General Information


Students should form their thesis committee by the end of the Fall semester of the second year in the department, have their thesis topic approval meeting by March 31 of their second year in the department and have annual progress meetings thereafter. Note: Your second year in the Dept. is your third year in graduate school.

Students will provide their committee with a progress report at least one week prior to each meeting following approval of the thesis topic. The document will consist of a Specific Aims page followed by a description of progress to date organized by Aim. The progress report should include any changes in Aims, a summary of key results, and plans for future experiments.  The report should also communicate the student's vision for how results could be organized into publications, and the current status of progress towards publications.

To assist you with scheduling your meetings, you may want to try or another on-line meeting scheduler.


There are two forms that you will need, one is for the Graduate School and is required for graduation. Part I is the Report of Doctoral Committee Composition, which must be completed during your third year; and part II is for your Report of Approved Dissertation Project and it should be completed no later than March 31 of your second year in the department.  Always let Dixie know in advance when you have a meeting so that she may prepare the appropriate form for you to pick up prior to your meeting. She will need the working title of your dissertation prior to your project approval meeting.

The second one is a departmental form that helps us keep track of your committee meetings and of your progress. You will pick up this form from Dixie before each meeting, give it to your committee chair to complete, keep a copy for yourself and return the original to Dixie.


The doctoral dissertation committee should consist of no fewer than five people, at least one of whom shall be named the dissertation advisor and one your committee chair. A majority of each dissertation committee must be regular members of the graduate faculty. At least four of the committee members must be members of the Department (either primary or joint faculty). After your committee is recorded, please let Dixie know of any subsequent additions or substitutions of a Faculty member on your committee.

The thesis committee chair will be a department faculty member different than the research advisor. The duties of the thesis committee chair are as follows:

  • Chair leads all thesis committee meetings, including final defense.
  • Chair opens each thesis committee meeting by separately asking the student and the research advisor, in each other's absence, to briefly describe for the committee (i) their perception of the student's progress toward their degree, and (ii) any problems or challenges that may benefit from the advice or intervention of the committee.
  • Chair signs departmental form indicating thesis committee meeting was held.
  • Chair signs the final oral examination and report of final dissertation form.  Also certifies (by initialing box in part IV of form) that dissertation has been approved for electronic submission at time of defense if no edits requested or after any required edits are done.
  • Chair acts as an impartial mediator in any disputes that may arise between the research advisor and the student related to the student's research or thesis. The student will choose the thesis committee chair in consultation with the research advisor. In order to enhance the independence of the chair, it is suggested that the Chair not be a close collaborator of the research advisor. The thesis committee chair cannot be the spouse or "significant other" of the research advisor.

Note: The thesis committee chair cannot be the spouse or "significant other" of the research advisor; however, such individuals are allowed to serve on the thesis committee.


Students will hold a thesis project approval meeting with their thesis committee by March 31 of their second year in the department. At least one week prior to the meeting, students will provide their thesis committee with a written document of two pages or less describing their hypotheses, Specific Aims, and a brief overview of their research design, including which parts of their research design have been completed.

Note: Second year in the department corresponds to third year Ph.D. students (because the first year is in BBSP) and second year M.D./Ph.D. students. Students typically take their oral preliminary exam in the fall of their second year, and choose their thesis committee by the end of the fall semester of their second year. The March 31 deadline was chosen to avoid faculty scheduling conflicts at the peak time of prelim topic selection by second year students. Thus, students will have about five months following their oral exam in which to hold their project approval meeting.


The decision of when to write the dissertation is a collective one made by you, your advisor and your committee. When you’re ready to begin writing your dissertation, you must consult with your committee advisor, chair and committee members regarding content and format of the document. The expectation of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology is that all Ph.D. students will conduct sufficient research to result in at least two first-author publications describing original results in high quality, peer-reviewed journals.  As a minimum standard, to earn the Ph.D. degree we require that (i) a student must be an author on at least two manuscripts (one of which must be accepted for publication), and (ii) prior to scheduling the Ph.D. defense, a student must have peer reviews returned for at least one first-author or co-first-author primary research manuscript."

