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This master’s program is for clinical fellows who already have or will soon have an MD degree (or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degree) and will (or are already doing) clinical lab research during their fellowship training at UNC (University of North Carolina). Applicants must have UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine sponsorship/employment that will support fellow/resident during this program.

There are many advantages to this degree, built upon our current Cell Biology & Physiology (CBP) Curriculum: more integrative/translational science in the Curriculum (focus of the CSIP T32 NIH training grant), more team science for our faculty and trainees, and more educational partnerships with SOM clinical units. The students who complete this program would benefit from enhanced competitiveness for national physician scientist awards (e.g. NIH K08, K23, K21) with enhanced training for becoming independent physician scientists conducting part time or full time research. The MD trainees would pay tuition and fees out-of-pocket, or their clinical department or mentor could provide funds through research grants (e.g. on NIH grants) as a research assistant awarded to the mentor or student, or through other mentor/department funds. The students would be full time (minimum 9 units or enrolled in 992) and eligible for research assistantships.

The Cell Biology & Physiology Curriculum is already approved for PhD research (CBPH994) or master’s research with a graduate school-filed thesis (CBPH993). However, this program would be different in many respects. BBSP does not accept applications for a direct terminal masters degree nor does BBSP allow direct to program application. This pathway is for direct admission to CBP, and requires an already granted MD/DO degree, and can only be for a terminal masters, and utilizes a masters substitute (CBPH992).

Timeline: Medical clinical fellowships vary widely in duration based on the medical specialty. However, we would expect most trainees to be officially enrolled for two to three years in this program during their clinical fellowships. (One to three years is the typical medical fellowship duration.) In rare cases, extremely advanced students with extensive relevant training could potentially complete the MS in one year; however, we expect this to be rare.  Students entering this program should immediately begin to think about their Master’s Thesis-Substitute Committee (minimum 3 members; at least 2 of which must be CBP Curriculum faculty members, see here:

Curriculum for a Master’s with Substitute:

  • 30 units minimum as required by The Graduate School; at least 2 semesters “in residence” (means 9 or more units; see below for exceptions)

5 units minimum (855-856); can be taken in either order, does not need to be sequential and can be repeated for credit (ask student services manager for 2.5 units per semester enrollment). This is a standing seminar series with different topics and/or speakers each semester which is why repetition is allowed. Speakers are typically professors from other Universities/Medical Schools with some from private industry; our students and professors from UNC also present in this series; the topics cover modern methods, approaches and findings relevant to cell biology and physiology.

  • 2.5 units CBPH855 Fall; Career and Research Enhancement Seminar
  • 2.5 units CBPH856 Spring; Career and Research Enhancement Seminar

minimum 2 grad level electives (see below); at least one of which must be a CBPH prefix graduate level course (3-9 units depending on specific course combination)

–  Strongly recommended: CBPH705 Fall. Improving Presentation & Communication of Scientific Results. 2 units.

  • Other acceptable electives include biostatistics/statistical modeling (must be grad level) or Responsible Conduct of Research (research ethics) CBPH895 Fall (1 unit) or choose from CBPH852-853 series (Cell Biology & Physiology of Human Health and Disease; 852Fall/853Spring); CBPH706 Spring, Grant Writing (1 unit). Other courses chosen by the student and mentor are also permitted if beneficial to the training plan.

(Fall/Spring). Mentored Lab Research, letter grade (H,P,L,F). (CBPH 910; 2-15 units)

The number of units completed will vary widely depending on how many years the student will be enrolled. For example, a student who is enrolled for 3 years would likely not take many units of this course. However, the rare, highly-trained student in a one-year fellowship field, without any clinical patient obligations could take additional lab research units through CBPH 910. However, we anticipate most of our students will be in 2 or 3-year fellowship fields.

Minimum 3 units of CBPH992. Master’s Research (Non-Thesis). (Fall/Spring) (Typically includes the final registered semester)

A student is considered a full-time student with 3 units of CBPH992 (unlike other course units less than 9.0) although 3 units of CBPH 992 alone does not count as a semester in residence.

Non-Course Requirements/Milestones

-participation in CBP research day with either a scientific poster presentation or scientific talk (at least once; currently occurs annually Spring)

-form a Committee by start of 2nd semester in the program; minimum 3 “Regular” members (meaning tenured or tenure track); the majority must be in the CBP program; must meet within the first 9 months of the program and no less than annually thereafter. The Committee will be the Examination Committee. The Chair of the committee should not be the advisor.

– There are two exams required for the Master’s Approved Substitute Report:

A written document with an oral discussion (“Examination”) approved by the committee chair (This is Part I and Part II on the form below). Generally, this could be general proposals for what lab project(s) the student will be working on and an interactive oral questioning of a presentation of it. There is flexibility on the written and oral format and most likely would be discussed in one session. Written documents should be distributed to the committee 2 weeks in advance.

A final written document for the committee (ideally at least a publication in progress) distributed 2 weeks before the exam meeting that will also be evaluated in an oral question/answer type session. (Part III and Part IV on the form below.)

-Thesis Substitute with an Oral Comprehensive Exam Defense:

Due to many short clinical fellowships in many medical specialties the expectations of a primary research publication in press, as required for a PhD are not reasonable for a Master’s Non-Thesis substitute. The Examination committee will therefore not expect an original research publication in press or a formal written filed thesis. As a substitute the examination committee will thoroughly question the candidate in a closed committee meeting and rigorously evaluate written research materials, either as an original research publication in progress or comprehensive literature review of the field. Original research in press is not required but evidence the candidate can synthesize and/or design independent research exemplified in written form. The candidate should be the main contributor (potential first author) of either original research or a review in progress that could be published in the future.

ALL UNC MILESTONE EXAMS require the student be enrolled during the date the exam is considered passed (dated by the committee chair).


The student, and only the student, must go into ConnectCarolina and follow instructions for intent to graduate. The instructions are below as very early in the semester you intend to graduate you must notify the registrar. These are HARD DEADLINES we have no input into:

Appendix: Rules for semesters in residence

  • 9 or more credit hours earn a full semester of residence.
  • 6 to 8.9 credit hours earn three-fourths semester of residence.
  • 3 to 5.9 credit hours earn one-half semester of residence.
  • 0 to 2.9 credit hours earn one-fourth semester of residence.

Forms for milestone exams and graduation clearance:

Master’s Comprehensive Exam Report

Report of Approved Substitute for Master’s Thesis

Program Certification of Degree Requirements