Doctoral Program

In the lab, senior technician helps a student perform her assay.

Creative and innovative research is the hallmark of our graduate program in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. This challenging program is designed to provide a nurturing environment in which graduate students can fully develop and express their intellectual talents, research skills, and teaching abilities. These goals are accomplished through an integrated program of independent research, graduate courses, seminars and teaching. Entering students select from a wide range of stimulating courses designed to complete their preparation for advanced study and research. Molecular and cellular immunology, microbial pathogenesis, molecular virology, microbial physiology, cellular and molecular networks, biochemistry and molecular genetics are some of the topics covered in our courses. To facilitate development of skills necessary for a career in modern research and teaching, many courses are oriented towards discussion of the primary research literature.

The first two years
During the first year as a member of Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS), students participate in brief research projects by rotating in up to four laboratories with approximately two-month rotations during the PIBS year. Laboratories for the rotation period are selected by the student in consultation with faculty members. Such research experiences provide exposure and training in the diverse research interests of our faculty and have proven valuable to students in their selection of a thesis research advisor after the first year. Beginning in the second year, students have the opportunity to develop their teaching abilities by contributing to instructional Medical School courses offered by our department.

As a vital part of graduate training, students refine communicative skills by presenting discussions of research literature in a weekly seminar course, Microbiology 812. Additionally, numerous journal clubs are organized by students and faculty around special topics, including molecular pathogenesis, virology, and immunology. Graduate students also meet regularly to discuss their research activities amongst themselves in an informal, relaxed setting. These activities are complemented by frequent departmental colloquia presented by recognized scientists from leading research institutions around the nation. Students are encouraged to participate in OMIS (Organization of Microbiology and Immunology Students), which sponsors events such as the annual department picnic, as well as holding regular meetings to discuss student issues within the department.

A supportive evaluation process
Students complete a two-step evaluation within two years of matriculation. The first checkpoint is an oral examination that occurs after the first year of classes to test mastery of coursework and analytical thinking. The students are examined on their broad and specific knowledge of three assigned papers. In addition, students will use one of the three papers as a platform to propose future experiments in outline form, which will be discussed during the exam. The second checkpoint occurs in the second year of study and requires the student to write a six-page proposal of future work on the topic of their thesis research. During the student's first committee meeting, the committee will evaluate the student's knowledge of the literature and methodology relevant to this thesis proposal. Ph.D. candidacy is achieved by successfully completing the formal course work and the two checkpoints. The research experiences of students are expected to lead to productive scholarship in the form of peer-reviewed journal publications and conference presentations. Degree candidates will meet annually with their faculty committee to ensure satisfactory progress towards completion of the thesis project; first author publication of a primary research article is required for graduation. Students will receive constructive evaluations from the committee members after each committee meeting. The Ph.D. degree is granted upon completion of a scholarly body of work, submission of a written thesis and presentation of an oral defense based on the student's original, independent research. This program is designed to require approximately five years for completion, and graduates of our department have gone on to pursue outstanding postdoctoral positions and scientific careers.

Students accepted into the Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program are provided with a stipend (please see current rate here, full tuition, and healthcare). The department typically accepts between 5–8 students a year. The department is located on the U of M Medical Campus, adjacent to the University Hospitals and Cancer, Cardiovascular and Geriatric Centers.