in Cell Biology
The Department of Cell Biology offers a program of study leading to the PhD. degree in Cell Biology. The goal of this program is to train students in cell and developmental biology to become independent, innovative and critical scientists fully prepared for productive careers in academic and other settings. The Department offers strengths in molecular, structural, developmental and stem cell biology.
Admission to the Program
The Cell Biology Department does not accept applications directly. Rather,
students enter Cell Biology from any of the interdepartmental training
and Molecular Biology, the University
Program in Genetics, the Structural Biology and Biophysics
Cancer Biology, Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, and the Developmental
and Stem Cell Biology Program. Students interested in the
research programs in Cell Biology should apply to the Graduate
School, listing one of these programs. Admission to
one of these programs guarantees funding for the term of the Ph.D.
slots are available to foreign students. In the first year, a student
should plan to do a lab rotation with any Cell Biology faculty
All students who decide to do thesis work with a Cell Biology faculty
member are accepted into the department, and maintain dual association
with their interdepartmental program.
Requirements and Procedures
The Ph.D. program in Cell Biology generally takes four to six years for completion. The first three semesters are devoted to course work and laboratory rotations; later years are devoted to thesis research.
Graduate students are expected to complete 24 credit-hours of course work during their first two years in residence. Two courses are required of all students:
• Molecular Cell Biology (CBI 551). Current research topics in Molecular Cell Biology, presented in a literature-based lecture and discussion format. Topics are diverse and include cell-cell interaction, cytoskeleton and cell motility; extracellular matrix and cell adhesion; growth factors and signaling; cell cycle, biostatistics and bioinformatics. 4 credits. (Lew and Nicchitta)
• Student Seminar (CBI 800s). Students are required to participate in this one-credit course, or a similar course in another department or program. This course provides training and experience in scientific presentations and proposal preparation. In this course students will present primary research papers in selected topics.
In consultation with their program DGS and advisor students may customize their plan of study choosing from recommended courses in the graduate curriculum for their remaining hours of graded course work. The intention is to design a course program that best benefits the student and their research interests. Other courses may be substituted, subject to the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. Required coursework normally can be completed in the second and third semesters.
Graduate students may gain teaching experience by serving as teaching assistants for one semester during their second year. Opportunities are available in several undergraduate and graduate school courses; information on these is available from the office of the Director of Graduate Studies. A teaching certificate program is available through the Department of Biology.
Lab Rotations and Choice of a Thesis Lab
Each first-year student is expected to complete a series of three laboratory rotations; the student may choose the labs, subject to approval by laboratory directors. Each rotation involves two to three months of work. The first rotation usually runs from September through November, the second from December through February, and the third from March through May. In general, students are expected to spend about 15 hours weekly in laboratory work. We encourage students to discuss this expectation with the principal investigator before beginning the rotation. At the end of each rotation, the student should expect to give a presentation to the laboratory director and/or prepare a brief report summarizing experiments and results. By offering detailed exposure to procedures and techniques in three separate lab settings, these rotations provide the basis for choosing a thesis laboratory. Following the third rotation, a student selects a laboratory for thesis work and begins a research program there. The choice of thesis laboratory must be approved by the thesis advisor (who must have the funding, laboratory space and resources to support the research) and by the Director of Graduate Studies.
Preliminary Qualifying Examination
Preliminary qualifying exams are administered at the start of the spring semester in the second year. The student's thesis committee, consisting of at least five faculty members, including the advisor, administers the exam. The exam includes oral and written components. The written component is a 10-15 page historical review of the research field of interest. The oral component of the exam will be in the form of a short (two page) research proposal which the student defends to their thesis committee. Click here for a more detailed description of the Prelimary Exam format. Students will be given a research article approximately 10 days prior to the exam with the proposal focused on new research questions extending from the paper. The proposal should include a title, a brief abstract, background and proposed research. The background section should introduce the research topic, highlight the key observations that are guiding the proposal, and make clear why the question that is being posed is significant. The proposed research should include specific aim(s), a description of the experiments and relevant control experiments, a statement of expected results and a brief discussion of pitfalls - what you would do if your experiments fail. The oral exam begins with the student's presentation of the paper and the proposal. The oral portion of the exam will primarily focus on a critical evaluation of the research proposal and may include questions related to the paper. Successful completion of the preliminary exam advances the student to the status of doctoral candidate. Students who do not pass may be re-examined once, following the schedule and procedures stipulated by the Graduate School; all students must pass the preliminary exam by the end of the third year.
Thesis Proposal and the Thesis Committee
By May 1st of the third year, the doctoral candidate and his or her advisor must assemble a thesis proposal, and convene their committee.
A student's committee must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School prior to the committee's first meeting. (A committee approval form is available on the Graduate School web site). The thesis committee must consist of at least five faculty, including a minimum of two from the Department of Cell Biology. Faculty with a secondary appointment in Cell Biology can be counted towards this requirement. The thesis advisor is a member of the thesis committee, but may not be the chair. Most commonly all members of the thesis committee are faculty at Duke University. The goal is to assemble a highly informed and appropriate thesis committee for each student and so faculty at other institutions can be made ad hoc members of the Graduate Faculty for the purpose of serving on a PhD thesis committee. Any exceptions to the rules regarding thesis committee composition must be approved by the DGS and the Graduate School. Students are strongly encouraged to review these requirements, which are detailed on the Graduate School web site.
Sometimes changes in the thesis committee are necessary during the progress of work and before the final exam (thesis defense). These changes must be submitted to the graduate school for approval at least 30 days before the exam.
Annual Progress Reports
Each year, students must meet with their committees to report on the progress of thesis research. An oral presentation, usually about 20 minutes, is followed by discussion with committee members. Before the meetings, each student should submit a brief written report to committee members; after the meeting, a revised report must go to the thesis advisor and to the Director of Graduate Studies. During the course of their Ph.D. work, students will be asked to present their research to the department as oral presentations or as posters at departmental events.
Thesis and Final Examination
Each student consults his/her advisor and thesis committee for a preliminary judgment of when a thesis project is mature enough for completion. (Final judgment, of course, comes after the exam.) The student's dissertation must be distributed to the thesis committee a minimum of one week prior to the exam. It is common for students to defend a provisional thesis copy, which is subject to revisions as suggested by the committee. The doctoral defense begins with a formal dissertation seminar to the Department. The seminar is a necessary component of the dissertation defense (final examination). The dissertation defense is held immediately following the seminar.
The dissertation must conform to the regulations for the doctoral degree as stated in the Graduate School Bulletin. Work that has been published or submitted for publication should be reformatted by the student as chapters in the thesis. In the case of multi-authored papers, the student should be careful to identify those parts for which he or she was primarily responsible; the student must secure copyright release for work already published.
Conduct of Research
training for graduate students