PhD and MS Requirements

PhD and MS General Requirements of the Graduate School


The requirements for the PhD in Microbiology conform to the requirements of the Graduate School as set forth in the Graduate School Catalog. These requirements include approximately 44 to 48 academic credits, a second-year examination, a general examination, and a final examination based on the dissertation (dissertation defense). Satisfactory completion of at least 15 credits of GRAD 6950 Doctoral Dissertation Research or GRAD 6960 Full-Time Doctoral Dissertation Research is required. A plan of study listing courses to be completed for the degree must be filed with the Graduate School before twelve credits are completed. These and other requirements of the Doctor of Philosophy degree are described in the Graduate Catalog.

Graduate students, their advisors, and their advisory committees are responsible for shaping student curricula depending upon each student's background and interests. An advisory committee is composed of a student's major advisor and two associate advisors chosen by the student after consultation with his/her advisor.

The number of courses and research credits that comprise the required 44-48 credits is determined by the students and their advisors. Typically about one-half of these credits are from coursework. Courses in microbiology, genetics, and biochemistry are used to fulfill this requirement. Appropriate courses outside these areas can also be used. All Microbiology graduate students attend "Microbiology Seminar," a weekly discussion of current topics in microbiology attended by students and microbiologists from around campus. Each student is expected to make presentations at these discussions periodically. Meetings of individual laboratory groups, as well as departmental meetings, provide students with opportunities to present their own research findings. Between years 2 and 4, all students must take MCB 5893 (Special Topics in Cellular & Molecular Biology)

Second Year Exam

Before the end of May of the second year, the students need to take the 2nd year exam.

  • The student independently writes a 2-3 page-long document (the “second-year review”) that describes background material for their research project. This can serve as the introduction to the prospectus proposal and should be properly referenced. (Note: the research advisor will not correct or review this document)
  • The committee asks the student questions about the general area being studied and related to the 2ndyear review document.
  • The examination will not be chaired by the major advisor, but rather by another member of the committee. The outcome of the exam will be “pass”, “conditional pass” (which will require additional coursework and/or rewrite of the 2ndyear review document), “fail” with permission to retake the exam, or “fail” with dismissal from the program.
  • The signed report on the 2ndyear exam is given to the MCB Graduate Program Coordinator, Chelsea Bartos (BPB108).
  • Any corrective actions to the 2ndyear examination need to be completed prior to authorization to take the General Exam in the third year.

 Microbiology General Examination

All candidates are strongly encouraged to meet with their committee to discuss their progress before scheduling the general exam. The exam should be taken by the end of August of the third year.

Written Proposal/Prospectus: Candidates should submit a 12-15 page proposal (single-spaced, 1 inch margins, including figures but excluding references and a cover page).  The proposal should be prepared with minimal input from the major advisor.  The exact style of the proposal can vary but should include the following information:

  • Cover page (title of proposal, candidate’s name, date of oral exam, names of major advisor and associate advisors)
  • Introduction with background (this may be adapted from the 2nd year exam document)
  • Specific Aims or Objectives (these will comprise the three main chapters of your dissertation and should include hypotheses)
  • Preliminary Data
  • Proposed Experiments
  • Significance of work
  • Figures
  • References

The prospectus should be submitted to the committee two weeks before the oral exam.

Oral Examination: Students should arrange for a formal announcement of the oral examination one week prior to the presentation and make available a written and electronic copy of the proposal through the MCB office. Candidates will present a public seminar (approximately 45 minutes) describing their proposal followed by questions from the general audience. Immediately following the seminar, a formal oral examination will be given by the student’s committee that will test the candidate’s knowledge about subjects directly related to the prospectus.

General Examination format

A General Examination must be passed as a requirement for the PhD It consists of two parts in the Microbiology program: an examination of general knowledge of Microbiology (the preliminary examination, given in written and/or oral portions) and an examination based upon thesis-related research (the related examination).

The preliminary exam is normally taken by students who have been in the program for 1 1/2 years. It is given in two parts, a written examination followed by an oral examination. The oral examination provides an opportunity for the committee to ask follow-up questions from the written portion and to explore other areas raised in that examination. The oral examination is scheduled soon after the written portion has been completed and graded. Both portions are administered by a faculty examination committee.

Upon successful completion of the preliminary examination, the student will be eligible to complete the related examination. This exam must be taken before the completion of three years in the program. At least one week before the exam, the student will submit a research prospectus to the advisory committee and two examiners. The examination consists of an oral presentation of the work to the committee followed by questions about the work addressed to the student. Questions may cover the general area of investigation, approaches, and methods. The related examination will be chaired by one of the associate advisors. Upon successful completion of the related examination, the Graduate School will be notified that the student has completed the General Examination.

Finally, students must defend their dissertation (the oral defense) at the end of their research program.

If a student enters the program with a masters degree, both the preliminary and related examinations are required, but the master's degree may be accepted by his/her committee in partial fulfillment of the course requirements for the PhD Note that in this situation, the student's doctoral study begins at the time any courses listed on the plan of study are taken. From that date, the student must complete the general examination within four years.

Print out a Checklist for the PhD program in Microbiology

For a detailed guide of  the milestones and procedures please refer to the Milestones and Procedures page. This page also contains a checklist with dates that you will find useful to keep on track during your tenure in MCB.

Plan A and B MS Degree

The requirements for the MS degree in Microbiology conform to the requirements of the Graduate School as set forth in the Graduate School Catalog. Master's degrees may be earned under either of two plans as determined by the advisory committee. The first plan emphasizes research, the second requires a comprehensive understanding of a more general character.

Plan A requires 21 content course credits including
MCB 5884 MCB Research in Progress (1 credit)
MCB 6001 Intro to MCB Research (3 credits)
MCB 6002 Introduction to Faculty Research
(1 credit)
on a Plan A Master's plan of study and a minimum of 9 credits of GRAD 5950
, as well as the writing and oral defense of a thesis.

Plan B requires a minimum of 30 content course credits including
MCB 5884 MCB Research in Progress  (1 credit), a final examination, but no thesis.

In either case, advisory committees may require more than the minimum number of credits. Please see 1st Semester Course Requirements Flow Chart. Check the Graduate catalog for details on transferring credits, time limits and other information.

Students interested in careers in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries may also pursue a M.S. degree Microbial Systems Analysis in the Professional Science Master’s (PSM) program (Contact for more information).