PhD Program: Molecular & Cellular Pathology
Man working with a machine


An enhanced educational experience in "bench to bedside" approaches.


Program Overview

The mission of the Molecular and Cellular Pathology (MCP) Graduate Program is to train the next generation of "Bench to Bedside" scientists with a focus on the study of the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of human diseases.

Inaugurated in 1992, the MCP program is hosted by the Department of Pathology and takes advantage of its unique position in a department that bridges basic and clinical sciences to encourage interdisciplinary projects and interdepartmental cooperation. The Department of Pathology is also home to a large and diverse group of more than 180 faculty members, including basic science researchers, physician-scientists and clinicians. This well-funded (ranked #9 nationwide for NIH support) and collaborative environment provides a unique opportunity for the approximately 30 students enrolled in the MCP program to perform transformative research, ranging from basic to translational research.

Apply through our PIBS application

MCP students train in one of the 40 MCP research labs under the supervision of an exceptional team of MCP faculty mentors, co-mentors and senior staff/trainees, and are immersed in a research environment that features internationally renowned professors. Many of our faculty members hold joint appointments with other biomedical science departments and graduate programs at the University of Michigan, offering students an interdisciplinary approach to their training.

MCP students are immersed in a didactic and research culture that provides a solid foundation for the student’s training and progression towards becoming an independent scientist. The MCP program integrates mentor-guided laboratory research with a comprehensive and customizable curriculum designed to both:

  • Provide a strong foundation in basic areas of biology for in-depth study of the molecular and cellular aspects of pathogenesis
  • Meet the individual needs of each student toward their academic goals and career aspirations by providing a wide range of training options and opportunities, e.g., the embedded Master's Degree in Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics or the T32 Training Program in Translational Research

After passing the preliminary exam, students focus on their dissertation research project and are required to present each year at the Pathology Research Seminar Series. This departmental weekly series showcase visiting speakers, local research faculty and trainees, thus providing MCP students with a stimulating learning environment.


PIBS Application Overview

Program Details

Using a wide range of experimental approaches to understand the pathogenesis of human diseases, the research areas of interest in the MCP program include:

  • Molecular and cellular mechanisms of cancer
  • Immunopathology and inflammatory diseases
  • Neuropathology and applied neurobiology
  • Stem cell and developmental biology
  • Translational research
  • Epigenetics and gene regulation
  • Aging
  • Drug discovery and experimental therapeutics
  • Biomarkers (diagnostic and prognostic)


The MCP curriculum includes core courses designed to deliver graduate students with a strong background in basic areas of biological sciences, providing a rigorous intellectual foundation for the study of the mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of human diseases. In their first year, MCP students attend two out of four basic science courses, including Human Genetics, Cell & Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Cancer Biology, Computational Biology or an alternative course of their choice. In their winter term, first year students attend PATH 581, which introduces students to basic pathophysiologic mechanisms, the molecular basis for disease and the morphologic expression of human disease. In the fall term of their second year, MCP students take PATH 582, which introduces current topics in molecular pathology and emphasizes critical analysis of primary literature. Our diverse research faculty investigate a broad range of disease topics and integrates their knowledge into the course curriculum.

The MCP curriculum also includes in the third year a course in Translational Pathology PATH 862 designed to help meet the growing need for scientists and medical professionals who can bridge the gap between basic science and clinical practice. This multi-disciplinary course trains both graduate students and clinical residents in the methods and principles involved in translating basic science findings into clinically useful interventions to improve human disease outcomes. The central objective is to illustrate how basic science applied to human disease can lead to the discovery of its pathophysiology, which in turn can be used to develop therapeutics and diagnostic tests.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination ("prelim") aims to test the student’s ability to identify a novel scientific hypothesis and to develop a rational research plan to test this hypothesis. During the prelim, which is typically held during the fall term of the second year, a faculty committee evaluates the student’s capacity to communicate effectively about their research plan in both written and oral presentations. The research proposal addresses a student-selected topic relevant to the field of experimental pathology and may focus on the student’s planned thesis research ("on-topic"). On-topic prelim scientific exams jump-start student-mentor dissertation project discussions, offer feedback and critical review of the dissertation project by an external committee at a very early stage of its development and generates a research proposal foundation for future extramural fellowship applications.

Departmental Seminar Series

MCP students are broadly exposed to basic and applied research at weekly departmental seminar series, which showcase visiting speakers, local research faculty and trainees, thus providing MCP students with a stimulating learning environment. Attending the pathology research seminar series helps students further develop their critical thinking and their presentation skills. Giving a presentation at this seminar series also provide students the opportunity to discuss their research project in a scientific forum and to receive feedback on their work.

