Graduate Program Student Handbook


  1. Introduction
    1. Standards and Expectations for CDB graduate students
    2. Rackham and PIBS requirements
    3. Preferred timeline of doctoral study
    4. Proposing changes to the CDB graduate program
  2. The Graduate Program Committee (GPC)
    1. Composition
    2. Responsibilities
  3. The Graduate Admissions Committee (GAC)
    1. Composition
    2. Responsibilities
  4. The Graduate Recruiting Committee (GRC)
    1. Composition
    2. Responsibilities
  5. Requirements for the Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology
    1. Enrollment and credit requirements
    2. Coursework requirements
    3. Grades
    4. Research rotations
    5. Choosing CDB
    6. The thesis advisor
    7. The preliminary qualifying examination, prelim timelines, and guidelines
    8. The thesis dissertation committee
    9. Teaching GSI
    10. Research seminars
    11. Doctoral dissertation and thesis defense
    12. Post-defense requirements
    13. Dissertation embargo
  6. Leave of absence and readmission
  7. Master’s degree requirements
  8. Graduate student support
    1. Departmental support
    2. Sources of travel support appendix CDB dissertation committee meeting summary form 


  1. i.               Introduction 


  1. Standards and Expectations for the CDB Graduate Student

CDB students are expected to maintain the highest possible standards of academic research and professional ethics. They are also expected to perform and publish research of high quality and of scientific biomedical significance. CDB students should behave professionally in the classroom and the laboratory and should remember that they represent the department, the medical school, and the university when traveling, attending conferences, or working off-campus in a professional capacity. By the time students have earned a Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology they are expected, 1) to be knowledgeable of current research in cell and developmental biology and expert in current research in their specific subfield; 2) to be able to properly design, execute, interpret, and discuss experiments both their own and those of others; 3) to have maintained the highest standards of academic and scientific ethics; 4) to have made contributions to their field, both in research and teaching; and 5) to be able to competently present their research findings, both orally and in writing.


  1. Rackham and PIBS Requirements

The CDB student must fulfill all requirements of the Rackham Graduate School and a PIBS student of the Program in Biomedical Sciences see Rackham Graduate School academic policies and the PIBS curriculum guide for current requirements. The CDB graduate program has additional requirements which are detailed below.


  1. Preferred Timeline of Doctoral Study

In the first year, the student focuses on coursework and research rotations. At the end of the first year, the student joins a laboratory for dissertation research. The principal investigator of that lab becomes the student’s thesis advisor. In the summer of the first year, the student takes the preliminary qualifying exam, prelim, administered by CDB faculty. In the second year, the student, now a candidate continues with coursework while pursuing his/her doctoral research. Once all requirements, coursework, teaching, research, etc. have been met, the dissertation committee authorizes the student to write a doctoral dissertation. The candidate orally defends his/her thesis successfully and earns a Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology. This should preferably occur by the end of the fifth year and must occur by the end of the seventh year. The student assembles a dissertation committee with the help of the mentor which will meet annually with the candidate to monitor his/her progress. From this point, the student will focus primarily on thesis research but will also assist in the teaching of at least one graduate course.


  1. Proposing Changes to the CDB Graduate Program

Recommendations for changes to any aspect of the program are welcome from anyone, especially students. Proposed changes may be presented to the chair of the graduate program committee or to any faculty member. Adoption of changes will require approval by at least 23 of a quorum defined as 60 of the total departmental faculty roster.


  1. ii.             The Graduate Program Committee (GPC)

The program of graduate study is designed and carried out by the entire faculty of the department, in compliance with the regulations of the Rackham Graduate School. The faculty delegates administration of the program to a Graduate Program Committee


  1. Composition

The department chair annually appoints the members of Graduate Program Committee for one-year terms. These include six to ten CDB faculty members of whom one is appointed chair of the committee by the department chair. The chair of the committee is the director of the CDB graduate program. One student representative is selected each year by the CDB graduate students. The participation and voting rights of the graduate student representative are limited to matters concerning the graduate program at the discretion of the chair of the committee in addition to one or more members of the CDB administrative staff. Generally the CDB student services representative will serve on the committee in a nonvoting capacity to provide support and assistance. The department chair is also a nonvoting member of the committee. Committee members will absent themselves from discussion, debate, or voting concerning students. They are mentoring at the discretion of the chair of the committee. The graduate student representative will not typically be present when other students’ progress is discussed.


