Curriculum and Degree Requirements

Academic Requirements

The Post bachelor’s Ph.D. program requires 64 credits. The M.D./Ph.D. and Postmasters Ph.D. programs require 32 credits. The number of lecture credits will vary with requirements for each department. Each student will need to check the requirements for Cell and Molecular Biology Program students in the department of their choice as the number of required courses differs.

First Year CMB Core Classes

The first-year basic science curriculum for almost all PhD programs and Departments has changed for the 2011-2012 academic year. The new curriculum is set up as one major course that runs the full academic year called Foundations in Biomedical Sciences (FIBS). This innovative and interdisciplinary core course will encompass material that has been traditionally taught in courses of Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Genetics and Genomics, and Molecular Biology. These four major topics will be taught as sequential modules. A fifth module will be available as well with a choice of topics, from development and stem cells, physiology, and metabolism. This should be a particularly exciting student experience across the graduate school at BUSM.

FIBS FC 701 Protein structure, catalysis and interactions
FIBS FC 702 The Genome
FIBS FC 703 Cell Dynamics and Architecture
FIBS FC 704 Cell Communication
GMS CM 761/762 Critical Thinking
GMS CM 764 Presentation Skills

Monthly meetings on Thursday at noon highlight Rotation talks or Senior Graduate student presentations

Suggested elective classes

GMS BI 777 Techniques in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology
FIBS 705A Physiology
FIBS 705B Metabolism
FIBS 705C Translation Genomics
FIBS 705D Stem Cell and Development

Charles River Campus
BI 544 Cell Motility and Cytoskeleton

Second Year

To fulfill the requirements of the Cell and Molecular Biology Program, there is a 2 CR course required in addition to attendance at graduate student talks.

GMS CM 765/766 Imaging / Grant Writing

Each course is given for half a semester and 2 such courses must be taken to complete the requirement (1 credit/course).Both of the courses are given in the second semester of the second academic year and after the completion of both courses, the student will be given 2 credits.

Elective Courses in Second Year:

GMS AN 709 (2 cr): Neural Development and Plasticity
GMS BI 787 (2 cr): Molecular Mechanisms of Growth and Development
GMS BI 786 (2 cr): Biochemical Mechanisms of Aging
GMS BI 776 (2 cr): Gene Targeting in Transgenic Mice
GMS BY 771 (4 cr): Biophysics of Macromolecular Assemblies
GMS BY 774 (2 cr): Metabolism and Cellular Function of Complex Lipids
GMS HG 881 (4 cr): Human Genetics I
GMS HG 882 (4 cr): Human Genetics II
GMS MI 716 (4 cr): Bacterial Physiology
GMS MI 714 (4 cr): Microbial Genetics
GMS MI 717 (4 cr): Growth Control and Cell Transformation
GMS MI 718 (4 cr): Virology
GMS MI 715 (2 cr): Advanced Immunology (cellular immunology)
GMS PA 700 (6 cr): Basic and Experimental Pathology
GMS PA 801 (2 cr): Special Topics in Pathology – Transmembrane Signaling
GMS MS 783 (2 cr): Molecular Basis of Neurologic Diseases I
GMS MS 784 (2 cr): Molecular Basis of Neurologic Diseases II
GMS PA 725 (2 cr): Molecular Immunology
GMS PM 700 (4 cr): Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology
GMS PM 880 (2 cr): Gene Regulation and Pharmacology
GMS PH 741 (2 cr): Experimental Methods in Physiology A
GMS PH 742 (2 cr): Experimental Methods in Physiology B

The course of graduate study is designed so that the Ph.D. student can complete the required coursework during the first two years of graduate work. Once students have completed their academic classes the remaining credits will be fulfilled by registering for research credits. Students may take additional courses for credit. The emphasis after the second year, however, should be on research in the laboratory. Students should register for research credits (research credits in Cell and Molecular Biology are GMS CM 952), until they have taken the required total number of credits required for their degree.

Choosing a lab for your doctoral work

In the CMB program students can join a laboratory of a faculty person who has an appointment in any of the Departments or Programs. This gives you a lot of flexibility. Students who join the laboratory of a faculty member in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology are requested to meet with their advisor, the Chair of the Department and Dr. Trinkaus-Randall, to develop the course of study. In addition please see the list of requirements below under qualifying exams and thesis committee.

