Path To Your PhD

General requirements for the Ph.D. degree include laboratory research rotations, successful completion of a series of core and elective courses, supervised teaching, participation in journal clubs and student research-in-progress presentations. Advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree requires completion of a qualifying exam. Research culminates in the preparation of a written thesis followed by a public seminar and defense.

Laboratory Research Rotations and Thesis Lab Selection

During the first year in the program, MCB students are required to perform three research rotations in the labs of three different faculty members. Each rotation lasts approximately three months, covering the periods: September-November, December-February, and March-May. The choice of labs for rotation is based primarily on the interests of the students.

After the rotations are completed, students will select a thesis lab from among their three research rotation labs. All MCB students will fulfill the MCB program requirements as noted below.

Research-in-Progress Seminars

During the second year, MCB students present their research to the MCB community once a year. Research-in-progress (RIPs) seminars give students experience presenting to a diverse audience, provides the opportunity for feedback from faculty and fellow students, and keeps the MCB community informed about the work going on in colleagues labs.

Core Courses

During the Fall, Winter and Spring terms of the first year, MCB students are required to take a three-term core course that gives a broad overview of biochemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology. This course sequence is team taught by faculty members specializing in these areas.

Approved Elective Courses

In addition to the three-term core course, students are required to successfully complete three advanced elective courses selected from a broad list of MCB approved elective courses. Elective coursework is typically completed during the first three years in the graduate program. Students will also complete an approved ethics course as part of the program requirements. Review approved elective courses here.

Journal Clubs

Students are required to participate in a Journal Club during each year of their graduate education. Journal Clubs are informal seminars which allow students the opportunity to read, analyze, present and discuss papers from the primary literature. Each student has the choice of which Journal Club to attend. There are several existing Journal Clubs which meet during Fall, Winter and Spring terms:

  • The Nature and Practice of Science
  • Actin Cytoskeleton
  • Structural Biology
  • Cancer Biology
  • Building a Career in Science
  • Cell Biology
  • Mechanisms in Evolution and Development
  • Immunology
  • Microbial Ecology and Environmental Biology
  • Molecular Pathogenesis
  • Developmental Genetics
  • Genes and Cells
  • Plant Molecular Genetics
  • Computational Biology
  • Chromatin Structure

Choosing A Thesis Advisor

Students normally choose a thesis advisor for thesis research at the end of the first year and after they have completed three research rotations. These arrangements are made by mutual agreement of the student, and the thesis advisor, with the approval of the Graduate Committee.

Teaching Experience

All graduate students in the MCB program are required to gain experience in teaching. To fulfill this requirement, students serve as teaching assistants for one term, usually in the second year of graduate study. The teaching experience is considered an important part of graduate education and includes instruction from faculty on how to organize and present a lecture. Teaching normally involves supervising laboratory and discussion sections as well as grading lab reports and exams.

Qualifying Examination

Each student must pass a qualifying examination to be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. The qualifying exam has two components: a written research proposal and an oral defense which focuses on the written proposal. The format of the written exam is similar to a postdoctoral fellowship grant application to give the student practical experience in scientific writing.

Thesis Seminar and Defense

In the second year, students establish a thesis advisory committee. Research progress is monitored by meetings with this committee at least once a year. When the student, thesis advisor, and thesis advisory committee agree that the thesis is near completion, the student begins compiling and writing the thesis. For many students at this stage, thesis research has already resulted in publication in peer reviewed journals. After submission of the thesis and a public presentation, the student defends the thesis before an examination committee. On average, students complete their doctoral training in about five and one-half years.