Curriculum: Doctorate


The awarding of a Ph.D. degree requires the successful completion of formal courses and demonstration of accomplishments in basic research, qualifying examinations, scientific writing and formal presentations of research data. A student admitted to Graduate Studies for the Ph.D. is considered an aspirant for the degree. After passing the Comprehensive Oral Exam, you will become a candidate for the Ph.D. degree.

The general mission of graduate education for the Ph.D. degrees within Molecular Biosciences is to enhance your academic knowledge base, teaching ability, communication ability, and, in-depth basic research ability within a particular scientific area in the discipline. Specifically: (1) to provide academic training in current knowledge in the field through graduate-level coursework; (2) to develop in-depth basic research ability in a particular area within the discipline, through basic at-the-bench research, which will advance the knowledge in the field and allow the student to operate as an independent investigator in applied or basic research; (3) to develop instructional skills through teaching undergraduate laboratories; (4) to develop substantive writing ability through completion of a dissertation and most probably manuscript as well on the research performed; and, (5) to provide overall training which will: (a) allow you to obtain further training in a post-doctoral program; (b) qualify you for an instructional/undergraduate research position in a four-year college or university academic unit which offers both bachelor's and master's degrees; and/or (c) qualify you for a research scientist or postdoctoral position in industry.


  1. Completion of a common core curriculum (see below).
  2. 2nd Year-and-Up students must enroll in one of the following every semester:
    1. BIOL 701 – Cellular and Molecular Proteins (CaMP) Seminar
    2. BIOL 905 – Genetics of Development (GoD) Seminar
  3. Two semesters (minimum) of graduate teaching are required.
  4. Before the beginning of the second year of graduate study, a graduate advisory committee must be established. This committee must meet at least once per year. Annual committee meetings are mandatory for graduate students. The annual report form with signatures of committee members must be sent to The Graduate Program Assistant after annual committee meetings.
  5. Students must enroll in "Research Grant Proposal Preparation" (BIOL 925) in the Fall semester of the second year.
  6. In December of your second year students will have a committee meeting that includes your mentor and all members of your committee. One week prior to this meeting you will submit your summary of specific aims (1-2 pages) to your mentor and committee. During this meeting your specific aims will be discussed and approved, possibly after modification in light of the discussion. Once approved you will write the full proposal for the Comprehensive Oral Examination.
  7. Students will submit a full draft of the proposal to your "readers" (this will be your mentor, the Chair of your committee, and typically one other member) by the end of March.
  8. The Comprehensive Oral Examination should be scheduled between May 1 and June 30.
  9. Upon successful completion of formal coursework and research, candidates present, for evaluation by a dissertation examination committee, a dissertation based on original research. The dissertation is presented and defended in a formal public lecture.
  10. Students must complete the degree within seven years. Exceptions to this requirement require a recommendation for extension of study by the Department's Graduate Director and Chairperson, and approval by Graduate Studies.


  1. Topics in Molecular Biosciences (MB Seminar) – BIOL 701 (fall and spring)
  2. Graduate Molecular Biosciences – BIOL 807 (fall)
  3. Rigor, Reproducibility, and Responsible Conduct in Research – BIOL 817 (fall)
  4. Laboratory Rotations – BIOL 985 (fall and spring)


Biochemistry and Biophysics Ph.D.

Each of the following courses (usually completed by the end of the second academic year):

BIOL 750 Advanced Biochemistry
BIOL 918 Modern Biochemical and Biophysical Methods
BIOL 925 Research Grant Proposal (fall of 2nd year)
BIOL 952 Introduction to Molecular Modeling
BIOL 985 will be taken to reflect bench research. BIOL 999 will be taken once you pass your comprehensive oral exam. Your Graduate Advisory Committee may recommend that additional courses be taken.

Microbiology Ph.D.

Each of the following four courses (usually completed by the end of the second academic year):

BIOL 811 Advanced Molecular Immunology
BIOL 812 Mechanisms of Host Parasite Relationships
BIOL 814 Advanced Molecular Virology
BIOL 815 Advanced Molecular Genetics
BIOL 925 Research Grant Proposal (fall of 2nd year)
BIOL 985 will be taken to reflect bench research. BIOL 999 will be taken once you pass your comprehensive oral exam. Your Graduate Advisory Committee may recommend that additional courses be taken.

Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Ph.D.