Additional Requirements and Guidelines/Academic Policies

Academic Policies

Academic policies and procedures dictated by the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences are described in the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences Bulletin. All students are required to maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average of B (3.0) or better in their courses. Any student receiving a grade of C or below must repeat the course and must attain a grade of B (not B-) or above in the course. Please note that if students receive 8 credits of a grade(s) of B- or lower, they will be placed on academic probation. Any students placed on academic probation will receive a letter detailing the expectations for remediation and will be re-evaluated at the end of each semester. Students on academic probation are not allowed to take Departmental Qualifying or Thesis Defense examinations. If the grade point average is not rectified in 1 year, the student will be dismissed from the program.


All students are expected to finish the Ph.D. in a timely manner, having made a significant contribution to their field of research. Financial assistance is dependent upon the student remaining in good standing within the CMB program as well as the department/program the student joins after the first year in the program. The Department will only provide financial aid for courses, which fulfill requirements of the candidate’s degree program.


All students are required to be registered every semester at Boston University unless they are on an approved leave of absence. An absence from the lab or from courses for more than 2 weeks per year should be brought to the attention of the Student Affairs Committee and if needed the Executive Committee. Student stipends will be suspended during any extended leave.


M.D. Ph.D. students are required to have successfully completed a minimum of their first year of BUSM curriculum prior to entering the program. Students may not join if they are not in good standing in the medical school.



Each student is expected to fulfill the seminar requirements of the specific basic science department in which he or she is enrolled. Attendance of interdisciplinary seminars is encouraged.


All students register for research credits using the course numbers for the basic science departments in which they are enrolled. The precise number of research credits depends on the student’s needs and background.

Additional PhD Requirements:

Qualifying Examinations: All students must pass the qualifying examinations of their chosen Department, with modifications described below, to be completed by the end of two years. The goal of the qualifying examinations is to permit the faculty to judge the adequacy of the students’ background knowledge in their chosen field and their facility for problem solving and for interpretation of important cell and molecular biology concepts before formally permitting them to begin their doctoral research. Students take a written examination and an oral examination, in the format of the major Department, given by a committee of at least of 5 members, 3 from the major Department and 2 from the CMB Program faculty. A student who is in good academic standing but who fails either the written or oral qualifying examinations is allowed one opportunity to remedy their failing grade. This will be done in accordance with the rules of the major Department.

Research Training and Advisory Committees: An intensive period of full-time research is the central element of the Program. Each of the training faculty directs a laboratory which carries out studies in one or more central areas of cell and molecular biology. Participation in these projects is the principal mode of research training. A minimum of three laboratory rotations are required within the first year of study. They are each approximately two months long. Laboratory rotations are the prime mechanism for selection of a major Department, a general research area, and a dissertation advisor. By June 1st, each student will have been accepted by a major department. If necessary, the following summer semesters may also be used for research rotations which must be in a CMB faculty laboratory and be approved by the major Department.
Within 6 months of passing the qualifying examinations, the trainee is expected to present a research proposal to a Dissertation Advisory Committee that will monitor his/her research progress on a regular basis, meeting at least once a year. One week prior to each meeting, the student will present a written summary of research progress to the committee for review. The committee will consist of 5-6 members, including the research advisor, one other representative of the major Department, and 3 members of the CMB training faculty. At least one member of the committee must be from a department that is not the major department. The chair, who should not be the research advisor, will keep written records of the meetings. It is the committee’s responsibility to provide an objective evaluation of the project as well as contribute to the selection of specific research directions. While the committee often has useful suggestions on specific approaches to a particular protocol, a more vital function is to help focus and limit the scope of the research, so that the trainee has, as early as possible, a clear concept of the overall design of the dissertation proposal. Although this concept will change in response to specific experimental findings, it is critical for the trainee to be guided to define, both in scope and quality, an appropriate research project. Full-time research work usually will begin in the summer of the second year (upon successful completion of all required courses and the qualifying examinations). The time required for completion of the Program, including the writing and defense of the Ph.D. dissertation, averages 5 years.

Dissertation and Oral Defense: At the completion of the research project, each student will prepare a written dissertation documenting his/her original research contribution. The format must meet University guidelines. A completed final copy of the dissertation, approved and signed by the first and second readers, must be given to each member of the Dissertation Advisory Committee for review at least 2 weeks before the dissertation defense. The Dissertation Advisory Committee will serve as the Dissertation Defense Committee. A research seminar will be presented to the faculty and student members of the CMB Program, members of the major department, and other interested members of the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences prior to the dissertation defense. This will be followed by an oral defense of the dissertation.


The basic science departments are the degree-granting entities in the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. The degree for a student who is enrolled in the Program in Cell and Molecular Biology will read “PhD in (the appropriate basic sciences department), Program in Cell and Molecular Biology.”