Cellular & Molecular Biology

Cellular and molecular biology lab

The Program in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Michigan is an interdisciplinary gateway program that coordinates admissions and the first year of Ph.D. studies for 14 department programs, including Cellular and Molecular Biology.

PIBS offers you the flexibility and convenience of applying to any of our participating programs through one application. We invite you to thoroughly explore Cellular and Molecular Biology and the other programs before selecting your top preferences when you apply.

Program Overview

Initiated more than 35 years ago, the Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) Program fosters interactions among students and faculty, helping to broaden the students’ appreciation of diverse research opportunities and to encourage interdisciplinary thinking in a highly collaborative atmosphere. The CMB Program has been an integrative force that aims to tie together the various disciplines of genetics, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, cell biology and others. The goal of CMB is to train our students to examine scientific problems from many perspectives through individualized, flexible programs of coursework and research.

Research Areas

Current research initiatives range from single molecule analysis and structural biology, to the many important model systems of cell and developmental biology (yeast, Drosophila, C. elegans, Xenopus, zebrafish, mouse), to cellular and translational approaches to complex diseases such as cancer, diabetes, neurodegeneration, cardiac, autoimmune and genetic diseases to animal-modeling approaches that aim to understand cellular mechanisms in integrative biological and physiologic contexts. Other interdisciplinary research interests of the CMB faculty and students include:

  • Cell biology of organelles, cytoskeleton, cell cycle
  • Molecular biology of gene expression, RNA and genome maintenance
  • Systems and integrative physiology 
  • Biochemistry, structural biology
  • Microbial pathogenesis
  • Development, aging, and neuroscience
  • Molecular mechanisms of disease 

Explore our faculty.

Program Requirements


CMB requires coursework in the areas of biochemistry, cell biology and molecular genetics. Appropriate coursework in each of these three areas can be selected from courses offered throughout the University to complement each student’s prior background and research interests. Elective courses provide further intensive preparation in various areas according to each student’s research interests.

The CMB Monday noon seminar, attended by students throughout their time in the program, brings students and faculty together on a weekly basis, provides a forum for scientific exchange and fosters a sense of community. Students give mentored talks on the literature and on their research.

The interdisciplinary aspect of CMB is also highlighted in a series of "short courses" on high-profile topics of current interest selected by students. In addition to frequent personal discussions, students meet and familiarize themselves with the diverse faculty and their research during the annual CMB Fall Symposium and Poster Session, and at the CMB Spring Research Forum (see Student Interests below).

Preliminary Examination

After satisfactorily completing coursework, students are eligible to take the preliminary exam by writing and orally defending a proposal based on their own research. This exam is typically completed by March in the second year. By spring, students advance to candidacy and form the dissertation committee, chaired by their faculty mentor, that will guide their Ph.D. research. 

Teaching Requirement

CMB students teach for at least one semester, usually during the first year after candidacy. Students are encouraged to select a course to teach based on their background and interests. There are positions available across the university at all levels, from undergraduate to graduate. The CMB Teaching Coordinator and/or the CMB Program Administrator act as liaisons with contributing departments and assist students in securing teaching positions. CMB students are often recognized for their teaching talents with awards such as the prestigious University-wide Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award, and Medical School Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

Expected Length of Program

Students can expect to spend four to six years working toward their Ph.D. in CMB, with five years as the average length of time to complete the program.

Student Interests

CMB has now grown to include over 70 students and greater than 130 faculty representing over 20 basic and clinical science departments. Approximately 16 new students per year join our program. Our students have received numerous recognitions and awards including the Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award, a national award that recognizes outstanding achievement during graduate studies in the biological sciences, and the University of Michigan Distinguished Dissertation Award, the highest honor the University confers to recognize graduate student accomplishments. Our faculty include Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, as well as the directors of the University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute and Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Our students are involved in a variety of activities and organizations while they are in our program:

The CMB Retreat and Annual Symposium occur every fall and spring, respectively. They feature a lecture delivered by a prominent scientist and a dynamic poster session that provides opportunity for students and faculty to share their research progress. Other events include career panels that often include CMB alumni and activities to help students and faculty become better acquainted.

CMB has a student-driven Career Workshop Committee that invites alumni & other professional speakers to present workshops on diverse career topics. Workshops are held throughout the year & are intended to assist students in individual career planning.

The CMB Program sponsors “Students Mentoring Students”, an informal mechanism for senior students to mentor students entering CMB from PIBS or MSTP. In addition, 1st & 2nd year PhD students meet frequently with the Director for advising sessions andstudents in the 3rd - 5th year are assigned one of
three Associate Directors with whom they meet annually.
CMB students are actively involved student groups such as the Association of Multicultural Scientists, the Biomedical Graduate Student Government and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. CMB students are active in many science education outreach activities and a social committee, which sponsors a fall picnic, holiday party, and other social events throughout the year.

Career Development Workshops

During the Fall semester, two workshops on “the basics” are presented:

  1. “How to present a research seminar” is demonstrated at the first session of the CMB student seminar (CMB 850) each year by the Course Directors, and
  2. “How to write a research grant” is presented just prior to the time when students are preparing prelim proposals and writing fellowship applications.

During the winter term, special topics of relevance to graduate students have been presented, such as:

  1. “Preparing an effective CV”
  2. “How to apply for a postdoc”
  3. “How to get the most out of a scientific meeting”
  4. “Critical preparation and review of manuscripts”

These informal sessions complement Career Workshops organized by PIBS and by Rackham, and are appreciated by students for their smaller size, allowing for open discussion.

Student to Student Mentoring

The CMB Program sponsors “Students Mentoring Students,” an informal mechanism for senior CMB students to mentor students entering CMB from PIBS. Students are open to discuss a variety of issues including academics, administration, labs, or any other topic of interest. The mentoring program is inaugurated at an informal reception for all CMB students early in the academic year, with a lunch or coffee get-together for mentor-student pairs following later in the year.

Career Expectations

Over 150 CMB alumni have gone on to establish successful and productive careers in academia, biotechnology, and science advising to the government and public, among other areas. These are the same industries you could expect to find a career as a graduate.