The PhD program in Molecular & Cell Biology (MCB) consists of both structured classroom training and original hypothesis-driven biomedical research. Coursework is performed during the student’s first two years. Students advance to PhD candidacy after completing required coursework and passing a qualifying exam. To earn a PhD, students complete an original research project, write a dissertation and defend their work before a faculty committee. The expectation is that students complete the entire program within approximately 5 years.


The academic year is divided into quarters. Most courses are offered in the fall, winter, and spring quarters, while the summer quarter is devoted primarily to research. For advancement to PhD candidacy, students need 48 graded credit hours*, about half of which come from required courses scheduled during the first year. The remaining credits are generally completed during the second year when students have the opportunity to tailor their education with elective courses, including a broad variety of topics offered across the street at the NIH. All students participate in the program's Seminar Series and Journal Club throughout their graduate training. Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 (B) or above to remain in good academic standing.

We recognize that some incoming students may have completed equivalent course work at undergraduate or other graduate institutions. The Recruitment and Admissions Committee will evaluate the suitability of these courses towards fulfilling the requirements of the MCB graduate program and determine a recommendation. Final acceptance of transfer credit will be determined by the Associate Dean for Graduate Education based on the committee’s recommendation.

For the Qualifying Examination for Advancement to Candidacy, students write a research proposal (organized in the same format as the NIH’s R01 grant proposal; 1-page Specific Aims, 12-page Research Strategy) describing the experimental plan for their doctoral research. The research proposal must be approved by an examining committee composed of faculty approved by the MCB Director. After the committee evaluates the research proposal, students give an oral presentation and defend their research strategy before the committee.

After passing the Qualifying Examination, students become PhD candidates and devote their full time to the dissertation research project, which is under the supervision of a thesis advisor and an advisory faculty committee (composed of MCB and other internal university faculty, and one external faculty). University regulations require dissertations to be completed and successfully defended within seven years of entering the program.

*USU graduate courses are based on quarter credit hours. One (1) traditional semester credit hour is equivalent to 1.5 quarter credit hours


BCO520  Biochemistry-I - 4 credits

BCO522 Biochemistry-II - 4 credits

MCB504 Eukaryotic Genetics - 4 credits

MCB509 Cell Biology - 4 credits

MCB530 Signal Transduction - 2 credits

MCB531 Introduction to Immunology - 3 credits

MCB801 Techniques in Cell and Molecular Biology - 4 credits

MCB502 Current Research in Molecular and Cellular Biology - 1 credit (required every quarter)


MCB601 Seminars in Molecular and Cellular Biology - 1 credit (required every quarter)

MCB902 Introduction to Research - 1 credit (x2)

MCB901 Research in Molecular and Cellular Biology - 25-31 credits

IDO704 Scientific Ethics and the Responsible Conduct of Research - 2 credits


Not a complete list. Only courses commonly taken by MCB students are listed below.

BIOF300 level Bioinformatics courses 6-10

IDO502 Experimental statistics-I 3

MCB701 Tutorial in Molecular and Cellular Biology 1-4

MCO501 Molecular Virology* 4

MCO503 Cellular And Molecular Immunology* 4

PAO520 Histology for pathologists 3

PHO514 Principles of Pharmacology 1

PHO515 Molecular Pharmacology 2

PMO503 Biostatistics-I 4

*These courses are offered on alternate years

Sample Course Schedule


Because of the rigorous and demanding course load, laboratory rotations are deferred until the winter quarter of the first year. Students are expected to do at least two 6-week rotations, chosen on the basis of the interest of the student, the availability of space in individual laboratories, and in consultation with the Program Director. Upon completion of these rotations, students may choose a graduate thesis advisor (in whose laboratory and under whose guidance they will perform their dissertation research), or elect to do additional rotations. A graduate thesis advisor must be chosen by the winter quarter of the second year.


Being well informed about the latest developments and new discoveries in science by reading relevant publications in primary literature regularly is extremely important for the students not only to be successful in research but also to determine the best career path for themselves after PhD. Also important is for the students to develop their ability to present as well as critically analyze scientific work.  The ‘Current Research in MCB’ discussion class meets every two weeks. In this class students present, discuss and critically analyze both data from primary literature and data from their own research projects. Research articles (from primary literature) discussed in the class are selected in consultation with the course director in areas of general interest.  Participation in this course is required for the entire period of training in the Molecular and Cell Biology Graduate Program.


Being well informed about the latest developments and new discoveries in science by reading relevant publications in primary literature regularly is extremely important for the students not only to be successful in research but also to determine the best career path for themselves after PhD. Therefore, a free-ranging journal club is an essential component of the student's education, and is required for the entire period of training in the Molecular and Cell Biology Graduate Program. The MCB Journal Club meets weekly. Students discuss papers from primary literature, selected in consultation with the course director in areas of general interest.


