Ph.D. Program

The Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology & Immunology offers a program of coursework and experimental research leading to a doctoral degree in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology.  Areas of strength within the department include the molecular biology of gene structure and function in bacteria, fungi, viruses, and higher organisms, bioenergetics, enzymology, macromolecular structural biology, bioinformatics, computational biology, and structure-based drug design.

In their first year, all Ph.D. graduate students in the School of Medicine's Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences (IBS) program (of which we are a part) participate in a combined First Year curriculum, which provides broad-based knowledge in important areas of fundamental biomedical research. Faculty from all departments participate in the teaching, which emphasizes critical discussion of primary and secondary literature. The fall semester covers Molecular and Cell Biology. During the winter semester of the first year, coursework includes two two-credit IBS course offerings chosen by the student, together with two departmental courses that are required for our Ph.D. students: Protein Structure and Function (BMB 7320) and Molecular Biology (BMB 7330).

In addition to these courses, first-year students undertake a series of ten-week laboratory rotations designed as in-depth introductions to the laboratories of their greatest interest. During the first weeks of the fall semester, faculty with slots available in their laboratories participate in a briefing session for incoming students to describe their research work. Further one-on-one discussion with individual faculty members is also encouraged. Students are urged to gather as much background information as possible before making these choices as they are likely to be a major factor in determining the direction of their entire professional career. Generally, each student does three rotations during the fall and winter semesters, and on the basis of this experience, chooses the laboratory in which they will carry out their doctoral research.

After the first year in the program, students choose courses from anywhere in the University, to focus on their particular interests. Six credit hours in an appropriate minor are required, which need not be confined to coursework offered in the School of Medicine. In addition, all students in year 2 and beyond are required to register for Journal Club (BMB 7890) each year. It is expected that most course work will be completed by the end of the second years.  A minimum G.P.A. of 3.0 must be maintained throughout the program.

A written comprehensive qualifying exam is administered near the end of the first year.  The purpose of the exam is to assess whether the student has adequate theoretical and methodological knowledge to undertake original scientific research.  Near the end of the second year, the student prepares a written research proposal (also known as a Prospectus) related to the area of the intended dissertation research, in the style of an NIH grant proposal.  Shortly thereafter, the research proposal is the subject of an oral examination by the student's dissertation committee.

The dissertation committee would ideally be selected in the Fall semester of Year 2. The committee is composed of the student's Advisor and three other members, including two faculty from the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology & Immunology whose primary affiliation is with the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology program. Subsequent years are primarily devoted to dissertation research. Students must meet with their dissertation committee once a year (twice if the committee calls for it), to discuss their research progress.

For students who started in the fall 2020/2021 semester, more detailed information can be found here.