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.

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 ([email protected]) 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 [email protected] 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 within a month of passing their prelim exams. 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. See Rackham Guidelines for Dissertation Committee Service for more information.

The student should submit their proposed dissertation committee member names and email addresses, any information for a special member (as described in the Rackham link above), and their abstract information to CMB, by June before their 3rd/G2 year, or within 6 months of passing their prelim exams. They must then meet with the dissertation committee at least every six months after the first meeting and complete a Dissertation Committee Meeting Addendum (page 3 of the Semester Report), to be submitted at the end of each Fall and Winter semester, along with the first two pages of the Semester Report. These forms can be found on the CMB Forms page.

Teaching Requirement

CMB requires students to complete one term of teaching as a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor). Students can also choose to pursue an optional Graduate Teaching Certificate, which is organized through the Center for Research on Learning & Teaching (CRLT). All GSI positions should be approved through CMB before the student accepts the position, since CMB needs to coordinate the GSI appointment with the student's current funding. Per the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) rules, teaching should be a paid position, not volunteer. 

Below is a downloadable Excel spreadsheet of former GSI positions, and contact information for each. 

IMPORTANT: Some funding sources have limits to how how many hours per week you can teach while on them. F31s/F30s and training grants, for example, allow no more than 10 hours/week of teaching (or 25% effort). It is important you a) ask the department who is offering the position, the effort level or hours per week, of the position, and b) coordinate this with CMB before accepting a position. 

(Both are available on the CMB Forms page)

1. Teaching Approval Form - must be filled out before accepting a teaching position. This form gives CMB the info it needs to coordinate any teaching with your existing funding, and is the formal mechanism of approval from both CMB and your lab mentor, for you to complete the teaching activities.

2. Teaching Evaluation Form - must be filled out after finishing all teaching activities. This form asks your teaching supervisor to evaluate your performance as a teaching assistant/GSI. A satisfactory evaluation from the supervising instructor is required at the end of the semester, to formally get credit for the CMB teaching requirement.

 GSI positions are competitive, so it is recommended that students start looking 2 semesters in advance, ideally for their 3rd/G2 or 4th/G3 year. Make sure to tell the instructor/department when you hope to teach, as they may want you to start right away.

  • Some departments have prioritized students from their own programs, so let them know it is a program requirement for CMB. It helps to have taken the course, and/or to demonstrate enthusiasm for the subject matter. 
  • Search courses in the course catalog (future semesters) and email the course instructors directly. Again, demonstrate interest in the course material, and let them know you are looking to complete your CMB teaching requirement.
  • Search for open positions, or contact your mentor's department

CMB also recognizes that our students have a wide breadth of research and career interests, and so it has created a pilot program in which students can submit a proposal as an alternative to teaching, to complete other activities that will achieve similar competencies, but more closely match that individual student's future career aspirations. A description of the program goals and guidelines for submitting a proposal is attached below as well.

Completing the Ph.D. Dissertation

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