A biweekly Molecular and Cell Biology Seminar Series features invited speakers from throughout the country who are acknowledged leaders in their fields. All members of the MCB faculty have the opportunity to invite and host speakers of their choice, and MCB seminars are popular not only with USU faculty and students, but also with scientists from other institutions in the area. Attendance at seminars is mandatory for graduate students in the Molecular and Cell Biology Graduate Program, and is considered an important function for faculty of the Program. These seminars offer a great opportunity to the students to interact with eminent internationally recognized scientists. The MCB seminar series also includes presentations by MCB students that have advanced to candidacy on their research project. Participation in MCB seminars is also required for the entire period of training in the Molecular and Cell Biology Graduate Program.


Upon satisfactory completion of the formal, required course work, and no later than the end of the second year of graduate study, a Qualifying Examination shall be taken by the student.

The exam will require the student to write a 13 page proposal, similar to a grant proposal, on the topic that the student intends to pursue his/her thesis research on. The scope of the research project should be reasonable for the student and a technician to accomplish over a 3 year period in a well-equipped and well-funded environment.

The oral examination will consist of a brief, 20-30 minute presentation by the student of the project, followed by a period of questions from the examining committee. The committee will ask questions relevant to the proposal to elicit a demonstration of the student’s understanding of the background, hypothesis and the experimental plan. However, the committee will not be restricted to the material in the proposal for the subject areas of their questions.

A simple majority vote of the examining committee will determine satisfactory performance.

After passing the candidacy examination and meeting other requirements as specified, the student can register for dissertation hours.


The following are required to be admitted to candidacy and enroll in dissertation hours:

  • Completion of required formal coursework
  • A cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above
  • Completion teaching assistant assignments
  • Completion of Master’s Thesis
  • Successful completion of the Qualifying Examination
  • The dissertation advisory committee is formed, consisting of approved graduate faculty and graduate faculty scholars.


Original experimental work is an essential part of graduate training. After a student has advanced to candidacy, he/she will present a departmental seminar annually based on his/her original research project. In addition, the student will meet with his/her Advisory Committee semi-annually to assess and ensure progress towards the completion of the research project. Summaries of those meetings will become part of the student's academic file. A written dissertation, based on the student's original experimental work, shall be prepared by the student under supervision of the student's major faculty advisor and with the concurrence of the student's Advisory Committee.

The written dissertation may take the form of a traditional thesis, or the synthesis of manuscripts that have either been published or submitted for publication. The Dissertation Advisory Committee will read the dissertation to certify the document’s acceptability by the criteria of scope and quality. This Committee will also conduct the dissertation defense examination. The dissertation defense is composed of a closed oral examination administered by the advisory committee followed by a seminar presented by the student open to the public.



  • A complete employment history

Additional Application Requirements


Deadline for full consideration of applications for the Fall Quarter is December 1st. Receipt of applications by this deadline will allow prospective students to be considered for financial support.



Tuition: $0

Fees: $0

Equipment: $0

Tuition and fees are waived for students. Civilian students do not incur a service obligation to the United States government after the completion of their graduate studies.


USU provides an attractive package of financial support to students, which will be administered as a part-time Federal salary for your position as a Research Associate. Total compensation is highly competitive with other local universities. As an Administratively Determined (AD) Federal employee, your salary is subject to standard taxes and withholdings.

As an AD employee, you will receive standard Federal benefits including contributions towards health insurance, retirement, and transit costs. Additionally, you have the option to decline certain benefits, which will increase your net income. Students are supported as Federal employees for the first 3 three years of their enrollment. After this period, students transition to employment as Research Associates by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation (HJF). These positions are supported by grants awarded to mentors or by fellowships awarded to students.

There are no tuition charges for graduate students at USU, nor is there any requirement in the form of government or military service. Most required textbooks are provided without charge.


The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine annually provides support for 1-3 graduate fellowships. The fellowships are competitively awarded annually to outstanding USU civilian graduate student doctoral candidates in the USU School of Medicine who meet the following criteria:

  • The student's USU-supported funding has ended or will end in August of the year of the award
  • The student has advanced to candidacy and is in good academic standing

Applicants must provide information on their research plan and progress, and have the support of their Program Director. Selections are made in June and announced prior to 1 August of each year.

Graduate student fellowship support is also competitively available from many other sources, such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Foundation, and various private foundations such as the American Heart Association, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, etc. Check with the USU Office of Research and/or the Graduate Education Office for various opportunities to compete for extramural funding.


USU maintains a special fund to finance doctoral student research. This resource is designed to provide funds to graduate students in addition to those provided by their major advisor. Funds are available to graduate students who have completed two years of graduate study at USU or who have been advanced to candidacy and are devoting a majority of their time to their dissertation research. Graduate research funds are currently available for two academic years. Funding beyond two years is evaluated on a case by case basis and must be approved by the Graduate Education Committee. In recent years, the maximum amount of funds available each year to eligible graduate students has varied between $1,500 and $2,500.

Forms to apply for USU graduate research funding are available from the GEO and will be sent to those students eligible in July of each year. These applications are relatively short if the funding requested is part of an already accepted University protocol by a major professor. If the research funding represents an entirely new protocol, the normal USU research review procedures must be followed. Information on which course of action is appropriate is available in the GEO. These protocols are administered by the Office of Research Administration at USU. You, your advisor, and your Program Director will receive notification when the funding is approved.