  1. Responsibilities of the Graduate Program Committee (GPC)
    1. To administer the regulations of the Rackham Graduate School and the CDB Graduate Program;
    2. To recommend changes to the CDB Graduate Program and its policies and requirements to the CDB faculty;
    3. To oversee the student’s progress from the time that he/she joins the CDB Graduate Program until he/she reaches candidacy, then to annually review candidates’ progress;
    4. To advise CDB students on coursework, teaching, and other requirements of the graduate program;
    5. To advise students who request a change of thesis advisor;
    6. To follow the progress of all graduate students and recommend action on requests for special programs, advanced standing changes in fellowship status, etc.;
    7. To administer the preliminary qualifying examination (prelim) during the summer of the first year, in general, examiners will be CDB faculty members who sit on the GPC at times when additional expertise in a student’s chosen prelim topic is required, the GPC chair may ask additional CDB faculty with primary or secondary appointments to participate in a prelim exam. In this instance, at least two GPC members must sit on the prelim committee. The GPC chair is not required to sit on every prelim exam but will be present for a second exam if the student fails the first exam;
    8. To certify students for advancement to candidacy;
    9. To approve the membership of the dissertation committee;

10. To hear appeals from students regarding any aspect of the graduate program. The student may select an Ad Hoc Ombudsperson from the CDB faculty to consult with about the appeal. The Ombudsperson may accompany and/or represent the student at an appeals hearing before the GPC;

11. The administrative member of the GPC, the student services representative, is responsible for maintaining complete student records, preparing paperwork for assistantships, fellowships, etc. and acts as the liaison between CDB and Rackham, and between CDB and PIBS 


  1. iii.           The Graduate Admissions Committee (GAC)


  1. Composition

The department chair annually appoints the members of Graduate Admissions Committee (GAC) for one-year terms. These include at least three CDB faculty members of whom one is appointed chair of the committee by the department chair.


  1. Responsibilities of the Graduate Admissions Committee (GAC)

The GAC is in charge of the admission of new students to the CDB Graduate Program. This includes cooperating with PIBS recruitment admissions efforts e.g. reviewing applications to PIBS


  1. iv.            The Graduate Recruitment Committee (GRC)


  1. Composition

The department chair annually appoints the members of Graduate Recruitment Committee (GRC) for one-year terms. These include at least three CDB faculty members of whom one is appointed chair of the committee by the department chair. CDB students additionally elect one student representative to sit on the GRC.


  1. Responsibilities of the Graduate Recruitment Committee (GRC)

The GRC is in charge of the recruitment of students to the CDB Graduate Program. This includes organizing the CDB departmental retreat and other departmental events.


  1. v.              Requirements for the Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology

Note: in addition to the requirements listed below the student must fulfill all requirements of the Rackham Graduate School. See Rackham Graduate School Academic Policies. In case of a conflict, Rackham rules supersede CDB rules.


  1. Enrollment and Credit Requirements
    1. Enrollment requirements are determined by the Rackham Graduate School. Currently, fulltime enrollment and registration is required for all fulltime students;
    2. Students in year one register for at least 9 credit hours per semester. Post candidacy, year two, and above students must register for at least 8 research credit hours and 801;
    3. Up to six credits may be transferred from another institution under conditions stipulated by Rackham. Students entering the program with a master’s or doctoral degree in a biomedical field may petition the Graduate Program Committee to waive part of the credit requirement;
    4. Students are normally required to defend their dissertation within 7 years of their enrollment in the graduate school. The student may ask the graduate program committee to authorize an extension beyond the 7 year limit.
    5. For all CDB students, attendance of CDB801 is mandatory.  There is a sign-up list, so please make sure to sign up each week.  A satisfactory grade for CDB801, which includes 80% attendance, is required to be eligible for the $1,000 dollar travelling award.  Students attendance will be recorded and made available to members on the thesis committee.


  1. Coursework Requirements

CDB students must pass the following courses or substitutes approved by the graduate program chair.


Fall term: two courses - CDB 530 Cell Biology, CDB 581 Developmental Genetics. Winter term: two of the following three courses: CDB 550 Histology, CDB 560 Quantitative Fluorescence Microscopy, CDB 582 Organogenesis Stem Cells to Regenerative Biology contains a proposal writing unit. Substitutions for any of these course requirements must be approved by the grad chair, Roman Giger. We will make every effort to be flexible and to accommodate students from different training backgrounds or programs, for example, MSTP. The goal is to ensure that all students have sufficient background knowledge of molecular cell biology, genetics, and developmental regenerative biology, the central themes of CDB’s research. The courses listed above are designed to meet this standard, but many other courses can fulfill the program’s requirements.