Along with BIOL 925 (fall of 2nd year), three graduate-level courses (numbered 600+) that total 9 credit hours.  Here is a list of acceptable courses:

BIOL 650 Advanced Neurobiology
BIOL 688 Molecular Biology of Cancer
BIOL 750 Advanced Biochemistry
BIOL 752 Cell Biology
BIOL 754 Brain Diseases and Neurological Disorders
BIOL 755 Mechanisms of Development
BIOL 757 Carcinogenesis and Cancer Biology
BIOL 772 Gene Expression
BIOL 985 will be taken to reflect bench research. BIOL 999 will be taken once you pass your Comprehensive Oral Exam. Your Graduate Advisory Committee may recommend that additional courses be taken.


The ability to clearly communicate scientific results is an essential component of doctoral training. Beginning in the second year, graduate students are required to make an oral presentation of their data at least once every academic year. This will take place in either BIOL 701 – Cellular and Molecular Proteins (CaMP) Seminar, BIOL 902 - Advanced Cell Biology Seminar, or BIOL 905 – Genetics of Development (GoD) Seminar.


Students must enroll in BIOL 925 – Research Grant Proposal Preparation in Fall of the second year, and must complete and submit a research proposal at least two weeks prior to the Comprehensive Oral Examination in late Spring. The proposal will follow the formatting guidelines of any federal agency (e.g., NSF, NIH), and should develop a research topic related to the general area of molecular biosciences. The topic for the proposal will be determined by the Major Advisor, with input from the student and the graduate committee.


Once Ph.D. aspirants have successfully completed the required formal courses and research proposal requirement, the Comprehensive Oral Examination will be scheduled. This examination should be held from May 1 to June 30 of the second year of graduate study. Exceptions to this deadline require approval by the student's Graduate Advisory Committee. Your Comprehensive Oral Exam Committee will give the exam. You must provide each committee member with a final copy of the proposal at least 2 weeks before the exam takes place. Your Major Advisor may not attend the exam but may instead submit a letter to the Chairperson of the committee, providing a detailed justification of your preparedness for the exam or your absence of qualifications for admission to Ph.D. candidacy. After the exam and discussion of the Major Advisor's letter, committee members will decide whether or not you passed, thus becoming a candidate for the Ph.D. degree. The Graduate Program Assistant will forward this decision to the College Office of Graduate Affairs.

IMPORTANT: The exam must be scheduled with the College Office of Graduate Affairs at least two weeks before the exam actually takes place. This means that, after receiving approval from your Major Advisor and Comprehensive Oral Exam Committee, you must notify the Graduate Program Assistant to get scheduling assistance (date, time, location) and complete the Progress to Degree (PTD) form to send to the College Office of Graduate Affairs.

Exam Format - You will defend your research proposal to the Comprehensive Oral Exam Committee. The committee will also examine you with respect to more general subject areas (not necessarily related to the research proposal) associated with your research, formal coursework and scientific literature of all areas of the discipline. Proficiency levels on the orals exam are divided up into eight separate skill components (listed on this website under For Current Graduate Students).

Performance on the examination will be rated as "Satisfactory," or "Unsatisfactory" and this rating will be submitted to the College Office of Graduate Affairs. If you receive a rating of "Unsatisfactory", you may retake the exam, but no earlier than 3 months, and no later than 6 months after the date of the first exam. Under no circumstances will you be allowed to take the Comprehensive Oral Examination more than twice. If you do not retake the exam by the 6-month time limit or fail to receive a rating of "Satisfactory" after the second attempt, you will not be allowed to complete the Ph.D. program. If there are unusual circumstances, you may, with approval from your mentor and graduate committee, petition the Graduate Program and Policy Committee of the Department to retake the comprehensive oral examination after the six-month time limit. There is a possibility that you could switch to the M.A. program.


Once the Comprehensive Oral Exam has successfully been completed, you will form a Ph.D. Dissertation Defense Committee. This is usually the Comprehensive Oral Exam Committee plus the Major Advisor. This committee is responsible for giving you permission to begin writing of the dissertation. At least three members of this committee will be selected as dissertation readers (one of these being the Major Advisor). Once the final draft of the dissertation has been accepted and approved by the Ph.D. Dissertation Defense Committee, the Final Dissertation Defense is scheduled with the Graduate Program Assistant. All dissertation readers must be present at the exam.

Following the successful defense of dissertation, the Committee will decide if the result was deemed "Satisfactory" or "Unsatisfactory." This decision will be forwarded to Graduate Studies.

Dissertations are to be submitted electronically.