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.

In addition, students may have the opportunity to obtain a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) position. Students are encouraged to pursue this option if they wish to continue in academia post-graduation or are pursuing a teaching certificate.  The maximum ratio of students per GSI in the graduate programs (doctoral and master’s) is 60. The actual assigned ratio of students: GSI will take into consideration the pedagogical nature of the course.

For information and links in regards to GSI positions, please visit the Academic Human Resources webpage, About GSI and GSA employment. It is continually updated and contains relevant information as to what this employment position entails.

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 (Introductory Biology for Computational Scientists). This course is offered during the Fall semester.

  • 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 being the mentor, plus at least 3 others who are CCMB affiliated faculty); 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.   

PhD Candidate Program Requirements

PhD candidates should meet with their dissertation committee every 6-12 months. A Bioinformatics PhD 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.

A student is expected to be registered for BIOINF 995 research credits every Fall and Winter term. No permission is needed to register and it is automatically 8 credit hours. Details about Rackham’s continuous enrollment policy can be found on their website (Rackham Graduate School Academic Policies, section 2.2). If students wish to take courses in addition to BIOINF 995, please speak with your mentor. Details can also be found on the Rackham policy webpage under section 2.2.5.

Overall curriculum requirements can be found on the “coursework” section of this webpage. Information on specific courses can be found on the departmental course curriculum webpage

The Bioinformatics Program requires that PhD candidates are required to present at BISTRO at least once a year starting the academic year after they reach candidacy and attend BISTRO at least 6 times a year including presentation. 

PhD students need to re-take PIBS-503: Research Responsibility & Ethics in their 5th year of graduate school. If your program of study changed since your first year (e.g., you were an MS student and are now a PhD student), you must take it even if you are only in your third year of PhD studies. This is an NIH requirement that the Bioinformatics Program adheres to. All students should take the course, regardless of their funding source.

In addition to the requirements listed above, the Program Directors also recommend the following activities to help students have a robust academic experience:

  • Serve as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for at least one term (particularly if interested in continuing in an academic setting)
  • Attend at least one conference per year to present research
  • Attend DCMB seminars and, if possible, engage with the speakers at any coordinated activities

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.