Note: CDB 581 fall and CDB 582 winter are new courses designed as an integrated sequence covering core concepts in developmental regenerative biology and human disease, but either course can be taken separately. CDB 581 replaces CDB 580 Developmental Biology previously offered in the winter. CDB 582 replaces CDB 680, 681, 682 Organogenesis of Complex Tissues previously offered in the fall.


  1. Grades

The acceptable level of academic performance is “B” (5.0 on a 1-9 Rackham scale) from “C” to “A”. Students whose average grade in any single term is below “B” will be sent a letter of warning by the graduate school, and should discuss their academic progress with the graduate program. Committee GPC students whose cumulative grade average falls below “B” will be placed on academic probation by Rackham. For the subsequent term, the student must then consult with the GPC. No degree can be awarded during a term of academic probation. Two consecutive terms of probation will result in a review by the GPC and may result in the loss of monetary support, or a request for the student’s withdrawal from the graduate program.


  1. Research Rotations

PIBS 600 - see the PIBS curriculum guide for complete rules regarding rotations. Students must do at least two research rotations and may to do up to four rotations. Rotations are normally full-term or half-term. Contact faculty members as soon as possible to ask about doing a rotation in their lab. Students can set up an informal early research rotation for the summer half-term before their enrollment (July-August). 1-4 credits are earned for each rotation depending on its duration. Prior to beginning a research rotation, the student and research mentor should meet to discuss the expectations of the rotation, e.g. time to be spent in lab, how to keep a lab notebook, is the student expected to attend all lab meetings? Is the student expected to orally present his/her research to the lab group at the end of the rotation? How much coursework does the student have that will detract from lab research? Etc. Research rotations tend to be more successful when all expectations are discussed openly and clearly understood by both the student and mentor.


  1. Choosing CDB
    1. On entering the CDB program, typically in May of year one for Ph.D. students and August for M.D./Ph.D. students, students will sign a commitment letter accepting responsibility for progress toward their Ph.D.;
    2. Each student shall hold committee meetings at least once each year before April 30;
    3. If the student is not making adequate progress the Ph.D. committee may require that the student hold a committee meeting six months later. If the student is still not progressing at that time the Ph.D. committee may recommend to the graduate committee that the student leave the lab due to lack of progress. The grad committee will hear the recommendation and any rebuttal;
    4. Each student will complete an annual report that will be reviewed in May each year by the GPC.


  1. The Thesis Advisor

The student selects a faculty mentor or thesis advisor  at the end of the first year of graduate school. The thesis advisor must be a professor, associate professor, or assistant professor on the instructional track in CDB. This includes primary and secondary CDB faculty members. It is not permissible to select a non-CDB affiliated faculty as thesis advisor in the CDB program. If a student who has achieved candidacy in CDB changes to a non-CDB lab and the student wants to remain in the CDB program, this needs to be approved by the graduate program chair and the CDB department chair.  In addition, the non-CDB mentor must provide a letter cosigned by the chair of the mentor's department committing support for the student until completion of the Ph.D. Otherwise, the student must transfer to that training program.

The primary responsibilities of the thesis advisor are:

  1. to train, mentor, and advise the student in biomedical research;
  2. to prepare the student for a career in science; and
  3. to set a professional example for the student by maintaining high scientific and ethical standards. If a student who has achieved candidacy in CDB decides to carry out his/her Ph.D. research in a non CDB lab the new mentor must provide a letter cosigned by the chair of the mentors department committing support for the student until completion of the Ph.D. and/or the student must transfer to that training program.


  1. The Preliminary Qualifying Examination (prelim) Timelines and Guidelines
    1. Topic: the topic of the prelim can be anything directly relevant to cell and developmental biology including the student’s current or planned research, or that of the student’s mentor. The student can seek help from anyone on any subject in preparation for the exam.
    2. Written Proposal: the written component of the exam which is similar to the specific aims page of an R01 grant must be submitted to the prelim committee at least 48 hours before the oral exam. In under 1000 words, not counting references, the written proposal should include:
      1. a brief statement regarding the importance of the work,
      2. a specific testable mechanistic and well-reasoned hypothesis, and
      3. one or two specific aims that directly test the hypothesis with feasible interpretable experiments. Sub-aims are allowed as stated above. The topic can be based on a mentor’s grant application but as in all professional writing, plagiarism is not acceptable.
      4. The Oral Examination: in the oral examination the student should:
        1. be cognizant of the relevant literature,
        2. demonstrate an understanding of the goals of the research,
        3. propose mechanistic testable experiments,
        4. understand the likely outcomes and their implications,
        5. suggest viable alternative approaches, and
        6. explain the potential scientific and or health impact of the proposed work.
        7. the student will be examined by a prelim committee composed of members of the graduate program committee with the provision that faculty with specifically required expertise up to two can be added at the discretion of the graduate program committee. The Ph.D. supervisor will not be a member of the committee.
        8. Remediation: if the prelim committee determines that the student has failed to satisfy the six requirements above he/she will be required to submit and defend a second proposal. The prelim committee will decide how the topic, hypothesis, and/or aims should be changed if the outcome is the same. If the student fails to satisfactorily address the 6 points above, the student will have failed the prelim there are no additional remediations.
        9. Timing of the Prelim: on choosing CDB as their training program. Typically in May/June, students should meet with the graduate program chair to plan for prelims. The student should submit and defend their prelim in early August. Remediations must be completed by mid-August, for registration as a candidate in late-August.
        10. For M.D./Ph.D. students, because students in the MSTP program typically choose a lab and a Ph.D. program in August these students should submit and defend their prelims in November of their first year. In the CDB program, students should meet with the GPC chair to plan for prelims.


