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Degree requirements

In addition to the basic requirements of the Graduate School for the PhD degree, students must complete a first year mentoring and ethics course, core courses in gene expression, biochemistry, cell biology, and developmental biology, a grant writing course, faculty and student seminar courses (autumn and spring semesters for the first three years), and at least three electives from an extensive list of options in bioinformatics, cell biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, and related academic areas. 

Students conduct laboratory rotations in their first year prior before selecting their dissertation advisor.  After completion of the candidacy examination no later than the end of autumn semester at the start of their third year, students then focus on their dissertation research and preparation of their doctoral dissertation. 

Core Courses:

  • MOLGEN/BIOCHEM 5701 (3): DNA Transactions and Gene Regulation
  • BIOCHEM 6761 (3): Macromolecular Structure and Function
  • MOLGEN 5705 (2): Advances in Cell Biology
  • MOLGEN 5715 (2): Developmental Genetics

First Year Student Orientation (Mentoring and Ethics Seminar):

MCDBIO 7600 (1).  Required in Autumn Semester, Year 1. Joint with first-year Biophysics, Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Genetics graduate students. This course covers topics important for graduate school success, including advisor selection, time management strategies, advice on preparing fellowship applications, and presenting seminars. Multiple sessions are devoted to research ethics, including discussion of case studies.

Laboratory Rotations:

MCDBIO 7780 (variable credits). Two 7-week rotations in Autumn Semester and one 7-week rotation in Spring Semester of the first year are required. Students are expected to choose a lab supervisor after the 3rd rotation and complete an Advisor Form to be submitted to the MCDB office.  Students register separately for each 7-week session (sessions I and II).

Grant Writing Course:

  • BSGP 7070 (4): Fundamentals of Grant Writing
  • Required of all students that joined MCDB in Autumn 2017 and beyond


  • A minimum of three (3) approved elective courses, totaling at least six (6) credit hours is required  
  • A list of approved electives can be found in here
  • Only letter-graded courses can be approved electives; courses graded S/U cannot meet the elective requirement
  • Although advisable, electives do not have to be completed in Year 2

Faculty and Student Seminars:

  • Required years 1-3; total of 6 semesters.
  • MCDBIO 7890 (1) requires attendance at weekly Student Seminar.  First year students give short presentations on their lab rotations.
  • MCDBIO 7891 (1) has the same requirements as 7890 but additionally requires a student presentation. Second year students present a paper from the primary literature (Autumn semester). Third year students present on their thesis research (Spring semester).
  • MCDBIO 7990 (1) requires attendance at weekly Molecular Life Sciences Seminar Series.

Dissertation Research:

Departmental 8999 (variable credits). After completing their laboratory rotations and joining a lab, students register for dissertation research each semester until they graduate. The advisors' departmental 8999 course number is used.

Candidacy Exam:

Students are encouraged to take their candidacy exam in Spring or Summer semester of Year 2, and are required to take it no later than Autumn semester of Year 3. Refer to the MCDB Handbook for more information about this exam.  Students must complete all core courses before taking the exam, and it is strongly recommended that they also complete all elective requirements. 

English as Second Language (ESL):

Required for some international students, as determined by the ESL program.

Rev: Mar, 2023