Microbiology & Immunology

Program Overview

Microbiology and immunology include a dynamic and exciting collection of disciplines.  UNC Microbiology & Immunology students receive training and conduct research in leading areas of prokaryotic and eukaryotic molecular and cellular biology, molecular genetics, pathogenesis, bacteriology, immunology, and virology, as well as in broad multi-disciplinary areas such as host-pathogen interactions.  There are opportunities across the spectrum from basic to translational research.


Students must take at least six semester-length graduate level courses on any topic broadly relevant to microbiology or immunology.  Students typically complete four courses during their first year in BBSP and the remainder during their second year after joining our program.  As a large and diverse department, we encourage students to choose classes to meet their educational needs and goals rather than requiring all students to take specific classes.  At least two of the six classes must be based on discussion of the primary literature rather than lectures, and at least one of the two literature-based courses must be MCRO710, MCRO711, or MCRO712.  The topics in MCRO710-712 change each time the class is offered, so the same course number may be repeated for credit.  The Director of Graduate Studies must approve other literature-based classes to meet our requirement.  Most Microbiology & Immunology students take the MCRO795 grant writing class in the fall semester of their second year.

Qualifying Exams

Written Exam: Our written preliminary examination is designed to be both an educational experience and a test.  We want to evaluate student ideas, so in the spring of the second year students work with faculty members of their choosing to develop ideas for two original research projects on topics distinct from the work in their laboratories.  Students then have five weeks to write a NIH-style grant proposal on one of the two topics.  Students are encouraged to discuss their project ideas with anyone, but may not receive any assistance in the actual writing of their proposal.

Oral Examination:  Students take the oral preliminary exam within two months of passing the written exam. The oral exam uses the written exam as a foundation from which the student will respond to criticisms of the written proposal, clarify the strengths and weaknesses of proposed experimental methods, and design experiments to test hypotheses or answer questions raised by the examining committee.

Dissertation Committee:  Students choose their dissertation committee by the end of fall semester of their third year, and meet with their committee to seek approval of their dissertation research project by March 31st of the third year.  Thereafter, students must meet with their dissertation committee at least once a year (more often if directed) to discuss their research progress. This meeting is often held in conjunction with the annual student seminar.

Additional Requirements

Seminar Requirements:  To become broadly familiar with modern microbiology and immunology research, students must attend at least two-thirds of departmental seminars (currently Tuesdays at 9:30 am) and two-thirds of student seminars (currently Mondays at 12:15 pm) every semester.  Students in their third year and beyond give a 30-minute talk about their research in the student seminar series each year.

Teaching Assistant:  Students must serve as teaching assistants in departmentally approved courses for two semesters.  This requirement is typically met by leading a MCRO251 laboratory section once in the second year and once in the third year.

Publication Requirement We expect Ph.D. students to complete sufficient original research for at least two first-author publications high quality, peer-reviewed journals.  We require authorship on at least two manuscripts (at least one of which must be accepted for publication), with peer reviews returned for at least one first-author or co-first-author primary research manuscript.