Graduate Program Overview

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology has something to offer doctoral candidates interested in paths of study that will lead to either an academic or corporate research career or a career in academic medicine.

We have important and close interactions with the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology, Cystic Fibrosis Research Center, Bioinformatics, Thurston Arthritis Center, the Neuroscience Center, the Center for AIDS Research and perhaps most importantly the Center for Infectious Disease. These various levels of integration provide an extraordinarily stimulating environment wide ranging opportunities for predoctoral and postdoctoral training.

Currently, 70 predoctoral students are receiving training in forefront areas of prokaryotic and eukaryotic molecular and cellular biology, molecular genetics, pathogenesis, bacteriology, virology and immunology, as well as in broad multi-disciplinary areas such as host-pathogen interactions, macromolecular structure, the nature of protein/protein and protein/nucleic acid interactions, and mechanisms that control gene expression.

Our program is designed to accommodate students with varying levels of basic science background and interests. The principal requirement for admission to our program is for the applicant to demonstrate a potential for a high level of creative research productivity.

There is not a defined set of "core" courses that all students are required to complete. In order to satisfy the requirements for a doctoral degree, departmental guidelines require that a student successfully complete six graduate-level courses. Prior to graduation, we expect all students to have attained a high level of expertise in subjects relevant to their field of interest. Participation in both formal courses and seminars/tutorials are excellent vehicles to attain the required knowledge. Average time to graduation is 5 to 6 years

The First Year

During the first year of study students will participate in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program (BBSP).    The BBSP has no required courses, students may take courses throughout the School of Medicine and the Biology or Chemistry departments. Faculty and peer advisors will work with you to tailor your course selections to meet your individual interests.   You have the freedom to explore courses from different departments if you need it, but if you are focused nothing prevents you from starting on specific program requirements right away.

Subsequent Years

During this period of study, in addition to the Graduate Student Advisor, the student is advised by his or her thesis advisor and advisory committee.

Students frequently satisfy most of their course work requirements during the first and second years.  We encourage our students to continue the life-long process of learning by participating in both formal and informal courses; regularly attending seminars including the Department's own weekly seminar series; and (especially in the later years) by going to national and regional scientific meetings.

Predoctoral students are required to serve twice as teaching assistants in the Department's laboratory courses. This requirement is generally satisfied by serving as a teaching assistant for one semester each during the second and third years. This teaching service is not only of benefit to the Department and the University, but also provides the student with an invaluable experience and serves to solidify understanding of basic aspects of microbiology and immunology.

Toward the end of the second year, students must pass the Preliminary Examination. This examination is comprised of two parts. The first consists of a written research proposal that is prepared in the style of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant application. The topic of the proposal, which is pre-approved by a faculty committee, is in an area different than the student’s chosen field of research. When the written proposal is accepted, the second phase involves an oral defense of the written proposal, together with an examination on related topics.

Once the student has passed the Preliminary Examination, he or she will choose a dissertation advisory committee and concentrate on research training in the laboratory of their chosen mentor. Early in the third year, students meet with their advisory committees in order to defend and clarify a written outline of their research goals. This "thesis feasibility" proposal is designed to help ensure that students are working on interesting and tractable problems. Once approved, the student may apply for candidacy to the Ph.D. degree in Microbiology and Immunology.

Throughout the remainder of their thesis research, students are then encouraged to meet with their advisory committees on a regular basis.  This contact provides the student with useful feedback on their research project and keeps the faculty apprised of both problems and progress.  The goal of this process is to ensure that students become familiar with various techniques and tools with which to carry out their research; that they are asking meaningful questions and designing experiments appropriate to those questions; correctly interpreting results; and communicating these results clearly to colleagues in both written and oral form.

All students who are making satisfactory degree progress receive an annual stipend (currently $27,500), plus tuition, fees, and health insurance.