  1. The Dissertation Thesis Committee

Once the preliminary examination is passed, the student in consultation with his/her dissertation advisor should select the members of a dissertation committee. The dissertation committee monitors the progress of the student’s research and offers guidance and advice, decides when the student may defend the dissertation, reads and critiques the written dissertation, and oversees the dissertation defense membership. Members of the thesis committee are chosen according to Rackham guidelines and are subject to approval by Rackham. The following is adapted from the Rackham graduate school academic policies.


The thesis committee must be composed of at least four members, including at least three tenured or tenure-track members of the instructional faculty affiliated with a Rackham doctoral program. Eligible faculty include those holding a regular or unmodified i.e. not research, clinical, visiting, adjunct, emeritus, etc. appointment as professor, associate professor, or assistant professor. At least two committee members must hold primary or secondary appointments in CDB. The committee must include a cognate non-CDB member who holds at least a 5.0 appointment in a Rackham doctoral program other than CDB. This member may not serve as chair or co-chair. The committee must have a chair selected by the Graduate Program Committee. For new committees formed in 2012 or later, the chair of the dissertation committee cannot be the student’s thesis advisor. A co-chair is also allowed meetings.


The student should have her/his first thesis committee meeting no later than the winter semester of the second year. The thesis committee is required to meet with the student at least once per year, although more frequent meetings are strongly encouraged. Before the first thesis committee meeting the candidate must present a written dissertation plan to the members of the thesis committee. Although there is not a standardized format for the dissertation plan, it should include: a brief discussion of the background and significance of the work, a concise description of the preliminary results, the proposed research, its specific objectives, and the methods to be employed. It is the responsibility of the thesis advisor to expedite the completion of the research and writing before each thesis committee meeting, except the first. The student must send a brief written summary of research progress to the members of the thesis committee.


After each thesis committee meeting, a dissertation committee meeting summary form must be filled out by the committee and signed by the student and all members of the committee. This form is then submitted to the CDB student services representative, where it becomes part of the student’s permanent record. This form serves as an official record of the student’s progress and recommendations to the student by the committee. See the appendix for a link to the new CDB dissertation committee meeting summary form updated in 2012.


If the committee believes that a student is not making sufficient progress they may require another meeting to be held in six months. At that time, if progress continues to be insufficient, the committee can recommend that the student leave the CDB training program.


  1. Teaching – GSI

Students will serve as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for at least one CDB course. Teaching assignments are made by the department chair and, whenever possible, in accordance with the student’s preferences. When possible, students’ teaching will be supervised by a faculty member who will submit an evaluation available to the student to the graduate program committee at the end of the term.


Teaching orientation is mandatory for all new GSIs. If a student is planning to serve as a GSI in the coming term he/she must attend this training. The orientation is offered twice a year. Details for registration can be found here:


  1. Research Seminars

Departmental seminars and special guest lectures comprise an important part of CDB graduate education. All students without course or teaching conflicts are expected to attend. It is especially important that new students who are searching for areas suitable for their dissertation work attend informal seminars and journal clubs. Each student is required to give at least one half-hour presentation each year to the group of his/her choice. After the second year, each student should give at least one presentation per year in the Departmental Graduate Seminar Series; CDB 801. The doctoral thesis defense fulfills the seminar requirement for the terminal year.


