissertation transpires under the supervision of the candidate´s mentor and tutor in consultation with advisory committee members, whose role is to contribute to the quality and effectiveness of realization of the candidate´s doctoral dissertation.

Standard 5 Tables:

Table 5.1. Course specification for the doctoral study program.

Standard 5 Annexes:

Annex 5.2. Course book (in the documentation and on the institution's website)

Standard 6: Quality, modernity and international compliance of the study programme

The study programme follows the contemporary world trends in the relevant educational and scientific field, it is aligned with the country's strategic priorities and is comparable to similar programmes at foreign higher education institutions within the European educational space.

Description (maximum 300 words):

The Molecular Biology Programme of studies was conceived with a view toward the best European schools in keeping with our own human and material resources. Doctoral programmes in molecular biology are among the most competitive programmes of graduate studies, and the curricula at different universities differ concerning the number of specific areas of research. Common to all programmes is the accent on experimental laboratory research carried out by students under the supervision of a scientist/professor that makes a notable scientific contribution in a given area. The stress is on individual student's research work with the guidance of a mentor balanced in such a way as to ensure the effective progress of candidates and unimpeded development of the spirit of investigation.

In creating the Molecular Biology Programme of doctoral studies, we used as models many programmes existing within the framework of the educational space of Europe, namely:

  1. The International Doctoral Programme of the European Laboratory of Molecular Biology (http://www.embl.org/training/phdprogramme/index.html), the most prestigious school training doctors of molecular biology outside the USA. Our programme is comparable with this programme in several aspects.: 1) Students from the very start are involved in research projects within whose framework they develop their doctoral dissertations. 2) Students work in a creative environment that stimulates their personal affinities, creativity, curiosity, ambition, and propensity for collaboration; and. 3) Together with research work, students receive necessary supplementary education and acquire skills that promote their further development.
  2. The Max Planck International Research School for Molecular and Cell Biology (http://www.imprs-ls-de/) realizes its doctoral programme, known for quality throughout the world, in a way similar to ours in that the programme makes use of several research institutes together with university faculties. Successful cooperation between a number of research and educational institutions greatly contributes to the quality of the programme regarding both the teaching team and the availability of material resources.
  3. The doctoral programme of Cambridge University's Laboratory of Molecular Biology (http://www2.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/students/international-phd-programme/) is a prestigious programme known for exceptional concern for the needs of talented young people. Exchange of equipment and other material resources between research groups enables students to work under optimal technical conditions and with the advisory assistance of a large number of scientists and instructors. Courses are organized for students that, apart from scientific themes, treat questions such as academic skills, management, etc.

Standard 7: Student enrollment

Higher education institution enrolls students in the doctoral study programme following social and scientific, educational and cultural development needs and with its resources.

Description (maximum 300 words):

Registration of candidates is realized on the basis of an open competition announced by the University of Belgrade and conducted by the Faculty of Biology. For doctoral studies, candidates can register who fulfill the general conditions stipulated by the Law on Higher Education of the Republic of Serbia and relevant statutes of the faculty. A maximum of 45 students will be enrolled in the first year of study each academic year.

For admission to doctoral studies can apply a person who has completed undergraduate academic and master academic studies, or integrated academic studies with at least 300 ECTS credits, or completed four-year studies under the regulations that were in force until the entry into force of the Serbian Law on Higher Education, and with the overall average grade of at least eight (8).

Also, those having a general average score of less than eight (8) and equal to or greater than 7.5 can apply if they published at least one research paper in the scientific field of the study program for which applying, which is a mandatory requirement for applications but is not separately scored. These persons are ranked together with other candidates.

The doctoral academic study programme requires completed undergraduate and master's academic studies, i.e., integrated academic studies in Biological sciences or related study programmes (in the fields of chemistry, physical chemistry, medicine, pharmacy, verterinary sciences, agriculture, forestry, environmental sciences) as a condition for enrollment in doctoral studies.

The candidates are ranked based on the achievements during their previous education. The accomplishment, which takes into account the number of years of study and the average grade during undergraduate and master or integrated academic studies, is expressed as points (up to 95). A maximum of 5 points can be achieved if the candidate has published scientific paper(s) in journals categorized by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia.

For enrolling in doctoral studies is eligible a person who knows the English language at the level of Independent B2 First according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

Standard 8: Student evaluation and progression

Evaluation and assessment of students progress are done by continuous monitoring of students' work and based on points earned by completing pre-examinations and passing exams. The doctoral dissertation is evaluated based on indicators of its scientific contribution.

Description (maximum 300 words):

Evaluation of students is carried out by monitoring their scientific and experimental work, as well as by continual monitoring of student progress through lectures, discussions, seminars, and finally, the exams. Examinations are taken in written and/or oral form. For each subject, the form of examination is defined by the subject programme.

