PhD Course of Study

All students are expected to acquire training in biochemistry, molecular biology, cell structure and function, genetics, and developmental biology, through laboratory research, course work, and teaching. Students are also expected to participate in the intellectual life of the Department through regular attendance at seminars and the weekly research talks of students and postdoctoral fellows (MMB - Mostly Molecular Biology), and by participating in journal clubs.

First Year

Laboratory Rotations
Students rotate through three laboratories of their choice to become familiar with the research programs, gain technical expertise, and immediately become involved in research. In addition to the 28 major research labs in MCDB, students may also choose from 12 labs in the Division of Biochemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Projects begun during laboratory rotations often develop into doctoral thesis projects. Final decisions regarding choice of research adviser and thesis topic are usually made during May of the first year.

All graduate students are required to complete a rigorous core set of courses during the first and second years. These are team taught by two or more faculty members and are designed to provide advanced instruction in the areas of cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, eukaryotic molecular biology, and developmental biology, including the methods and logic of contemporary research in these areas. Critical analysis and discussion of research papers from the original literature is heavily emphasized.

Two semesters of teaching in undergraduate courses are required. These courses include Biology of the Cancer Cell, Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Introduction to MCD Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Immunology, and others.

By the end of the first-year, students must pass a preliminary examination that consists of eight exams administered over the course of the first year. The student must maintain a B average for these exams.

Second Year

Thesis Research
At the end of the second semester, students decide on a laboratory for their thesis research by mutual consent between the student and prospective advisor and begin research work during the Summer.

Elective graduate courses are available in MCDB, as well as in the Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EBIO), and a few other departments. In satisfying elective credit requirements, all students are strongly urged to enroll in MCDB 6440, Scientific Writing or an equivalent course when offered.
In addition, 30 semester hours of doctoral thesis credit are required. Up to 10 of these hours may be taken in any one semester, but no more than 10 thesis hours are allowed prior to the semester in which the comprehensive exam is taken.
The Graduate School requires that students maintain a 3.0 (B) average in all work attempted. For the Ph.D. a course mark below B- is unsatisfactory and will not be counted toward fulfilling requirements for the degree.

Comprehensive Examination
At the beginning of the second semester the second year, each student is required to take a comprehensive oral examination administered by a committee of MCDB faculty, in which the student orally defends a written research proposal of her or his thesis topic, prepared in the format of a grant application. The oral exams generally will begin with a brief presentation of the written proposal by the student including, if desired, a small number of overhead graphics. Subsequent discussion will be roughly based on the written exam but is not restricted to it. The committee is charged with exploring the student’s knowledge of related areas and topics of major importance to the proposed work as well as the ability of the student to integrate and interpret data in areas deemed important for the MCDB training program. The Graduate School allows all students two attempts to pass the comprehensive exam.

Advancement to PhD Degree

Last updated: 2014-09-09