Typically, the dissertation is organized into chapters. Chapter 1 is the Introduction and background. Chapters 2-4 (or more) are for each project and the last chapter is for Discussion in which the graduate student is asked to speculate on the immediate and long-term direction of the science. For the latest Graduate School guidelines on writing your dissertation, please refer to and for information about the electronic submission of your dissertation please refer to


The final defense of your dissertation will take place in two stages:

  1. First, a private defense in front of the thesis committee. The student should meet with the committee chair beforehand to discuss and agree upon general expectations for a brief initial presentation of no more than 10 slides. The presentation can include a synopsis of dissertation highlights, but should highlight broader or unresolved aspects of the thesis research and facilitate a forward-thinking conversation. The intent of the presentation is to help the committee assess whether or not the student has become a mature scientist. The committee will engage the student by asking questions arising from the presentation, the dissertation, and if applicable, peer reviews of a manuscript used to satisfy the publication requirement but not yet accepted for publication. If the student passes the defense, then all committee members, including the advisor and chair, will sign the appropriate graduate school document. The thesis committee chair will certify (by initialing the final exam form) that the dissertation has been approved for electronic submission at the time of defense if no edits are requested, or after any required edits are completed and approved.
  2. The student will present a formal public seminar of their research results no sooner than two weeks after their successful private defense.  Thesis committee members are encouraged but not required to attend the public seminar.  A final grade for MCRO 994 will not be submitted until after the required public seminar.

    Schedule a date and location that works for you and all of your committee members for your private oral exam. All committee members are expected be present at your final oral defense meeting. If a common date cannot be determined, substitution of a committee member is an alternative after approval by the committee and the advisor. Please notify the Student Services Manager for formal substitution of a committee member. At least two weeks prior to the final oral exam, give your committee a draft of your dissertation. (If the thesis is not provided to the committee at least two weeks prior to the defense, then the thesis committee may, at their discretion, postpone the defense.

    Pick-up the Report of Final Oral Examination form the day before, or the day of the meeting and give it to your committee chair and committee members for their approval and signatures. A majority of the committee members must approve and sign the final dissertation.

    The Student Services Manager will need your abstract, seminar title and logistics at least two weeks prior to your seminar.

    For the latest information on writing your dissertation, please see the Thesis and Dissertation Guide.   For information about the electronic submission of your dissertation visit


    All first year Ph.D. students in the BBSP and School of Medicine are required to participate in formal training discussions on the subject of Scientific Ethics that are held annually.

    ALL MCRO students are required to attend the annual ethics seminar presented by the School of Medicine and the Graduate School.


    As described in the The Graduate School Handbook, grades for graduate students are H (High Pass), P (Pass), L (Low pass), F (Fail), IN (Incomplete), AB (Absent from final exam), and NG (No grade). Students who fail to complete satisfactorily the work in any course ordinarily receive the grade of F. However, if the faculty member teaching the course is satisfied that exceptional circumstances warrant extending the time for completion of course work, the grade of IN may be given and a date set, in writing, for completing the work. A grade of IN indicates that the student has failed to meet the requirements and will turn to an F after the set date, or one year after the IN was received if no date was set. A Graduate Student who receives one grade of F, or nine or more semester hours of L, is ineligible for continued graduate study.


    Four semesters in residence, at least six hours of MCRO 994, written and oral exams, committee approval, prospectus approval, degree candidacy, publication requirement*, final orals, public seminar and approved dissertation. There are official Graduate School forms for each of these milestones so please notify the Student Services Manager, in advance, of each one. You must also apply for graduation by the deadline.

    *See Publication Requirement below for complete information.


    The Graduate School no longer gives you copies of The Graduate School Handbook, The Policy and Procedures Guide or The Thesis and Dissertation Guide. It is strongly recommend that you review the first two mentioned and look them over and review the third before you start writing your dissertation. Graduate School Publications.


    A part of your student fees goes towards Campus Health Services (CHS); however, not everything is covered at 100%. Therefore, the department pays for you to have a 12-month comprehensive plan (GSHIP) underwritten by Blue Cross and Blue Shield.  After the initial sign-up period, you will receive policy information and an insurance card. You will be asked prior to each sign-up period if you do, or do not want this coverage.

