Molecular & Cell Biology Graduate Program

Tharun Sundaresan, Ph.D.
Director of MCB Graduate Program
Phone: (301) 295-9324

Rachel Cox, Ph.D.
Director of MCB Recruitment & Admissions
Phone: (301) 295-9791

Frank Shewmaker, Ph.D.
Assistant Director of MCB Recruitment & Admissions
Phone: (301) 295-3527

Tina Finley
Administrative Officer, MCB Graduate Program
Phone (301) 295-3642
FAX (301) 295-1996


USU Courtyard

The MCB Curriculum

The USU academic year is divided into quarters. In general, courses are offered in the Fall, Winter and Spring quarters, with the Summer quarter devoted entirely to research. First-year students are assigned a temporary advisor who will assist in course selection and who will monitor the student's progress. Students must register for a minimum of 12 credit hours each quarter. During the first year the curriculum is composed primarily of required courses that account for approximately 30 of the 48 graded credit hours required to take the examination for Advancement to Candidacy. The remaining 18 graded credits are generally taken during the second year of study, from among the many elective courses available. All students participate in the program's Seminar Series and Journal Club throughout the academic year.

A minimum of 48 credit hours (comprised of required courses, electives, and research credits) are required for graduation. Students must maintain a 3.0 (B) average or better throughout graduate training to remain in good academic standing. Because success in the MCB program requires a fundamental knowledge of cell biology, students must earn a grade of B or better in MCB509, "Cell Biology." Failure to obtain a B in Cell Biology can result in the recommendation for dismissal from the Program.

It is recognized that some incoming students may have completed equivalent course work at undergraduate or other graduate institutions. The Recruitment and Admissions Committee will evaluate the suitability of these courses towards fulfilling the course requirements of the Molecular and Cell Biology Graduate Program. Requests for transfer credit will be evaluated by the Recruitment and Admissions Committee and recommendations forwarded, through the Director, to the Associate Dean for Graduate Education.

At the end of the second year students who have completed all requirements, take a Qualifying examination for Advancement to Candidacy. The examination consists of the preparation of an abbreviated grant proposal (based on a problem chosen by the student and approved by the examining committee), and an oral defense of that proposal. Students advanced to candidacy devote full time to their dissertation research projects, which are supervised by their thesis advisor and an advisory committee composed of program and University faculty. A written thesis proposal is submitted before the end of the third year, and under normal circumstances, students are expected to complete their dissertation within 5 years of matriculation. University regulations require that the dissertation be completed and successfully defended within seven years of matriculation.

The written dissertation may take the form of a traditional thesis, or the synthesis of papers that have either been published or manuscripts that have been submitted for publication. The dissertation defense is composed of a seminar presented by the student and open to the public, followed by a closed oral examination administered by the student's advisory committee.


Course offering for MCB and other graduate programs

Laboratory Rotations

Because of the rigorous and demanding courseload, laboratory rotations are deferred until the summer quarter of the first year. Students are expected do at least two six-week rotations, chosen on the basis of the interest of the student, the availability of space in individual laboratories, and in consultation with their first-year advisor and the Program Director. Upon completion of these rotations, students may choose a graduate thesis advisor (in whose laboratory and under whose guidance they will perform their dissertation research), or elect to do additional rotations. A graduate thesis advisor must be chosen by the beginning of the second year.

Journal Club

A free-ranging journal club is an essential component of the student's education, and is required for the entire period of training in the Molecular and Cell Biology Graduate Program. The MCB Journal Club meets weekly. Students present papers, selected in consultation with the Faculty Advisor, in areas of general interest. Students generally make two presentations each year. For students who have been advanced to candidacy, one of these is a seminar in which they describe their own research. First-year students make one presentation during the second half of the year on a topic related to one of the seminars in the MCB seminar series.


A biweekly Molecular and Cell Biology Seminar Series features invited speakers from throughout the country who are acknowledged leaders in their fields. All members of the MCB faculty have the opportunity to invite and host speakers of their choice, and MCB seminars are popular not only with USU faculty and students, but also with scientists from other institutions in the area. Attendance at seminars is mandatory for graduate students in the Molecular and Cell Biology Graduate Program, and is considered an important function for faculty of the Program.