CMB Program Guide

Don't forget to visit Rackham's Navigating Your Degree page for a complete guide to registration and coursework, advancing to candidacy, the Ph.D. dissertation and oral defense, graduation, and more.

Each section below provides a brief overview of major program milestones - more detailed information can also be found in the CMB Handbook.

CMB Handbook and Timeline

Research Rotations and Mentor Selection

Students complete at least two research rotations in their first year, after being admitted to the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS). Check the PIBS Courses and Rotations page for more information. After their first year, PIBS students can choose CMB as their program of choice, as well as a faculty mentor and a research topic. To find CMB faculty mentors, check with PIBS ( or visit our "Faculty" directory page to search faculty with whom you share research interests.

Students should register for a research course each semester - their faculty mentor will submit a Semester Report of their lab progress each Fall and Winter. Semester Reports can be found on the CMB Forms page.

Academic Courses & Advising

CMB students take core coursework in Cell Biology, Biochemistry and Genetics, plus quantitative coursework, electives, ethics training, and CMB seminar courses. More detailed information can be found in the CMB Handbook, or on the Ph.D. Curriculum page.

The CMB Director and Associate Directors, who are faculty members familiar with course offerings, serve as academic advisors to different "years" of CMB students.

Students can schedule a meeting with an academic advisor at any time. Contact to schedule a meeting.

Preliminary Exams & Candidacy

The CMB preliminary examination involves students writing an original research proposal (written component) and defending it before a committee of CMB faculty members (oral component). The written and oral components of the preliminary examination must each be passed before a student achieves candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.

The preliminary exam (prelim) tests the student's ability to reason analytically and to develop ideas and experimental approaches. The exam is typically completed in the student's second/G1 year.

Dissertation Committees

Students should start forming a dissertation committee a month after advancing to candidacy. Dissertation committees provide research and career guidance to students. The dissertation mentor chairs the committee, which includes at least 3 additional members, each of whom must be affiliated with a Ph.D. program. At least two members of the committee in addition to the chair must be members of the CMB program faculty. 

The student must meet with the dissertation committee at least every six months after the first meeting and submit a Dissertation Committee Progress Report within two weeks of each meeting. Blank progress report forms can be found on the CMB Forms page.

Teaching Requirement

Students in the CMB program are required to complete one term of teaching as a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor). They can also choose to pursue an optional Graduate Teaching Certificate, which is organized through the Center for Research on Learning & Teaching (CRLT).

**Students should start looking for a GSI 2 semesters in advance, and also inform CMB of any teaching appointments, so that CMB can coordinate the appointment with the student's current funding.

Completing the Ph.D. Dissertation

For more questions about the dissertation that cannot be answered here, email the Office of Academic Records & Dissertations at