The admission procedure consists of a written exam (an essay) and an oral examination (entry exams are also offered in English). These exams take place at the University of Pavia. Only candidates who pass the written examination are admitted to the oral evaluation. Candidates who are not English mother tongue must undergo an oral English proficiency evaluation (usually during the oral examination).
The number of overall available positions is defined each year, as well as the number of institutional scholarships associated with the PhD course. At the end of the selection procedure, a ranking is defined by merit. Scholarships are awarded to successful candidates following the merit ranking order. Since the institutional fellowships do not cover all the positions available in the program, they are assigned to the top candidates. The remaining suitable candidates can enroll in the program only if paid through funding offered by individual laboratories. According to their position in the ranking order, candidates can freely choose the laboratory and the supervisor (only among available faculty members of the PhD program), with whom they will perform their three-year PhD research activities.
There is also generally one position reserved for non-Italian candidates who have a scholarship from abroad. Candidates applying for these positions are not required to take the written and oral exams in Pavia. A committee will evaluate the documentation provided by the candidates and, if necessary, carry out an interview via videoconference, in order to define a separate merit-ranking list.
The essay topics for the written entry exam always deal with the main disciplines of the PhD Program: Genetics, Molecular and Cellular Biology.
Immediately before the beginning of the written entry exam one essay topic is randomly chosen (usually out of three previously selected by the Evaluation Commission) by one of the candidates participating in the written exam. The topic is then elaborated by all candidates (usually the time available for the written exam is 4 hours).
Examples of possible titles for the written entry exam:
1) Genetic variability and evolution.
2) Biological evolution: from the phenotype to molecular evidence.
3) Information-containing macromolecules.
4) The genome and the epigenome interact in regulating cellular functionality. The candidate illustrate and discuss some examples.
5) The candidate describe some examples of different levels of gene regulation.
6) Synthesis, modification and degradation of proteins.
7) Molecular alterations that undermine the proper cellular functionality: the candidate highlight some examples and explain the possible implications.
8) Molecular biology of pathological processes.
9) New frontiers in biotechnology. Applications and ethical issues.
10) The use of molecular and cellular biology techniques in in vivo/in vitro models.
11) Omics sciences and their applications.
12) The cell viewed not as the simple sum of its components but as an integrated system.
13) Proliferation, differentiation and cell death.
Candidates wishing to prepare the written exam are encouraged to study from the many available textbooks that cover in depth the above-mentioned disciplines (Genetics, Molecular and Cellular Biology). Some examples include:
- D. Peter Snustad, Michael J. Simmons - "Principles of Genetics", 7th Edition, Wiley Science, 2015.
- Tom Strachan T, Andrew P. Read - "Human Molecular Genetics". 4th Edition, Garland Science, 2010.
- Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, et al. - "Molecular Biology of the Cell". 6th Edition, Garland Science, 2014.
- James D. Watson, Tania A. Baker, Stephen P. Bell, et al. "Molecular Biology of the Gene", 7th Edition, Pearson, 2014.
- Harvey Lodish, Arnold Berk, Chris A. Kaiser, et al. - "Molecular Cell Biology", 8th Edition, Macmillian Learning, 2016.
The oral exam consists of a conversation with the Evaluation Committee concerning:
(i) the arguments addressed by the candidate in the written essay, (ii) the candidate’s knowledge of general topics in Genetics, Molecular and Cellular Biology, (iii) the candidate’s past involvement in research, (iv) the candidate’s proposed future research activity (among those offered by the PhD program) and objectives as a PhD student (in case of positive final evaluation).