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Program of Study

The training program is designed to build fundamental knowledge in microbiology and training in independent hypothesis-driven research. Students are encouraged to build their own curriculum, lab rotations, and thesis committee, with guidance from faculty and help from peer-mentoring, that meet the scientific need and interest for each student. During the first two years, the student needs to take at least four courses, including three out of nine microbiology-related courses involving bacterial pathogenesis, molecular biology of animal viruses, biology of the immune system, molecular mechanism of disease, molecular cell biology, system cell biology, illuminating cell function, and genomic methods. At least one of these three courses needs to be bacterial pathogenesis or virology. Additional required courses include microbiology seminars, research in progress, seminal papers in microbiology, and responsible conduct of research. Optional courses can be chosen from scientific areas that can strengthen the student’s research, including courses provided in areas of biochemistry, molecular biology, immunology, genetics, genomics, infectious diseases, ecology, evolution, epidemiology, statistics, bioinformatics, and computational biology.

The first year is typically spent taking two to three courses each semester and identifying a thesis lab after three lab required lab rotations (a fourth rotation is optional). The second year typically involves working on the thesis project, taking additional courses if needed, and preparing for the qualifying exam. The qualifying exam is a written and oral exam, requiring the students to write an on-topic thesis proposal in the NIH F30/F31 format (including 1 page of specific aims and 6 pages of research strategies). The students, after discussion with the mentor, will assemble their own qualifying committee consisting of faculty who have the expertise to strengthen the thesis proposal. Students may start taking teaching fellow credits during or after the third year.

Students build a sense of community through frequent interactions with faculty and trainees in weekly Research in Progress seminars (where students and postdocs present their research), weekly Microbiology Seminars (where distinguished investigators present their work), monthly networking hours, and an Annual Microbiology Retreat (where trainees present posters and talks). The program provides peer mentoring by pairing incoming students with current students, hosting a student-only barbeque at the beginning of the school year, and ad hoc career workshops involving diverse career tracks run by program alumni.