The overall success of students is judged on the basis of success demonstrated in satisfying pre-examination obligations and by passing the written and/or oral part of an examination organized after the completion of instruction in the given subject. Overall success is expressed by a final grade ranging from 5 (five) to 10 (ten), which is formed on the basis of points earned by the student in pre-examination work and on the final examination.

The work of students with their mentors continues after the completion of instruction. It lasts until the end of doctoral studies, that is, until the defence of the doctoral dissertation.

Successful passing of the seminar subject Defence of the Doctoral Project Proposal is a prerequisite for an announcement of the doctoral dissertation's theme. Publication of two papers in journals from the SCI list, at least one of which has the PhD candidate as the first author, and successful passing of the seminar subject Presentation of Student's Research Results are prerequisites for defending the doctoral dissertation.

Standard 9: Teaching staff

Teachers with the required scientific competence are engaged in the realization of the doctoral programme of studies.

Description (maximum 300 words):

Instructors fully satisfy the requirements of the study programme regarding both their competence and their workload.

As far as competence is concerned, the instructors are leading experts in the narrower scientific fields that they teach. All instructors are Ph.D. holders engaged in work on domestic and international research projects. The majority of instructors hold the highest academic and/or scientific titles. In all cases, the number of references of high enough quality authored by the instructors significantly exceeds prescribed requirements. Apart from instructors from the Faculty of Biology, the Molecular Biology Programme gathers together many scientists from other leading research institutions in Serbia, as well as a number of guest lecturers from abroad, predominantly our scientists with successful scientific and/or academic careers in their adopted countries.

Standard 9 Tables:

Table 9.1a. Book of lecturers on the doctoral study programme Molecular Biology

Table 9.1b. Book of mentors on the doctoral study programme Molecular Biology

Standard 10: Organizational and material resources

Adequate human, physical, technical and technological, and other resources are available for the realization of the study programme. These resources satisfy the needs of the doctoral programme and the number of students admitted.

Description (no more than 300 words):

The necessary number of teachers are engaged in realization of the Biology Programme of doctoral studies. The Faculty of Biology has an appropriate number of modern and well-equipped laboratories, which are continually being refitted. Lecture halls are adequately maintained, a library is supplied with computers, books, textbooks, laboratory manuals, scientific journals etc. In ensuring material means for production of doctoral theses, scientific projects are financed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia, the Science Fund of the Republic of Serbia, the Innovation Fund, and international sources of financing including the most competitive programmes of the European Commission.

Standard 11: Quality control

For the doctoral study programme, the higher education institution regularly and systematically conducts quality control through self-evaluation and external verification of quality.

Description (maximum 100 words):

In order to ensure continuous control of the quality of doctoral study programmes, the Faculty of Biology adheres to established standards and procedures. This is done through evaluation of both the programmes offered and the competence of PhD candidates. The purpose of monitoring is improving the curriculum, the content of instruction, the team of teachers, the research work of doctoral students, and the literature produced by them.

The faculty´s book of regulations governing doctoral studies pays special attention to monitoring the quality of doctoral dissertations and the prevention of plagiarism.

Control of the study programme´s quality is realized periodically through self-evaluation (every three years) and external quality control (every five years).

Students participate actively in control of the study programme quality through questionnaires that evaluate the quality of the programme and instructors.

Standard 12: Public accessibility

For the doctoral study programme, a higher education institution provides public access to the study program and doctoral dissertation as a final part of doctoral studies.

Description (maximum 100 words):

The study programme is publicly accessible at the site University of Belgrade—Faculty of Biology (https://www.bio.bg.ac.rs/studijski-program-molekularna-biologija-doktorske). All doctoral dissertations are available to public scrutiny in electronic form at least 30 days before their defence at the following internet address: https://uvidok.rcub.bg.bio.ac.rs/handle/123456789/15. Also, doctoral dissertations defended at the Faculty of Biology are deposited in the digital repository of the “Svetozar Marković” University Library, and in the digital repository of the Faculty of Biology or BIORE (https://biore.bio.bg.ac.rs/cris/explore/theses). Data on the competence and previous mentorships of accredited mentors, as well as on the scientific papers of candidates, the publication of which was a prerequisite for defence of their dissertations are publicly available within the framework of documentation for accreditation of study programmes (https://www.bio.bg.ac.rs/akreditacija-studijskih-programa).

Standard 13: Studies at a world language

A higher education institution may organize a doctoral study programme in the world language for each field, and each educational and scientific field provided it has the human and material resources to accomplish the programme following the standards.

Description (maximum 300 words):

The study program Molecular Biology is accredited in Serbian and English languages. Compulsory courses and seminars do not differ between the Serbian and English programs. Studies in English include two modules with 36 elective courses whose curriculum corresponds to the curriculum in the Serbian language. All teachers who are engaged in the accomplishment of the study programme have the appropriate competencies to teach in English. Student service officials are trained to provide services in English. Students submit a certificate of English language proficiency upon enrollment.