Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology will train you for a career in research and teaching in microbiology, virology, immunology or molecular biology. We emphasize a program of study that leads to the PhD degree. The PhD program includes formal coursework and independent research that culminates in a dissertation.  The program emphasizes excellence in oral and written communication. You will have the opportunity to stay abreast of current literature through attendance and participation in seminars and journal clubs.

Graduate Student Core Competencies

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology creates and environment through courses, laboratory work, and other activities to allow students to acquire the tools necessary to work independently and to think critically. The department instills a sense of thoroughness, accuracy, and knowledge of common research tools that is indispensable. Students will able to independently analyze and evaluate scientific problems and be responsible for their research by the end of their program. These values are reflected in the Core Competencies listed below.

  • Has knowledge of basic concepts in molecular and cellular biology and biochemistry
  • Has deep knowledge in virology, bacteriology or immunology, providing the basis for careers in these fields
  • Be able to identify important unidentified questions and critically design and execute experiments to address these questions
  • Critically evaluate scientific literature
  • Critically evaluate scientific data
  • Communication Skills
  • Present orally and in writing in a concise and coherent manner
  • Present to the general public
  • Exchange ideas in a scientifically collaborative manner
  • Mentor junior scientists

Coursework

During the first year, you will become well-rounded in your understanding of biomedical sciences by attending introductory courses in Molecular Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Systems Biology, and Methods in Biomedical Sciences. Then you will receive specialized training in Microbiology, Immunology and Virology in the second half of the first year and in your second year. This coursework is complemented with training in ethics and statistics. More senior students have the opportunity to take additional special interest courses. At the end of the formal coursework, you will demonstrate your understanding through successful completion of preliminary examination. You will choose a topic unrelated to your dissertation research, identify an interesting problem to be solved and propose a series of experiments to address the problem in a written document that takes the form of an NIH-style grant proposal. Then you will orally present and defend the document.

Research

The emphasis throughout our graduate program is on research. You will be expected to undertake independent, original experiments culminating in a new and significant contribution to scientific knowledge. Major areas of research emphasis are: molecular and cellular immunology, neuroimmunology, cancer immunology, immunodermatology, mucosal immunology, viral immunology, molecular biology, genetics, pathogenic and diagnostic microbiology, molecular virology, viral pathogenesis, microbial genetics, and microbial physiology.

Students research is supported by close collaboration with a member of the graduate faculty. Upon entering the graduate program, you will be guided by the graduate program director in all aspects of the program, including course and rotation selection. During the first year, you will rotate through research laboratories. At the end of this training period, you will select a mentor and an area of research that is compatible with your interests and future goals. Your mentor helps you prepare for the preliminary examinations, plan a written research proposal, and establish a dissertation committee. Throughout the duration of your tenure, your mentor provides advice and direction on the research project, monitors your progress through program requirements, and provides any other help and counseling needed for successful completion of the program.

Oral and Written Communication

We believe that students must be able to communicate effectively, whether writing an article on recent developments in their research, writing a grant proposal, presenting a seminar,  teaching class or explaining procedures to lab assistants. The best lecturers and teachers–the ones who keep their audiences involved–are those who can express their thoughts in a clear, organized, and interesting manner. To prepare you for this aspect of a science career,  you have the opportunity  to gain part-time teaching experience and to participate in first year journal club, a weekly exercise in communications training for students in their first year.

To further help you communicate your work and develop your communication skills, we also hold special seminars (separate from the research seminars) at which professional writers  work with students to improve and strengthen their writing skills.

Additionally, you will have opportunities to present your research and hone your presentation skills in a number of informal and formal venues. These opportunities include:

  • Weekly lab meetings.
  • Friday meeting, an informal department-wide hour-long lab meeting in which three individuals from various labs present their recent research.
  • Seminar series. Students give a formal hour-long seminar on a topic unrelated to their dissertation research in their third year.
  • Research in progress in a 30-minute presentation to the department. This typically occurs as students enter their third year and beyond.
  • Department-sponsored journal clubs.
  • Annual department retreat and/or the immunology retreat (often an informal poster presentation)
  • Hour-long dissertation seminar given at the conclusion of the research program.

Presentations to educate a non-science audience, typically given once in the first year of graduate school and once towards the end of graduate studies