PhD Degree Requirements

The Graduate Catalog lays out in great detail the general requirements, guidelines, and timetables for the MS and PhD degrees. It is your responsibility to be familiar with these rules and comply with them! Below are the specific expectations of the Cell and Developmental Biology program.

For a concise guide regarding the milestones and procedures please refer to the Milestones and Procedures. This document also contains a checklist with dates that you will find useful to keep on track during your tenure in MCB. This information applies to all MCB PhD students who entered the PhD program after December 2015.

Timetable for the PhD

  • First Year:
    • Rotate in potential labs and choose your thesis advisor
    • Form a Thesis Advisory Committee (your advisor plus two other faculty)
    • Before finishing 12 credits of coursework you must formulate a Plan of Study with your Advisory Committee and submit it to the Graduate School.
  • Second Year:
    • Take the second year review at the end of the second year
    • Between years 2 and 4, all students must take MCB 5893 (Special Topics in Cellular & Molecular Biology)
  • Third Year:
    • Write and defend the Related Research Proposal


1st semester (Fall) Registration:

Normal load is 6 credits with an assistantship
MCB 5896-038 MCB Introduction to Research (3 credits)
MCB 5896-013 Rotations in MCB (3 credits)
MCB 5896-001 Graduate seminar (1 credit) This is a seminar series given by graduate students to learn the art of presenting seminars and to hear what other students are doing in the lab. Cell Biology students are required to present once each year.

2nd semester (Spring) Registration:

MCB 5801 Scientific Writing and Project Development for MCB Graduate Students (2 credits)
GRAD 5910 Responsible Conduct in Research (1 credit)
MCB 5217 Biosynthesis of Nucleic Acids and Proteins, 3 credits OR MCB 5986 Methods in Cell Biology (3 credits)

Note: There is no longer a foreign language requirement for the PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology.


A student will formulate a committee consisting of a major advisor and two associate advisors during their first year. The student will meet with the committee in order to get advising about courses, and the student will submit a plan of study by the end of the second semester. The student should meet with the committee at least yearly thereafter in order to keep them apprised of progress and to plan the preliminary exam.


Written General Exam:

Students seeking a PhD in the area of Cellular and Developmental Biology MUST take the written exam at the time it is offered in the Spring semester of their second year. To take the exam, the student MUST have formed an Advisory Committee and have the Written Exam Permission Form signed by the committee, with whom they should have already met.

If a student’s performance on any part of the written exam is deficient, this information will be transmitted to the Advisory Committee. It is the expectation of the Program that remediation of such deficiencies will be addressed by the Advisory Committee prior to the Related Proposal.

Students in the Masters program seeking acceptance to the PhD program must follow the above guidelines in their entirety.

Related Research Proposal Exam:

The examination committee will consist of the 3 members of the student’s Advisory Committee plus two Examiners. It is recommended that one Examiner is from outside the department. The exam must be completed within the first 3 years in the PhD program. No preliminary data are necessary to write the proposal. The proposal should be written as if the student were proposing a three-year project and include a timetable.

A. Prepare one page of Specific Aims for the proposal and have it approved by the exam committee: The specific aims briefly describe the rationale for the proposal and outline the hypotheses to be explored and the methods/experiments to achieve the aims. The student should prepare this document with some input from the advisor. The student will then meet with the full committee to discuss the breadth and depth of the Aims so the committee can provide guidance.

B. Prepare the full proposal: The student will then prepare a 12-14 page single spaced (excluding references) Research Proposal following the general guidelines of an NIH R01 grant proposal including the Face page, Specific Aims, and Research Plan. An estimated budget for supplies, reagents, equipment, etc. should be provided.

The written portion will then be distributed to the members of the examining committee at least 2 weeks before the oral defense. The proposal will be evaluated by the committee in terms of both scientific content and clarity of writing style. The committee will have the discretion to reject the proposal (the equivalent of a study section “triage”) or accept it for continuing to Part 3.

C. Oral Defense of the Proposal: The candidate will present the proposal to the committee and any other interested faculty, describing the Background and Research Plan. One member of the committee (not the major advisor) will serve as the chair of the examining committee. It is the job of this person to make sure that the candidate is examined and not the advisor and to generally keep the process moving along so the entire proposal is discussed. There will be no general audience presentation preceding the defense. Committee members may ask questions at any time rather than waiting until the entire proposal has been presented.

Each part of this exam will be evaluated independently and the student is expected to pass all sections. The student may be asked to repeat either part of the exam.

Links to Forms:

Research Plan instructions (form SF424)

Sample Grants at the NIH web site:


At least 6 months prior to the time the student would like to finish, the student should meet with the committee and present the outline of the thesis. If approved, the student should submit the Dissertation Proposal to the Graduate School and begin to assemble the thesis.



The thesis should be submitted to the committee at least 3 months before the expected finishing date. The committee will read the proposal at this time and determine if it is generally acceptable in terms of both the writing and the science and whether there are additional experiments that need to be performed. Once the student has received feedback from the committee, the student can proceed to schedule a defense date.