Transitional Research

The Department of Pathology is also home to the T32 Training Program in Translational Research (TPTR), which is led by MCP mentors Drs. Andrew Lieberman and Zaneta Nikolovska-Coleska. TPTR offers an interdisciplinary program of study and research that prepares graduate students for successful careers at the interface between basic biomedical science and clinical medicine. This program is designed for predoctoral PhD students and aims to address the widely recognized shortage of rigorously trained scientists who can successfully work together with medical professionals to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical practice. Along with additional coursework in translational pathology, trainees participate in a mentored clinical rotation in an area relevant to their thesis research, complementing the experimental work with exposure to disease-related clinical problems.

Teaching Requirement

MCP has no formal teaching requirement but offers optional access and training to students who wish to have a teaching experience. The MCP program is designed for students to graduate within ~five to six years (5.2 on average).

Expected Length of Program

Program is designed for students to graduate in five years of training.

MCP Student Council

The MCP Student Council, which is currently led by fourth year MCP student Noah Puleo (DiFeo Lab), hosts monthly meetings and coordinates multiple social events throughout the year, including student/faculty mixers, camping trips, ice cream socials and community outreach projects. An MCP Student representative selected by MCP Student Council serves on the MCP Steering Committee to provide students’ perspectives, feedback and suggestions on the program.

MCP Research Symposium: By the Students, for the Students

One of the marquee events in the Department of Pathology is our Annual MCP Research Symposium. The symposium, which is organized by third year MCP students, features oral and poster presentations by our faculty and trainees, highlighting the innovative research undertaken in the Department of Pathology and a career panel to discuss career pathways for PhD and MD/PhD graduates. The symposium has a long tradition of hosting internationally renowned external keynote speakers, such as Dr. Ralph Steinman, the 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine Laureate. The symposium provides numerous opportunities for exciting and stimulating interactions between our students and faculty through discussions and sharing ideas.

Financial Support and Awards

  • MCP Conference Travel Grants: To facilitate and ensure that MCP students attend extramural scientific meetings and present their research, the graduate program provides financial support for travel on a yearly basis by awarding MCP Travel Grant Awards.
  • MCP Student Research Grant: MCP supports graduate students by awarding the MCP Student Research Grant, a competitive award (internal competition) designed to support a student-initiated research project and to advance their progress toward their degree. This grant is intended to support an exploratory research question relevant to the student’s thesis and to encourage the independent research work of the students by providing support for novel/risky ideas that might provide proof of concept for feasibility and further study.
  • MCP Outstanding Research and Service Awards: Every year, MCP celebrates the many outstanding contributions of our MCP students with several honors, including the MCP Outstanding Research and Service Awards, at the Annual MCP Research Symposium. The MCP Outstanding Research Award recognizes the outstanding research and scholarly accomplishments of the student awardee. The MCP Outstanding Service Award distinguishes a student who has shown great commitment of time and effort towards service to the department and the community.

Social Events

The MCP community meets regularly to socialize. Latest events in 2023 include: introduction to the French game of pétanque at Gallup Park (July 2023), ice-cream social to welcome first year MCP students into our community (August 2023), happy hour at Casa Dominick's (October 2023), upscale dinner at the Gandy Dancer to kick off the 22nd Annual MCP Research Symposium (November 2023). Next on the MCP calendar: taste of global flavors at the multicultural potluck to celebrate our culinary differences before the holiday season (December 2023). MCP students value spending fun bonding time together. Every summer, students organize an MCP-sponsored camping trip. The 2023 trip upheld this beloved tradition and was a great success as everyone carpooled up to the Pinckney Recreational Area for a weekend.

Community Service and Outreach

Many MCP students give back to the community through educational and community outreach programs. MCP students have a long track record of being impactful benefactors in their community. For example, in 2016, during the water crisis in our neighboring city of Flint, Michigan, MCP students organized a trip to support the local Red Cross organization by hand-delivering bottled water and related supplies to senior Flint residents. The selfless dedication of our students to community service is recognized with one student named the MCP Outstanding Service Award recipient annually at the Annual MCP Research Symposium. 

The MCP Graduate Program bridges basic and clinical sciences and promotes interdisciplinary translational research to advance the application of scientific discoveries, providing an enhanced educational experience and training in “Bench to Bedside” approaches. MCP students produce high-quality research that has resulted in publications in top-tier journals, present their work at national and international conferences and are the recipients of prestigious awards and fellowships from the NIH, DOD, professional societies or disease foundations. Our goal is to recruit a diverse group of talented MCP students and to provide you with the best educational environment to train and to prepare for the next stage of your career in academia, the biotech/pharma industry, teaching, scientific publishing, clinical research or governmental/regulatory agencies.

Creating an impact
Molecular & Cellular Pathology

Learn more about the Department of Molecular & Cellular Pathology.

Visit MCP