Astrobiology Research Review: Policies & Procedures

Purpose of Review

To receive a Dual-Title PhD in Astrobiology, students must undertake a dissertation project that has relevance to the field of astrobiology. As such, students pursuing the Dual-Title PhD will necessarily have to dedicate more time, energy, and resources to astrobiology-relevant research than their peers seeking only a Certificate.

“Astrobiology-relevant research” is broadly defined as research that addresses questions of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the Universe. As one example, research in areas that address or are similar to those delineated in the Astrobiology Roadmap (DesMarais et al., 2008, Astrobiology, 8(4), 715) would be considered astrobiology relevant; other topics, though, would also be acceptable, pending review/approval of the Standards Committee.

The Astrobiology Program Standards Committee, comprised of UWAB faculty, will review and approve students’ research as astrobiology-relevant prior to the student’s General Exam (or equivalent) and prior to the student’s Final Exam / Dissertation Defense.
 


Review Procedure

To ensure the research is astrobiology relevant, students will be required to present their proposed research to the Standards Committee (1) before completing the General Exam and (2) prior to scheduling a Final Exam.
 

  • Astrobiology Review for Candidacy: General Exam (or Equivalent)

The student will present an application to the Standards Committee to have his/her dissertation work considered as astrobiology relevant. The application should be turned in to the Astrobiology Program Administrator at least six weeks prior to the PhD Candidacy (General) Exam. It will then be distributed to the Standards Committee and to any astrobiology faculty on the student’s PhD Candidacy Exam Committee. The application will consist of a cover page (form), a written description of the proposed research, and a letter of support from the student’s astrobiology advisor. The written description of the research may be a copy of the written part of the PhD Candidacy (General) Exam prepared for the student’s home department, as long as it contains a sufficient description of the research to allow the Standards Committee to assess the extent of the relevance to astrobiology. The letter from the student’s advisor need not exceed one page, but it must contain a brief summary of the proposed research with respect to astrobiology, and a clear recommendation that the research has overall astrobiology relevance.

The Standards Committee will review any astrobiology-relevant research proposals submitted by students and notify the student of their decision, in writing, within two weeks. A majority vote is required for a student’s proposal to be approved.

If the Committee approves the student’s proposed research as appropriately astrobiology-relevant, it becomes the responsibility of the student and his/her astrobiology advisor to monitor and ensure that the astrobiology-relevance is maintained throughout the research and writing process. Should the student or advisor have concerns about any change in the astrobiology-relevance (or should the nature of the research substantively change), the concerns should be brought to the attention of the Standards Committee Chair. The Chair will advise the student on whether or not the research requires re-review by the entire Standards Committee.

If the Committee’s decision is not in the student’s favor, the Committee will notify the student, in writing, with a clear and detailed reason for the decision. A student may appeal the decision and request reconsideration. Appeals require a minimum of two letters, one from the student and one from his/her astrobiology advisor, addressed to the Standards Committee Chair and delivered to the Program Administrator. The letters must offer new information in addition to any information provided in the original application and should directly respond to the points raised by the Committee. Upon receipt of both letters, the Standards Committee will reconsider the appeal and respond within two weeks. A majority vote of the Standards Committee is necessary to make a decision on a student’s appeal. A student may appeal the Committee’s decision only once. Revisions, responses, and appeals to the Committees decision should be received and acted upon before a student completes the General Exam.

If the committee’s decision is not in the student’s favor and he/she does not wish to appeal the decision (or appeals and is denied again) the student may proceed toward his/her PhD in accordance with the home department’s policies and procedures. However, the student can no longer remain enrolled in the astrobiology degree track. In this event, the Astrobiology Program Administrator will provide formal notification to the home department that the student should be disenrolled from the Astrobiology degree track and transferred into an appropriate degree track identified by the department.
 

  • Astrobiology Review for Awarding PhD: Final Exam (Dissertation Defense)

Before a student seeks to schedule the Final Exam and submit his/her dissertation to the home department, he/she must submit a final research update, and supporting materials, to the UWAB standards committee. The purpose of this review is to ensure that astrobiology relevance has been maintained as part of the student’s dissertation project.

By the end of the first week of the quarter before the quarter in which the student intends to schedule the Final Exam, he/she must submit a research update to the Standards Committee. (e.g., If a student plans to schedule a Final Exam in the Spring quarter, the research update must be submitted in the first week of the preceding Winter quarter.) The research update must include a cover letter from the student’s astrobiology advisor as well as relevant supporting materials (e.g., abstract, outline, etc.) sufficient to demonstrate that the astrobiology relevance has been maintained at a level sufficiently comparable to the astrobiology-relevance approved prior to the General Exam.

The Standards Committee will notify the student of its decision within two weeks. If the Committee finds in the student’s favor, the student should proceed with completing the dissertation and scheduling a Final Exam. If the Committee does not find in the student’s favor the Committee will notify the student, in writing, with a clear and detailed reason for the decision. A student may appeal the decision and request reconsideration. Or the student may revise his/her final dissertation materials in response to the Committee’s decision. All revisions and appeals must be received and acted upon before the student submits his/her dissertation to the home department.

If the committee’s decision is not in the student’s favor and he/she does not wish to appeal the decision (or appeals and is denied again) the student may proceed toward his/her PhD in accordance with the home department’s policies and procedures. However, the student can no longer remain enrolled in the astrobiology degree track. In this event, the Astrobiology Program Administrator will provide formal notification to the home department that the student should be disenrolled from the Astrobiology degree track and transferred into an appropriate degree track identified by the department.