PhD in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology & Biochemistry

Curriculum and Requirements

The Molecular Biology, Cell Biology & Biochemistry (MCBB) program offers post-bachelor’s and post-master’s PhDs. Course descriptions are located in the Courses portion of this Bulletin. For details on requirements regarding grade point averages, annual reports, and responsible conduct in research, please see the MCBB graduate program guide at

Post-master’s PhD

For the post-master’s PhD, a total of 32 course credits is required. The required courses are the same as described below for the post-bachelor’s PhD. However, depending on the student’s background, one or more of the required courses may be waived in consultation with the instructors of those courses, subject to the approval of the MCBB Program Committee. No more than 4 credits may be derived from 2-credit seminar/readings courses.

Post-bachelor’s PhD

For the post-bachelor’s PhD degree in MCBB, a total of 64 course credits is required. Of these, a minimum of 32 credits must come from lecture, seminar, or laboratory courses, distributed as follows:

Required Core Courses (20 credits total)

  • CAS BI 583     Progress in Cell & Molecular Biology (2 cr)
  • CAS BI 584     Progress in Cell & Molecular Biology (2 cr)
  • GRS BI 735    Advanced Cell Biology (4 cr)
  • GRS BI 753    Advanced Molecular Biology (4 cr)
  • GRS MB 697  A Bridge to Knowledge: A Practical Seminar for First-Year Graduate Students (1 cr)
  • GRS MB 721  Graduate Biochemistry (4 cr) OR MB 722  Advanced Biochemistry (4 cr)
  • SPH BS 704   Introduction to Biostatistics, at the School of Public Health (3 cr)

Elective Courses (at least 12 credits total)

For the post-bachelor’s PhD, students, in consultation with their advisor, choose an additional 12 credits in elective courses. The final 32 credits required for the post-bachelor’s PhD , for a total of 64 credits, normally consist of research credits.

For the post-master’s PhD, students, in consultation with their advisor, choose a minimum of four additional credits in elective courses. Remaining credits, for a total of 32 credits, consist of research credits.

Appropriate courses are listed below. However, other courses, subject to the approval of the MCBB committee, may also be appropriate depending on the student’s area of research:

  • CAS BB 522    Molecular Biology Laboratory (4 cr)
  • CAS BF 527    Bioinformatics Applications (4 cr)
  • CAS BI 502     Topics in the Theory of Biological Networks (4 cr)
  • CAS BI 505     Evolution and Development (4 cr)
  • CAS BI 545     Neurobiology of Motivated Behavior (4 cr)
  • CAS BI 551     Biology of Stem Cells (4 cr)
  • CAS BI 554     Neuroendocrinology (4 cr)
  • CAS BI 556     Membrane Biochemistry (4 cr)
  • CAS BI 572     Advanced Genetics (4 cr)
  • CAS BI 576    Carcinogenesis (4 cr)
  • CAS BI 581/582 Seminar in Biology (2 cr each)
  • CAS CH 525    Physical Biochemistry (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 500    Epigenomics (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 508    Quantitative Studies of the Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 517    Optical Microscopy of Biological Materials (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 560    Biomolecular Architecture (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 561    DNA Protein Sequence Analysis (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 565    Molecular Biotechnology (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 705    Single Molecule Approaches to Biophysics and Bioengineering—Fundamentals and Applications (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 706   Quantitative Physiology for Engineers (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 768    Biological Database Analysis (4 cr)
  • ENG BE 777   Computational Genomics (4 cr)
  • GMS BT 520    Biology of Cancer (4 cr)
  • GMS MI 713     Comprehensive Immunology (4 cr)
  • GMS MI 823     Special Topics in Microbiology
  • GRS BI 610     Cellular Aspects of Development and Differentiation (4 cr)
  • GRS BI 642      Physiology and Biochemistry of Reproduction (4 cr)
  • GRS BI 645      Cellular and Molecular Neurophysiology (4 cr)
  • GRS BI 646      Biology of the Cell Cycle (4 cr)
  • GRS BI 655      Developmental Neurobiology (4 cr)
  • GRS BI 681     Molecular Biology of the Neuron (4 cr)
  • GRS BI 708     Biochemical and Molecular Aspects of Development (4 cr)
  • GRS CH 625   Enzymology: Mechanisms of Enzymatic Reactions (4 cr)
  • GRS CH 626   Epigenetics (4 cr)
  • GRS CH 627   RNA Structure and Function (4 cr)
  • GRS CH 629   DNA Nanotechnology (4 cr)
  • GRS CH 632   Advanced Coordination Chemistry II: Inorganic Reaction Mechanisms (4 cr)
  • GRS CH 633   Physical Methods for Inorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry (4 cr)
  • GRS CH 634   Metallobiochemistry (4 cr)
  • GRS MB 701/702 Graduate Readings in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry (2 cr each)
  • GRS PY 771   Concepts in Biophysics (4 cr)
  • SAR HS 560   Muscle Biology in Health and Disease (4 cr)
  • SPH BS 723   Introduction to Statistical Computing (4 cr)

PhD candidates in the post-bachelor’s program may apply for the MA upon successful completion of the qualifying examination, provided that the coursework requirements for the MA have been satisfied. In this case, no thesis or scholarly review paper is required.

Qualifying Examination

For the PhD, a qualifying examination must be passed. The examination is designed to test the student’s general knowledge encompassing molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry as well as the student’s grasp of areas related to the proposed research project. It is normally taken in the second year after most or all of the formal coursework has been completed. It consists of a written preliminary exam, offered twice a year, and an oral qualifying exam administered by a committee of no fewer than five faculty, at least four of whom must be members of the MCBB program (including the thesis advisor). The oral qualifying exam should be passed within six months of the preliminary exam. Any student failing this examination may, at the discretion of the examination committee, have the opportunity to take it again. Failure of the second examination will be grounds for automatic dismissal from the PhD program and the loss of any further financial aid, although the student may still be eligible for the MA provided that those degree requirements are met.

Teaching Requirement

The program requires a minimum of two semesters’ participation in teaching during a graduate student’s career as part of the PhD.


For the PhD, a dissertation of publication quality describing original research is required. The first reader must be a member of the MCBB program. The thesis committee consists of no fewer than five faculty, of whom at least three (including the first reader) must be members of the MCBB program. At least one outside member is encouraged. After passing the qualifying examination, the student is required to meet with this committee on a regular basis, usually at least once a year, at which time the student’s research progress will be evaluated. Before the thesis defense is scheduled, the committee will agree on the body of work that is sufficient to constitute the thesis. Defense of the research embodied in the thesis includes a public seminar and a private meeting with the faculty committee.