PhD Program: Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology
Two people working in a lab with gloves


Conducting basic research about the function of all branches of life


Program Overview

The Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology PhD program is a relatively young program that was created in 2001 when the Department of Biology split into two departments: the Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology (MCDB), and the Department of Ecology and Evolution Biology (EEB). The goal of the MCDB graduate program is to provide a solid foundation of scientific knowledge and technical skills that will mature our students into independent scientists while also providing enough flexibility to allow students to develop and explore their own research interests.


Apply through our PIBS application

Program Details

The Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental Biology program offers an impressive breadth of scientific approaches, experimental expertise and biological diversity with an emphasis on model systems. This scientific breadth is distinctive, in that: it offers students the opportunity pursue basic studies in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and to learn techniques in genetics, genomics, biochemistry, and specialized imaging through the use of diverse model organisms that include bacteria, yeast, C. elegans, Drosophila, Arabidopsis, Xenopus, zebrafish,and mammals.

PhD students in MCDB will receive the intensive training needed to become independent scientists, while also gaining an appreciation for the diversity of approaches and experimental systems that make modern biology such an exciting scientific discipline.

The MCDB program encompasses 72 PhD students with 31 mentor faculty, including three faculty with joint appointments. Approximately 12 exceptional graduate students join the program each year. MCDB is a growing department that has hired 9 new faculty members in the last three years with ongoing plans for additional recruitment, and relocation into new state of the art building in the summer of 2018.

Faculty in MCDB have won numerous university and international teaching awards, and the program cares deeply about the educational experience of its graduate students. In turn, MCDB students have received many recognitions and awards, including National Science Foundation predoctoral fellowships and university-wide Rackham Fellowships and Outstanding GSI awards. More than 35% of MCDB student alumni have moved onto academic positions after graduation, with recent graduates accepting prestigious postdoctoral positions at top-flight research institutions. MCDB at University of Michigan was ranked as the 3rd-best MCDB program in the country by the 2011 National Research Council Survey.

Creative and innovative research is the hallmark of our graduate program in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. This challenging program is designed to provide a nurturing environment in which graduate students can fully develop and express their intellectual interests, research talents, and teaching abilities. These goals are accomplished through an integrated program of independent research, graduate courses, seminars and teaching.


Our curriculum is geared towards preparing our students to think as independent scientists yet allows them to transition to full-time research activities quickly. In the fall, in addition to PIBS 503, MCDB students also take MCDB614, a course that introduces different experimental systems and focuses on critical thinking and evaluation of the primary literature. In the winter term, students take MCDB615, a course that builds on skills in experimental design and hypothesis testing learned from MCDB 614 and also focuses on research proposal writing skills.

MCDB students are also required to complete a minimum of 4 hours of graduate level work in a field or fields other than their area of specialization to broaden their intellectual scope.

During the first year, students usually engage in two or more research rotations in MCDB faculty labs in order to identify a research mentor and a laboratory in which to conduct dissertation research. These rotations also provide training in the development of a research plan and analytical and critical interpretation of experimental data.

Preliminary Examination

The Preliminary Examination consists of a written exam taken at the end of the first year, which is based on research articles that are provided to the student in advance.

Teaching Requirement

The Department requires that all PhD students teach at least two semesters as part of the PhD requirements.

Expected Length of Program

Doctoral students typically take from four to six years to complete their dissertation; five to five-and-a-half years is the national average.

In addition to formal training, students also participate in other scientific and social activities that enhance the experience of pursuing a doctoral degree. For example, MCDB students are invited to a weekly lunch with external seminar speakers to gain additional insights and new perspectives on both research problems and on the practicalities of science as a career. The program also offers an annual research retreat to encourage student interaction with each other and with the faculty.

The program encourages students to organize frequent social events throughout the year, in addition to departmental festivities. These activities are facilitated by the Graduate Student Council, and organization of graduate students in the department. Collectively, the MCDB program seeks to provide a full and complete educational experience towards that attainment of a doctoral degree.

Since July 2001, more than 60 MCDB PhDs have been conferred, and we take considerable pride in the accomplishments of our alumni. MCDB doctoral graduates are highly competitive for prestigious postdoctoral positions: within the past five years along, MCDB graduates have accepted positions at Harvard, Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Chicago. In addition, many of our students have gone on to highly productive careers in industry, with our graduate training providing the necessary skills to succeed in a competitive marketplace. We are proud of our student graduates and look forward to learning of their accomplishments in the future.

Creating an impact

Learn more about the Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology.

Visit MCDB