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Microbiology & Immunology

Carissa Harvest, Ed Miao lab
Streak plate of Chromobacterium violaceum. Image by student Carissa Harvest in Ed Miao’s lab.
Program Website
Director of Graduate Studies: Bob Bourret, PhD
Student Services Specialist: Jamie Desoto

Program Overview

Microbiology and immunology includes 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 and have few requirements for specific classes.  All students must take the MCRO795 grant writing class in the fall semester of their second year.  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.

Qualifying Exams

Written ExamOur 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 choose a foundation paper from a list supplied by faculty and use it as inspiration for an original research project on a topic distinct from the work in their laboratories.  Students then write a NIH-style grant proposal before June 1.  Students are encouraged to discuss their project ideas with anyone except department faculty (so proposals can be graded anonymously), but may not receive any assistance in the actual writing of their proposal.

Oral Examination:  Our oral preliminary examination is a defense of the proposed dissertation project and is typically completed by December 31 of the third year.  The exam probes student understanding of background knowledge and experimental methods relevant to the proposed research, as well as the ability to propose a logical research plan and to “think on one’s feet”.  A decision about whether or not to approve the dissertation project is made at the same meeting independently of the outcome of the oral exam.

Dissertation Committee: Students choose their dissertation committee by the start of classes of their third year, and meet with their committee to seek approval of their dissertation research project by December 31 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 and publication plans. 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 are registered for MCRO701 and 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.

Minimum Publication RequirementWe 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.