    Since you are not registered during the summer and therefore do not pay the student fees, there will be additional funds in your stipend to cover your summer fees. This means you may cover either your Campus Health Services (CHS) fee for each summer session, and/or your student registration fee if you are defending your dissertation and have to be registered for MCRO 994. You are responsible for paying these fees with funds that have been provided to for this purpose.
    NOTE:  This BCBS GSHIP health insurance plan is different from the mandatory health plan that UNC now requires of all students.  You must waive out of the mandatory plan each semester or you will be responsible for the premium.



    Please remember to inform the Student Services Manager anytime that you receive a fellowship, award, honor or distinction from inside or outside of the university. It would be very helpful to have this information soon after it happens so that it can be included in the graduate student database and extracted when needed.


    Please remember to inform the Student Services Manager of when, what and where you’ve presented your research outside of the department.


    Please inform the Student Services Manager when your manuscript(s) have been accepted and where they have been accepted.

    Post Graduate Work

    Please notify the Student Services Manager about your plans of employment or post-doctoral fellowship and contact information.


    Rotations into laboratories in year one are meant to acquaint the graduate student with the mentor, the field of research and scientific environment. The object is to determine after year one, which particular laboratory will be your field of research for your dissertation. Rotations are arranged with the BBSP. At the end of your rotations, the BBSP will help formalize your designated lab and transfer your name to our department.


    MD/Ph.D. students are required to take three courses, at least one must be a seminar/tutorial, and to TA once. The timing of the other activities (prelim exams, committee formation, etc.) is usually accelerated by one year for MD/Ph.D students compared to regular Ph.D. students.


    Upon arrival in NC, all out of state students need to begin the steps to become NC Residents for Tuition Purposes. After you have lived here for 12-months, you are required by the department to apply for NC Residency for Tuition Purposes every Fall and Spring semester until you are granted in-state residency. Students who do not provide their paperwork showing that they applied may NOT be eligible to receive a department tuition remission; therefore it is imperative that you take steps to become a NC Residency for Tuition. Tuition remissions are allocated funds from the Legislature to pay the out-of-state portion of tuition, off setting the tuition cost for your PI and/or the department, and are limited.


    If you are receiving a stipend from the department, outside employment is not allowed, this includes teaching assistantships in other departments. However, in certain instances an exception may be made for TA'ing with prior approval from the Director of Graduate Studies and your advisor. A reduction in stipend will occur. Please contact the Director of Graduate Studies for information.


    The expectation of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology continues to be that all Ph.D. students will conduct sufficient research to result in at least two first-author publications describing original results in high quality, peerreviewed journals. As a minimum standard, to earn the Ph.D. degree we require that (i) a student must make meaningful contributions to and be an author on at least two manuscripts intended for publication in respected, high-quality professional journals or books, (ii) at least one of the two manuscripts must be accepted for publication, and (iii) prior to the private Ph.D. defense, a student must have peer reviews returned for at least one first (or co-first) author primary research manuscript. Parts ii and iii cannot be satisfied with the same manuscript. If a manuscript used to meet part iii is not accepted for publication by the time of the doctoral defense, then the peer reviews will be submitted to the dissertation committee for discussion at the defense along with the dissertation.  The student will submit to the dissertation committee a brief description of their specific contributions to the two manuscripts used to fulfill the publication requirement. Prior to the Ph.D. defense, the dissertation committee will decide (in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies if necessary) whether the two manuscripts meet the part i standards of "meaningful contribution" and "respected, high-quality professional journals or books". The dissertation committee chair will inform the Director of Graduate Studies and the Student Services Manager when the publication requirement is met, as well as the basis for the committee's decision.  Each chapter in the dissertation other than the Introduction and Conclusion must list all actual or planned authors involved in the described research and include a statement specifying the contributions of the student to the project.


    Written Exam

    The written preliminary exam consists of a research proposal, written in the style of an NIH grant proposal. Students are required to submit two suggested topics to a committee chosen for the prelims. The committee makes the ultimate choice of topic. The proposal is written during a five-week period that begins late in the Spring of your fourth semester.

    Oral Exam

    Within two months after passing the written portion of the exam, students take the preliminary oral exam. This exam centers on the same topic as the written proposal, although questions may also concern related areas and disciplines. The oral exam is given during your third fall semester.