  1. Doctoral Dissertation and Thesis Defense

Before a student defends their doctoral thesis, it is expected that s/he will have published at least one first-author paper. The dissertation must meet Rackham’s style and format requirements, which are numerous and strictly enforced. The thesis defense is a presentation and defense of the candidate’s thesis research before the dissertation committee, and also acts as a departmental seminar. It is held no less than 10 working days after submission of the unbound dissertation to the committee members and to the dissertation secretary of the graduate school. All members of the committee, except possibly one substitute examiner approved by the dean must be present. Consult the dissertation handbook available from Rackham for further details. The committee is the ultimate judge of the quality of the dissertation. A unanimously favorable report is required for a successful defense. The student will submit to the dissertation secretary of the graduate school:

  1. The report on the form provided by Rackham, and
  2. One bound and one unbound copy of the revised and corrected dissertation. A bound copy of the dissertation is to be provided by the student for the department’s permanent collection.


  1. Post-defense Requirements

Consult Rackham for details concerning the post-defense meeting, revisions to the dissertation, final paperwork, and deadlines.


  1. Dissertation Embargo

The doctoral student and mentor may ask Rackham to place a temporary embargo on public access to the dissertation to allow for separate publication of data in professional journals. Instructions for embargo requests are posted at:


  1. vi.            Leave of Absence and Readmission

Personal leaves of absence may be granted by the Graduate Program Committee (GPC) to students who have compelling personal circumstances that are temporarily impeding their academic progress. The total time spent out of registration on leave of absence will not exceed one year unless specifically approved by the GPC.


On an annual basis, financial support, if any, ceases when the leave of absence begins and may resume in the first term of readmission. Students who have not been enrolled in the CDB graduate program for one year must apply for readmission.


Exceptions include: doctoral students admitted to candidacy, and students returning to the university at the end of a certified period of detached study. Readmission is dependent upon approval by the GPC and upon the availability of resources for the term in which readmission is requested. 


  1. vii.          Master’s Degree Requirements

Note: The graduate program is specifically designed to lead to the Doctoral Degree. Under certain circumstances, students who terminate their study early, may then be eligible for a master’s degree if they have satisfied the following requirements, in addition to Rackham requirements:

  1. The student must complete 32 credit hours with a cumulative average grade of B or better, and have successfully completed the preliminary exam;


  1. Rackham has its own credit requirements for conferring a master’s degree. Additional credit hours beyond those needed to advance to doctoral candidacy may be required, see Rackham graduate school academic policies;


  1. A written thesis is required, and a final oral examination may also be required at the discretion of the GPC;


  1. The student must complete all work toward a master’s degree within six consecutive years from the date of first enrollment in the program;


  1. The student must submit the formal application three-part blue form to the office of academic records and dissertations of the graduate school.


  1. viii.        Graduate Student Support
    1. Departmental Support

Students accepted though PIBS are financially supported by PIBS for the first ten months of graduate school, typically September 1st through June 30th. At the end of this period of PIBS support, the responsibility for financial support shifts to the student’s thesis advisor, typically beginning July 1st but see the following section. In cases of financial need, a student can apply to the chair for a teaching assistantship.


  1. Sources of Travel Support

The Department will cover expenses for travel to a scientific meeting at which the student presents his/her research results (oral talk or poster) and/or to attend a course or workshop which will benefit their research and training. The Department will provide up to a total of $1000 per student over the course of their doctoral studies in the CDB Graduate Program.  A short written request should be submitted to the Department Chair and ccing the Department Administrator (Karen Lang), Kristen Hug, and your mentor – include the specifics about the event, travel plans and costs (specifically, what has already been paid & how it was paid; and future costs & how those will be paid).

The funds can be direct deposited into the student’s bank account if that’s how s/he currently receives their stipend.  If the funds are needed to book travel, the request must be made 30 days prior to making travel arrangements.  Otherwise, the student will be reimbursed for expenses.  A travel expense report must be filled out and receipts provided.  If the mentor used his/her UM funds to pay for the travel, reimbursement will be made to the mentor’s account.

The Rackham Travel Grant is set up to provide opportunities for Rackham graduate students to become familiar with, and take part in, the life of their academic professions. As part of its University-wide commitment to advancing international research and training, the International Institute provides Rackham with a portion of the funding for these awards. Eligibility: Awards are available only to Rackham students who have responded to a formal call for abstracts and whose abstract has been accepted for either poster or paper presentation at a conference. Applications must be received in the Rackham Fellowships Office prior to the conference. Completed applications will be reviewed on a first come, first served basis. Rackham will accept an incomplete application and will encumber the appropriate funds, if funds are available, to be released once the required documentation is received (the current transcript and the confirmation/copy of program). No application will be considered for funding retroactively. A student may receive only one travel grant award during the fiscal year (July 1-June 30).

Appendix: CDB dissertation committee meeting summary form