Doctoral Program

Thank you for considering the University of Michigan Bioinformatics Program!  

The UM Bioinformatics Program is well established, with a long history of successful graduates in both academia and industry.  

The PhD application deadline is December 1st. There are two paths available; most students apply through the Program in Biological Sciences (PIBS). If you already identified your mentor and/or are transferring from another Univ. of MI program, you should instead apply directly to the Bioinformatics Program. Further details and application requirements can be found on our Graduate Admissions page.  

Prof. Margit Burmeister and Prof. Maureen Sartor are the Directors of the PhD Program. Students should make advising appointments with them while completing the program, to ensure all requirements are met. 

Funding Support

For PhD students, the Bioinformatics Graduate Program provides tuition, healthcare coverage, and a stipend on a 12-month basis. This level of support is maintained throughout a student's tenure in the Program, provided s/he remains in good academic standing and makes reasonable progress towards the degree as determined by the Graduate Directors, with faculty input. 

While a student, funding sources include appointments on NIH training grants, Rackham fellowships, external fellowships, and mentor’s grants. It is expected that beginning the second year of study, students will be supported directly by the mentor's laboratory.

Milestones and Time-to-Degree 

The majority of PhD students finish in less than 6 years. During their first year, students take coursework required for the program, complete at least 2 rotations, plus are expected to identify their dissertation lab by the end of the year. Typically in the second year, students continue with coursework, and complete the preliminary exam (both written and oral) in order to advance to candidacy.  

Once students have completed this milestone, they are expected to devote the majority of time to research and writing their dissertation. Students receive academic advising throughout their studies, especially in the first two years when they must meet with the Program Directors at least once per term. Advising sessions take into account curriculum requirements as well as students’ background and interests. 


Students are required to take courses in each of the following areas: 

Some notes on the course requirements: 

  • Molecular Biology

Students without molecular biology background are strongly advised to take the introductory biology course, BIOINF 523 (Bioinformatics Basic Biology Lab). This course is offered in late August, and is often recommended the summer before starting first term. It should be taken before any other graduate-level molecular biology courses. BIOINF 523 is insufficient to satisfy the department course requirements.  

  • Statistics

Most students take a series in order to satisfy course requirements (e.g., BIOSTATS 601 + 602, MATH 525 + 526, PSYCH 613 + 614, or STATS 425 + 426). If a student takes only one of the two courses, that is insufficient for meeting program requirements. However, if a student wishes to modify this (e.g., taking BIOSTAT 601 + STATS 426), please confirm your choices with the Program Directors in an advising session. Students must receive a passing grade (“B” or better) in at least the second course in the series. If a student has adequate preparation in probability, speak with the Program Directors about having the sequence waived and determining what course(s) may also satisfy.  

  • Other courses

The Bioinformatics Program Directors encourage students to find other courses that may meet core area criteria. All requests to substitute courses in order to satisfy program requirements will be reviewed by the Directors and the Bioinformatics Curriculum Committee.  

Students are expected to receive a passing grade of “B” or better in each of the required courses. Most students need a minimum of 8 major (3-4 credit hour) courses. Students with a Master’s degree in relevant areas need to take a minimum of 6 major (3-4 credit hour) courses. Remaining credits for PhD students are filled by electives plus rotation and dissertation research credits (BIOINF 890, 990, and 995, respectively.) Sample trajectories for studies can be found here; students are not obliged to follow these course options exactly as written. 

Candidacy and Dissertation Committee 

To achieve candidacy, students must complete all coursework and the preliminary exam. Within 6-9 months of candidacy advancement, students’ submit an abstract of a proposed Ph.D. research project must be submitted to the Bioinformatics Program Directors, together with nominations for members of their dissertation committee to the Directors.

The committee should consist of at least 5 faculty members (the chair usually being the mentor, plus at least 3 others who are CCMB affiliated faculty); thus a minimum of 4 CCMB faculty on the committee. At least one of these members should be a primary or joint DCMB faculty member. The make-up of the dissertation committee must meet Rackham's Guidelines and be approved by the Bioinformatics Program Directors, before being forwarded for approval to the Rackham Office of Academic Records and Dissertations. If a student chooses to have a larger committee (i.e., 6 or more members) the additional members are not required to be CCMB affiliates.

After the dissertation committee is formed, it is the advisor and committee's responsibility to keep the Bioinformatics Program Directors informed of the student's status and progress. 

A student should meet with the committee every 6-12 months. A Bioinformatics Committee Form is required for each meeting; it is to be completed and signed by all committee members and the student, which is then reviewed by the Directors.   

Dissertation, Defense Seminar, and Program Completion 

The process of preparing the dissertation should begin while actively involved in the dissertation research. There are specific guidelines available from Rackham; the Dissertation Handbook provides information regarding the dissertation committee composition, formatting requirements, and copyrighted material in the dissertation. The defending student should also closely consult with Rackham Policies and Procedures, mentor and staff in the Bioinformatics Graduate Office.

The oral defense of the dissertation consists of a public seminar, followed by possible questioning by the dissertation committee, and must follow Rackham guidelines.

Once the student and committee have agreed that the student is prepared to defend the dissertation, these steps need to be followed:

  1. Register for a Rackham pre-defense meeting
  2. The student must determine a date and time with the committee members.
  3. Once the date and time are established, the student must contact the Student Services Representative who will reserve a room. A room in Palmer Commons Bldg. is strongly preferred. NOTE: NO FOOD OR DRINK IS ALLOWED AT THE DEFENSE SEMINAR.
  4. Send a title to the Student Services Representative at least *3* weeks in advance. Also contact the Program's Media Consultant, Aaron Bookvich to confirm set up arrangements; especially if any committee members participate remotely.
  5. Send an abstract to the Students Services Representative at least *2* weeks in advance. The title and abstract will be announced to all DCMB affiliated faculty, students, and postdocs. If other units should be notified, that can also be done.
  6. The student will receive the necessary forms from Rackham to distribute among committee members.
    1. After the defense, the committee members will send their evaluations to Rackham. If any revisions are required, those must be completed and approved by the committee before moving on.
    2. Once done, the student must attend a Rackham post-defense meeting. Program and Rackham requirements are not considered complete until this is done. A registration link can be found on the Rackham doctoral degree requirements page. 

Any questions may be addressed to the Bioinformatics Graduate Program office or the Directors.