Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology

Molecular, cellular and developmental biology lab

The Program in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Michigan is an interdisciplinary gateway program that coordinates admissions and the first year of Ph.D. studies for 14 department programs, including Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology.

PIBS offers you the flexibility and convenience of applying to any of our participating programs through one application. We invite you to thoroughly explore Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology and the other 13 programs before selecting your top preferences when you apply.

Program Overview

The Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Ph.D. program is a relatively young program that was created in 2001 when the Department of Biology split into two departments: the Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology (MCDB), and the Department of Ecology and Evolution Biology (EEB). The goal of the MCDB graduate program is to provide a solid foundation of scientific knowledge and technical skills that will mature our students into independent scientists while also providing enough flexibility to allow students to develop and explore their own research interests.

Research Areas

Our program offers an impressive of breadth scientific approaches, experimental expertise and biological diversity with an emphasis on model systems. Therefore, MCDB provides a wide variety of research opportunities and ample choices of potential graduate mentors.

The members of the MCDB Department are broadly interested in how organisms, cells, molecules and genomes function, develop and evolve. The faculty share technical approaches such as genetics, genomics, biochemistry and specialized imaging. They also share a common intellectual approach that emphasizes mechanistic and experimental strategies to investigate a diverse set of biological problems using a variety of model systems including: bacteria, yeast, C. elegans, Drosophila, Arabidopsis, Xenopus, zebrafish and mammals.

The Department’s intellectual orientation can be broken down into four broad areas: Cell Biology and Biochemistry, Developmental Biology, Molecular Evolution, and Neurobiology/Animal Physiology.

MCDB has more than 60 Ph.D. students with 31 mentor faculty, including four faculty with joint appointments. Approximately 12 students join the Ph.D. program each year. MCDB is a vibrant and growing department that has hired 9 new faculty members in the last three years with ongoing plans for additional recruitment.

Our faculty have received impressive internal awards such as Collegiate Professorships and Thurnau Professorships, as well as external awards such as those from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Burroughs Welcome Fund. Our students have also received many recognitions and awards, including Rackham Fellowships and Outstanding GSI Awards.

Explore our faculty.

Program Requirements


Our curriculum is geared towards preparing our students to think as independent scientists yet allows them to transition to full-time research activities quickly. In the fall, in addition to PIBS 503, MCDB students also take MCDB614 that introduces various model systems and experimental approaches used by the MCDB faculty. In the winter term, students take MCDB615 that builds on skills in experimental design and hypothesis testing learned from MCDB 614; critical skills needed for advancement to candidacy.

MCDB students are also required to complete a minimum of 4 hours of graduate level work in a field or fields other than their area of specialization to broaden their intellectual scope.

During the first year, students usually engage in two or more research rotations in MCDB faculty labs in order to identify a research mentor and a laboratory in which to conduct dissertation research. These rotations also provide training in the development of a research plan and analytical and critical interpretation of experimental data.

Preliminary Examination

The Preliminary Examination consists of a three-part exam: the written proposal, a research seminar, and the oral exam. Materials for the written and oral parts of the exam consist of a research proposal based on the student's thesis research.

Teaching Requirement

The Department requires that all Ph.D. students teach at least two semesters as part of the Ph.D. requirements.

Expected Length of Program

Doctoral students typically take from four to six years to complete their dissertation; five to five-and-a-half years is the national average.

Student Interests

In addition to formal training, students also participate in other scientific activities that promote scientific exchange and foster social interaction between students, faculty, and invited speakers such as seminars, journal and data clubs, and the annual MCDB research retreat.

Career Expectations

Since July 2001, more than 60 MCDB Ph.D.s have been conferred, and we take considerable pride in the accomplishments of our alumni. MCDB doctoral graduates are highly competitive for prestigious postdoctorl positions: within the past five years alonge, MCDB graduates have accepted postions at Harvard, Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Chicago. In addition, many of our students have gone on to highly productive careers in industry, with our graduate training providing the necessary skills to succeed in a competitive marketplace. We are proud of our student graduates and look forward to learing of their accomplishments in the future.