PhD Program: Microbiology & Immunology
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Microbiology & Immunology

Enriching the scientific community


Program Overview

Our Department of Microbiology & Immunology mission statement is that we are an inclusive community whose passion for discovery, service, leadership and sharing of knowledge addresses global microbiology and immunology challenges. As one of the earliest departments of its kind in the nation, the Department of Microbiology & Immunology has evolved from more than a century of pioneering excellence. Microbiologists study the molecular mechanisms by which bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites colonize a host, evade the immune response, and elicit damage to the host. Immunologists study the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms by which the immune response defends the host and regulates homeostasis using innate and adaptive mechanisms. 

In Microbiology & Immunology, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows work side by side with principal investigators to test hypotheses of medical or biological importance. Laboratory training is supplemented with rigorous coursework, seminar series, journal clubs, and presentation of research findings at national meetings. Our faculty use state-of-the-art tools to unlock the mysteries of the microbial world and the immune system. Most importantly, you will train in a collegial and collaborative environment with faculty that are dedicated to personalizing your training program to meet your own goals while also ensuring that you are fully prepared to advance in your career. The Department will continue to add new faculty and new research interests over the next few years.

Apply through our PIBS application

Program Details

General research areas include:

  • Viral pathogens
  • Bacterial pathogens
  • Eukaryotic pathogens
  • Innate immunity
  • Adaptive immunity
  • Cell biology of infection
  • Parasitology
  • Microbial ecology
  • Human microbiome
  • Microbial epidemiology
  • Computational modeling

We strive to understand the mechanisms by which viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites cause damage and disease in the infected host. Conversely, we also explore the pathways by which the host immune response overcomes these infections. These studies are carried out in the laboratories of 25 primary faculty, 16 joint faculty and 11 research-track faculty who receive substantial research grant support from the NIH and other funding agencies to perform this important research. 

Our faculty use state-of-the-art approaches such as genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, computational analyses, molecular and structural biology, quantitative microscopy and an array of immunologic assays and novel animal models. These efforts are supported by the outstanding core facilities at the University of Michigan and many collaborations established across our research-intensive university.  

Creative and innovative research and learning are the hallmark of our graduate program in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. This ambitious program is designed to provide graduate students with the guidance to develop and express their intellectual interests, research talents, public speaking abilities and teaching skills. These goals are accomplished through an integrated program of independent research, graduate courses, seminars and teaching.


Required coursework includes immunology, virology and microbial pathogenesis and a choice of biochemistry, cell biology or genetics. Elective courses are designed to diversify knowledge, build skills, and teach critical thinking. Annual participation in our graduate seminar series hones public speaking skills and offers a chance to receive feedback on dissertation research outside of your dissertation committee.

Preliminary Examination

Checkpoint One (at the end of year one) tests broad knowledge and critical thinking skills, and is required for advancement to candidacy. This exam is based on knowledge and understanding of assigned primary literature articles in two of three possible areas and your ability to identify experimental next steps. Checkpoint Two is the first dissertation committee meeting consisting of an oral presentation of the student’s Ph.D. dissertation plan along with a written proposal. 

Dissertation Evaluation

Following the first committee meeting, students meet every 6-12 months with the dissertation committee to receive critical feedback and advice on completing a scholarly body of work worthy to constitute the dissertation. Our program requires that one primary research article be accepted prior to graduation.

Teaching Requirement

Our one-term teaching requirement builds teaching and mentoring skills through introductory lab or lecture courses. Additional opportunities are often available for students who enjoy teaching and seek more experience.

Expected Length of Program

This program is designed to require approximately five to six years for completion.

Our faculty and students, as well as the abundant resources available throughout the medical school, make the Department of Microbiology & immunology at the University of Michigan an exciting and supportive environment for academic research training.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) activities are at the forefront of our department, with activities led by faculty, staff and students. We continue to add new activities and programs as suggested by a committee of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, staff and faculty.

Collectively, we enjoy:

  • Tea @ 3, Tuesday afternoons in Winter

  • Invited speaker seminars and lunches including our student-invited and DEI seminar series

  • Annual department picnic and biannual departmental retreat

  • Journal Clubs in Microbial Pathogenesis, Virology, and Immunology

  • Weekly newsletters that highlight current student news along with other departmental information and university-wide offerings

  • Multicultural social gatherings and holiday events

  • Community service opportunities

  • After-hour social events (pizza and ping-pong, bowling, happy hours)

  • Occasional movie nights

More student-specific activities include:

  • Peer-to-peer mentoring program for incoming students

  • Organization of Microbiology & Immunology Students (OMIS), graduate student leadership

  • Opportunities to travel to scientific conferences

  • Opportunities to participate in a wide variety of student organizations

  • Faculty-Student mentoring workshops

  • Career and professional development programming

  • Internal grants, travel awards and dissertation awards

  • Student representatives attend faculty meetings and their voice carries weight in the department

Our department graduates approximately 7 PhD students per year. Students generally have opportunities to pursue their preferred interests following graduation. As a snapshot, 74% of recent graduates chose postdoctoral fellowships, 6% immediately entered business or industry and 20% sought employment in other sectors including scientific writing, teaching, or consulting, among others. By 5 years post-graduation, 13% enter faculty positions, 18% enter industry or business, 39% remain in training and 30% have found employment in other sectors such as those mentioned above.

Creating an impact
Microbiology & Immunology

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