    Tuesday Departmental Seminars

    On most Tuesdays throughout the Fall and Spring semesters, a guest speaker from other universities, research institutes or industry visits the department, meets with faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students, and presents a seminar. This provides excellent opportunities for students to meet outstanding scientists from outside the University of North Carolina scientific community. All students are expected to attend at least two-thirds of the Tuesday Seminars throughout their tenure in the department. All students should be enrolled in MCRO 701. Students will be graded for their attendance at both the departmental seminars and student seminars.

    Monday Student Seminars

    Beginning in your third year you will be required to give a seminar once a year in the Thursday Seminar series for graduate students. You will be assigned a seminar date beginning in your third year. These seminars are meant to be a formal short (30 min.) PowerPoint presentation describing the goals and progress of your dissertation research. Currently, two 3rd year students from the same area of study (virology, immunology, etc.) are assigned to present a short seminar on the same date.
    This seminar is intended to be a progress report. It is also an opportunity for feedback/critique from fellow graduate students. Another objective is to practice the task of relating your detailed research topic to an audience of peers whose own interests and expertise may not be identical to your own.

    All students are expected attend at least two-thirds of the Monday Student Seminars.


    You are required to be a teaching assistant in a lab of one of our courses, MCRO 251 or 515, for one semester during your second year and during your third year. Bruce Alexander, Coordinator of Teaching Labs, is in charge of making these assignments and overseeing all TA’s.


    We have a two-tiered program to provide support for departmental students who will be presenting their research at national/international scientific conferences. A travel award of $1000 is available for selective, high-profile conferences that have limited attendance (e.g., most Gordon Research Conferences, FASEB Summer Research Conferences, Keystone Symposia, etc.). For larger unrestricted meetings (e.g., ASM or ASV or AAI annual meetings) or for narrowly focused meetings (e.g., the Herpesvirus Workshop, the Pseudomonas Conference, etc.), the Department will contribute $500 towards the student’s travel expenses. A graduate student is eligible for this one-time award after approval of the dissertation research proposal by his/her dissertation committee.

    Please send your request to Dixie including your invitation letter and abstract.

    For other funding resources visit the Graduate Funding Information Center


    All university-affiliated international travel must be registered in the UNC Global Travel Registry ( This applies to all UNC students, faculty, and staff. The Global Travel Registry is UNC-Chapel Hill's central reporting and communication system for students, faculty, and staff traveling abroad. Students on approved programs offered through the Office of Study Abroad website or through their professional school administrator are pre-registered and do not need to complete their registration independently.


    The Department of Microbiology and Immunology will pay your tuition directly to the University Cashier’s Office via the Student Tuition and Reporting System StARS. However, your stipend has been increased to include your fees and you will be responsible for paying them to the Cashier’s Office via payroll deduction or by paying 100% to the Cashier at the start of each semester. You will receive information about the process, including the payroll deduction form prior to the start of each semester. When you receive your tuition and fee bill from the Cashier’s Office, check it over for anything that you are responsible for paying. (i.e., library fines, Campus Health charges, parking tickets, etc.) and take care of it prior to the start of registration so a hold is not placed on your account, or your registration gets cancelled. You will receive several bills before your tuition is actually electronically paid. Rest assured that your tuition will be paid.


    • Turn in all keys and your key card and ask to be removed from the departmental network after transferring your files to another lab member or PI.
    • Change your address in ConnectCarolina so that you will receive your W-2, diploma, etc.  Go to and link to your Student Center.
    • Request a transcript from the Registrar's Office or print off your grade summary from ConnectCarolina.  More than likely you'll need this information in the future when you're completing Fellowship applications and the department cannot provide you with a copy.
    • Give a copy of your current curriculum vitae to the Student Services Manager to close out your file.
    • Leave your forwarding address with the Student Services Manager and change your current & permanent address in ConnectCarolina.
    • Let the Student Services Manager know where and what position you will be going to and each subsequent position thereafter.  We won't hit you up for money, we just like to know what our alum are "doing now".  It is also a frequently asked question of prospective students and of training grant reports.
    • Complete the exit interview survey sent to you from the Graduate School or they will not release your diploma.