How to Apply for Programs in Vision Research

Dr. Daniel Goldman
Jason Miller, MD, PhD

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Predoctoral Trainees

All PhD programs at the University of Michigan are under the aegis of the Rackham Graduate School. Potential predoctoral fellows doing vision research at U-M come from one of four doctoral programs: the Program in Biomedical Sciences, the Neuroscience Graduate Program, the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, or the Department of Biomedical Engineering. 

Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS)

The Program in Biomedical Sciences is an umbrella program that serves as the admissions portal for 14 PhD programs, including the interdepartmental graduate programs of Cellular & Molecular Biology and Neuroscience. The PIBS was established to offer students flexibility during the first year of graduate studies. Once admitted, students can immediately begin training in one program or take a course of study compatible with several programs while also completing research rotations. At the end of the first year in the PIBS, students choose a permanent discipline-specific program, which then assumes responsibility for preliminary examinations, the thesis defense and graduation. When students apply to the PIBS, they indicate primary and secondary programs of interest. Admissions committees for these two programs are then responsible for evaluating applications and identifying students that will be invited for on-campus interviews. Students invited to one of the two interview weekends are hosted by their primary program. Each graduate program organizes and hosts research mini symposia during recruiting weekends, featuring faculty and student speakers that focus on their basic or disease-related research. Offers of admission are made on a rolling basis, but only after each round of on-campus interviews is complete.

Across all the programs under the PIBS umbrella, applicants receive a holistic review, with a focus on written and oral communication, significant, sustained research experience, the ability to discuss the research experience in a mature fashion, and enthusiastic and supportive letters of recommendation. It is not uncommon for many admitted students to have 1-2 years of post-baccalaureate research experience. The PIBS fully funds all entering students for the first 10 months, a commitment that includes first year tuition, stipend and health and dental insurance. The PIBS provides an orientation session for incoming students, ensures that students receive the required chemical, centrifuge, autoclave and radioactive materials training and coordinates the required first year course in Responsible Conduct of Research/Research Ethics (PIBS 503). The PIBS also organizes and requires a weekly seminar in professional and personal development (PIBS 800). In the first academic year, incoming students take courses, perform at least two required research rotations and, by the end of the first year, officially join one of the 14 PhD programs under the PIBS umbrella. Depending on the specific requirements of each graduate program, preliminary examinations and advancement to candidacy occurs either at the end of the first or second academic year.

Apply to the Program in Biomedical Sciences

Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP)

The Neuroscience Graduate Program allows students to apply both directly to the program and through the PIBS. For applicants who know they wish to pursue a degree in Neuroscience, the Direct route of admissions is often the best fit. This offers a first-year curriculum that is focused almost exclusively on areas within neuroscience and includes elective course options in other areas of biomedical research. Students who join the program directly may choose to do laboratory rotations with any faculty member affiliated with the NGP. The difference in routes of admission is mostly one of timing, not content. Both Direct and PIBS students take the same Neuroscience specific courses and participate in research. Students in the NGP take a number of classes in the first year, are required to teach for one term and present at the NGP seminar twice while a student.

Apply to the Neuroscience Graduate Program

Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology (MCDB)

The Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology maintains a recruitment and admissions process that resembles the PIBS and includes on-campus visits. First-year students entering via MCDB take courses and seminars, and explore faculty research interests through laboratory rotations. Students are expected to select their thesis lab and mentor by the end of the first year. During the second year, students complete coursework requirements and take the preliminary exam (which includes a public seminar) for advancement to candidacy.

Apply to the Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology Program

Biomedical Engineering (BME)

The Department of Biomedical Engineeringevaluates nearly 500 applications to their PhD program each year. Students are selected in a multistep process. Faculty are polled in the fall of each year to assess the number of students that can be supported across the range of subdisciplines within BME. The Department hosts on-campus recruitment events, and offers are made to selected students interviewed by Department faculty. Admitted students match to a specific advisor during the fall term. Pre-candidate students take the qualifying exam within the first two years.

Apply to the Biomedical Engineering program

Postdoctoral Trainees

Postdoctoral applicants typically hold either a PhD or dual MD/PhD degrees, and should contact individual faculty members directly. Please see the U-M Vision Research Faculty page for contact information. All newly appointed postdoctoral fellows are required to attend the New Postdoc Orientation, which is held monthly and hosted jointly by the Medical School’s Office of Postdoctoral Studies and the Graduate School. These sessions introduce new postdoctoral fellows to the resources on campus, emphasize that, though still mentored trainees, they are now independent investigators and direct them to the professional development events across campus. At the orientation, new fellows are given a flash drive that contains the Postdoc Handbook, a comprehensive overview of postdoctoral training at U-M. Included in the handbook is the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) Postdoctoral Compact, a model individual development plan, a model annual report, and embedded links to the extensive resources available to postdoctoral fellows training at U-M. These resources include, for example: extended paid sick leave for child birth; funds to support professional travel with children; access to confidential faculty and staff support services; career and professional development events sponsored by the Graduate School, Medical School and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching; and travel grants supported by the Medical School. The U-M Postdoctoral Association  is a great centralizing entity that helps postdoctoral fellows in all aspects of their life and research training experience.