PhD in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology & Biochemistry

The PhD in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry (MCBB) is designed to build a solid foundation in these three, related fields through coursework and seminars, and to develop the skills for achieving cutting-edge research accomplishments. The program is based on an interdisciplinary environment and a breadth of approaches and biological interests, including faculty from multiple departments (e.g., Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, Health Sciences). Its goal is to propel students into successful careers in academia, research institutions, or industry (e.g., biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries), or in government as policy makers. The program accepts post-bachelor’s applicants with degrees in related disciplines where the focus has been on biology, chemistry, biotechnology, biochemistry, or a relevant field.

Course Requirements

For details on requirements regarding grade point averages, annual reports, and responsible conduct in research, please see the MCBB graduate program guide.

Post-Bachelor’s Requirements

For the post-bachelor’s PhD in MCBB, a total of 64 credits is required. Of these, a minimum of 32 credits must derive from lecture or seminar courses, and a minimum of 12 credits from elective courses. Remaining coursework normally consists of research credits. Course requirements are as follows:

  • GRS BI 735: Advanced Cell Biology
  • GRS BI 753: Advanced Molecular Biology
  • GRS MB 721: Graduate Biochemistry or MB 722: Advanced Biochemistry
  • SPH BS 704: Introduction to Biostatistics
  • GRS MB 697: A Bridge to Knowledge: A Practical Seminar for First-Year Graduate Students
  • CAS BI 583: Progress in Cell & Molecular Biology
  • CAS BI 584: Progress in Cell & Molecular Biology
  • 12 credits in elective courses

Post-Master’s Requirements

For the post-master’s PhD, a total of 32 credits is required, of which 24 are composed of course credits from lecture or seminar courses. The required courses are the same as the post-bachelor’s program, except only 4 credits in elective courses are required. However, depending on the student’s background, one or more of the specific 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.

Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for this degree.

Qualifying Examination

This 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 the proposed research project and ability to synthesize findings and propose and experimentally test hypotheses. 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, at the discretion of the examination committee, may 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.

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.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their fields and demonstrate a mastery of their fields of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

Teaching Requirement

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