Graduate Program in Cell & Developmental Biology (C&DB)

Director of Graduate Studies: Ellen Weiss

Graduate Student Coordinator: Janice Warfford

Program Overview

The Graduate Program in Cell & Developmental Biology is a training program leading to a PhD degree in the Department of Cell Biology & Physiology in the School of Medicine. The primary purpose of our Graduate Program is to train students to become outstanding biomedical scientists. The Department has faculty with diverse research interests, state-of-art imaging facilities, and an enriching academic environment.

Program of Study

The C&DB training program has a 6-year limit and requires all students to pass the following courses and examinations:

  • Year 1: Four graduate-level courses (two in the Fall and two in the Spring semester). While we accommodate most courses, we recommend students to take the Advanced Cell Biology I and II (CBIO 893; CBIO 894) courses. Students also complete three rotations, and those joining our program take the Qualifying Exam at the end of Year 1 or beginning of Year 2.
  • Year 2: Two graduate-level courses. In the Fall, students take the Grant Writing (CBIO 891) course. In the Spring, students either take another Grant Writing course (CBIO 892) or another elective course.
  • Year 3: Students form a Thesis committee and take the Proposal Defense Exam by October 1.
  • Year 4, 5, 6: Students have an Annual Thesis Committee Meeting. Students defend their thesis by the end of Year 6, or earlier.

In addition, each year starting from Year 2, students give a 30-min presentation on their ongoing research in our “In-House” Seminar Series. Students are also expected to attend our weekly Departmental Seminar Series.

Written Qualifying Exam (end of Year 1/beginning of Year 2)

The main goal of our Written Qualifying Exam is to test the ability of students to critically evaluate a research paper in the context of the current literature on that topic. Students are assigned a topic within broad areas of Cell and Developmental Biology. These topics include Membrane Trafficking, Protein Quality Control, Signal Transduction, Cytoskeleton and Cell Motility, Cell Cycle and Cell Death, Cellular Differentiation and other areas associated with the first year Cell Biology course. The student’s examining committee selects a recent and significant paper in the subject area of that block. The student then has one week to write a six-page critique of this paper focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of the paper and a synthesis of its contribution to the field of investigation. One week later the examining committee meets with the student for the ‘chalk-talk’ oral component of this exam. Rather than focus on 'book knowledge' the exam focuses on critical insights of the assigned publication, future experimental directions and alternative interpretations of experiments.

Proposal Defense (Oral) Exam (by October 1 of Year 3)

The Proposal Examination also has a written and oral component. In the written component, students are to write a thesis research proposal. The format of this is an America Heart Association-type predoctoral proposal with a 12-page limit (which include the Specific Aims, Background and Significance, and Research Design and Methods sections). One week later, the student presents and defends the proposal in front of their thesis committee. Since this examination is scheduled at the beginning of Year 3 for the students, the preliminary data are de-emphasized as an examination criterion.

Click here for more informaton on the Graduate Program.