Cell & Developmental Biology

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 Department has faculty with diverse research interests, state-of-art imaging facilities, and an enriching academic environment. The primary purpose of our Graduate Program is to train students to become outstanding biomedical scientists. Our graduate program has a 6-year limit with a qualifying exam at the end of Year 1 and a proposal defense exam at the end of Year 2.  Students also have annual thesis committee meetings and participate in our “In-House” seminar series.


In the first year, four graduate-level courses are taken. Usually students take two in the Fall and two in the Spring semester. While we accommodate most courses, we recommend students take the Advanced Cell Biology I and II (CBIO 893; CBIO 894) courses offered by our Department.

Grant Writing I (CBIO 891) must be taken in the fall of the second year.

Grant writing II (CBIO 892), or another approved elective course must be taken in the spring of the second year.

Qualifying Exams

Written Exam:  Students take the written exam between the end of their First year and the beginning of their Second year. 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 choose from a variety of topic areas in Cell Biology. These topics include Membrane Trafficking, Protein Quality Control, Signal Transduction, Cytoskeleton and Cell Motility, Cell Cycle and Cell Death, and Cellular Differentiation. 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.

Committee Meetings and Proposal Defense

Examination:  Students will form their thesis committee by the end of their second year. The thesis committee should have a minimum of five faculty members (including the mentor). At least three members of this committee should be from the Cell and Developmental Biology Department.

Students must take their proposal defense examination by October 1 of their third year. The Proposal Examination has a written and oral component. In the written component, students are to write a thesis proposal. The format of this is an America Heart Association-type predoctoral proposal with a 12-page limit (single space). This should include the following sections: Specific Aims, Background and Significance, and Research Design and Methods. The References can be outside the 12-page limit.

The written proposal should be provided to the thesis committee members at least one week prior to the oral examination.

In the oral component, the student presents and defends the proposal in front of the 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 (i.e. proof of feasibility should not be a determining standard in the examination).

Additional Requirements

Students are expected to attend the weekly departmental seminars (Wednesdays) and the “In-House” student/postdoc seminars (Fridays).  All students present their research once per year in the In-House seminar series.