Microbiology & Immunology

Microbiology 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 Microbiology & Immunology.

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

Program Overview

Established in 1902 by Frederick G. Novy as the Department of Bacteriology, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology has come a long way from the petri dishes and microscope slides of Novy to the use of DNA microarrays, computational analyses, and genomics. In 1963, the department's name was changed to the Department of Microbiology, and in 1979 the current name was adopted in recognition of the newly established section in immunology.

As one of the earliest departments of its kind in the nation, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology has evolved from more than a century of pioneering excellence. Microbiologists study the molecular mechanisms by which bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites colonize a host, evade the immune response, and elicit damage to the host. Immunologists study the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms by which the immune response defends the host using innate and adaptive mechanisms. Collectively, we conduct research in microbial pathogenesis using the tools of molecular biology, genetic screens, cell culture, models of infection, molecular imaging, transgenic animals, and bioinformatics.

We continue to seek the best in our pursuits of research and education for our future scientists. Our faculty enjoy both national and international recognition for their service to the scientific community. This service includes editors of peer-reviewed journals, peer-review panels, appointments to national scientific boards, organizers for high profile conferences, and features in the press. They have received numerous awards ranging from new investigator to faculty achievement to lifetime achievement awards. Many faculty members have also written textbooks that guide the next generation of scientists.

Research Areas

General research areas include:

  • Viral pathogens
  • Bacterial pathogens
  • Eukaryotic pathogens
  • Innate immunity
  • Adaptive immunity
  • Cell biology of infection
  • Parasitology
  • Microbial ecology
  • Human microbiome

We strive to understand the mechanisms by which viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites elicit pathogenesis in the infected host. Conversely, we also investigate the pathways by which the host immune response endeavors to overcome these infections. Investigation of preventative measures, including the development of vaccines, represents a part of our effort. These studies are carried out in the laboratories of 40 faculty who receive substantial research grant support from the NIH and other governmental and private agencies. We work in state-of-the-art facilities that include all of the equipment and resources necessary to perform this important research.

As recently as 20 years ago, some prominent scientists declared the impending end of infectious diseases as a serious threat to human health. The subsequent emergence and re-emergence of a variety of infectious diseases, including AIDS, antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, TB, gastrointestinal ulcers, virus-induced cancers, and pandemic H1N1 influenza, to name a few, provide dramatic proof that this prediction was premature. There is an urgent need to better understand mechanisms of drug resistance and host immunity to combat the increasing incidence of antibiotic-resistant infections. Moreover, we now appreciate that the community of microbes that live within us, our “microbiome,” plays a key role in our health in ways we are just beginning to understand. There has never been a greater need for scientists to conduct research in these critical areas.

Explore our faculty.

Program Requirements

Creative and innovative research is the hallmark of our graduate program in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. This challenging program is designed to provide a nurturing environment in which graduate students can fully develop and express their intellectual interests, research talents, and teaching abilities. These goals are accomplished through an integrated program of independent research, graduate courses, seminars and teaching.


Entering students complete required coursework in the areas of biochemistry, cell biology and molecular genetics, immunology, virology, and bacteriology. Electives may then be selected from a wide range of stimulating courses designed to complete their preparation for advanced study and research. To facilitate development of skills necessary for a career in modern research and teaching, many courses are oriented towards discussion of the primary research literature.

Recently our department introduced a Special Topics series, Micro 619. Each fall and winter term this course focuses on different areas of research in which our students have expressed an interest or might not otherwise be exposed to. Micro 812 is our Student Seminar Course where students present their research and get feedback from faculty and peers as well as the experience of speaking to an audience.

Preliminary Examination

Students complete a preliminary examination testing broad knowledge of biological paradigms and probing the student’s ability to reason analytically and develop and defend ideas (Checkpoint 1, at the end of the first year). The emphasis is on hypothesis testing and experimental design, as well as general knowledge. All students will be assigned the same three recent publications related to microbiology or immunology. Students will be expected to understand the biological concepts underlying the papers and to have analyzed in detail the experiments performed in those papers. Further, students should be familiar with general biological concepts relevant to the studies. In addition, each student will be asked to choose one of the three papers as the basis for a proposal outline to be turned in prior to the oral exam.

Dissertation Evaluation

Students submit a dissertation proposal (NIH R21 format) to their dissertation committee. At the first committee meeting, they discuss the proposal (Checkpoint 2, near the end of the second year). Students are expected to exhibit deep knowledge of their dissertation topic and associated methodology. Faculty will rigorously test relevant knowledge and ability of the student to defend the central hypothesis and aims of the proposal as the basis for approval of the dissertation plan. Following the first committee meeting, students meet every 6-12 months with the dissertation committee.

Teaching Requirement

Microbiology and Immunology has a two-term teaching requirement for an introductory lab or lecture course. Other opportunities are available for students who enjoy teaching and seek more experience.

Expected Length of Program

This program is designed to require approximately five years for completion.

Student Interests

Our faculty and students, as well as the abundant resources available throughout the Medical School, make the department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan an exciting place for our academic training.

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

Big Sibs

Graduate student volunteers serve as Big Sibs to help our new students adjust to graduate life.

Faculty Committees

Student representatives attend faculty meetings and serve as voting members on all major committees including: Curriculum, Graduate and Advanced Studies, Biosafety/Space, Colloquium, Biomedical Graduate Student Council, and the Rackham Graduate Student Forum.

Journal Clubs

Numerous journal clubs are organized by students and faculty around special topics, including molecular pathogenesis, virology, and immunology.

Organization of Microbiology and Immunology Students

OMIS sponsors events such as the annual department picnic, as well as holds regular meetings to discuss student issues within the department.


Our students routinely present their work at national and international meetings and are frequently recognized for outstanding research achievements. To help support this travel they apply for University and external travel awards throughout the year.

Social Activities

Social activities include the annual departmental picnic, a new student dinner, and intramural teams in softball, soccer, broomball, and flag football.

Career Expectations

Our nearly 300 alumni have gone on to successful careers in academia, drug research, consulting, government, and the legal field. Our annual newsletter is a way to stay updated; it reports job changes for current and former department members.