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Ph.D. in Plant & Molecular and Cellular Biology

Xiao Lui conducts molecular and cellular biology research with Dr. Allan Showalter.
Xiao Lui conducts molecular and cellular biology research with Dr. Allan Showalter.

Program Overview

The Molecular and Cellular Biology program offers graduate study leading to the Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies in molecular and cellular biology.

Ph.D. study and research are guided by a doctoral advisory committee. A great deal of the responsibility for determining the program of study is left to the committee. In addition to a core MCB curriculum, additional courses in Plant Biology are required.

However, a required core curriculum consists of a year of Biochemistry (CHEM 5901, 5902), Advanced Cell Biology (MCB 7600), Molecular Biology (MCB 7200), Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory (MCB 7300), Biological Research and Science Ethics (PBIO 5170) and Scientific Writing (PBIO 5180).

Students are required to register for MCB 7410 Seminar in Molecular and Cellular Biology when offered and must present at least one seminar each year. Students must receive doctoral advisory committee approval of a written research proposal in the program and pass written and oral qualifying examination. You must defend your final dissertation before the doctoral advisory committee at a public forum. In addition, you are required to present the dissertation research as a program seminar.

Career Opportunities

A student with a Ph.D. in plant biology could work at a college or university, teaching or doing research in a variety of specialty areas. He or she also could work in private industry, or governmental agencies dealing with agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, biotechnology or pharmaceuticals, conservation agencies and museums of natural history, environmental consulting firms, food companies, botanical gardens, and arboreta.

Advising & Program of Study

A student may be co-advised by two PBIO-MCB tenure-track faculty members.

A student may change advisers, but only after approval of the current and potential adviser and the Graduate Chair. If a student leaves his or her adviser, for whatever reason, he or she must find another adviser within four weeks or before the start of the following semester. An unadvised student cannot remain in the PBIO-MCB graduate program beyond this time limit.

Degree Requirements


Successful completion of:

  • PBIO 5170 Biological Research and Science Ethics (1)
  • CHEM 5901 and CHEM 5902 Biochemistry (4, each)
  • MCB 7200 Molecular Biology (3)
  • MCB 7300 Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory (3)
  • MCB 7600 Advanced Cell Biology (3)
  • PBIO 5180 Writing in Life Sciences (3)
  • PBIO 5150: Statistical Methods in Plant Biology (4)
    or PBIO 5160: Problem Solving with Bioinformatics Tools (3)
  • Two additional courses in PBIO

Credit Hours

Each student is required to complete a minimum of 30 graded graduate credit hours.


A student must maintain a 3.0 GPA to remain in the Molecular and Cellular Biology program and to graduate. If a student receives a grade of “C+” or lower in more than two courses, he or she will be terminated from the MCB program.

Research & Seminar

A minimum of 60 credits hours of research (PBIO 8950).

Successful completion of MCB (7410) each year.

Comprehensive Examination

A student must pass a Comprehensive Examination composed of written and oral sections no later than the third year (i.e., ninth semester) or face dismissal from the program.


A student must successfully complete a research dissertation, with the intent of submitting multiple publications to peer-reviewed journals.

Oral Dissertation

A student must orally defend a research dissertation.

Doctoral Advisory Committee (DAC)

The Doctoral Advisory Committee will advise the student in the PBIO-MCB program of courses and requirements, conduct the comprehensive exam, approve the dissertation research proposal, and conduct the Ph.D. exam for approval of the dissertation.

The committee will be chaired by the student’s adviser and must have at least four faculty members, at least three (3) of whom are Molecular and Cellular Biology faculty.

  • At least one faculty member must not be associated with the graduate program of the home Environmental & Plant Biology Department.
  • Names must be submitted to the Graduate Chair for Approval (Dissertation Committee Information form) and submission to the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.