Academic Requirements

The Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) is an interdepartmental graduate program with faculty members at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, Smith College, and Mount Holyoke College. Graduate studies in MCB can lead to M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Only UMass Amherst, Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and Hampshire College undergraduates are eligible to enroll in the M.S. program. Details of the rules and requirements for MCB graduate students are found in the Red Book:

MCB Academic Requirements, Policies and Procedures 'REDBOOK'

Ph.D. candidates are required to take three core courses and three elective courses. They are also required to attend the weekly MCB seminar and colloquium, and take part in one journal club per semester until their fifth year in the program. First-year Ph.D. students take three lab rotations to select a dissertation lab. Second-year students must pass an original research proposal and exam. Dissertation candidates must pass a dissertation prospectus, data defense and final exam.

Typical Course of Study for the Ph.D.

Year One:

The first semester includes a Lab Rotation and the core course Advanced Molecular Biology. First-year students also work as Teaching Assistant (TAs) to fulfill the MCB teaching experience requirement. All MCB graduate students sign up for the MCB Seminar and Colloquium, held weekly during both semesters.

During the fall semester, first-year students finish their first lab rotation and prepare a poster on the results of their work. The poster is presented during an MCB Colloquium.

Toward the end of the first semester, first-year students begin their second rotations. At the conclusion of the second rotation, students present brief talks during the regular Colloquium series. In the spring, first-year students take two core courses: Advanced Biochemistry and Advanced Cellular Biology. First-year students also complete their third rotations and present this work in brief talks during the regular Colloquium and Seminar series. Most students work as TAs in this semester.

The summer of the first year marks the transition to full-time research. Students and rotation mentors self-select for the students' laboratory research "home" in which the students' dissertation research will be performed. Students begin preparing an NSF-style proposal about their research project after meeting with the Office of Professional Development for guidance on crafting a proposal. 

Year Two:

In the first semester of the second year, students are free to choose one or more elective courses to fulfill the MCB requirement of three non-core electives. Second-year students also present the results of their dissertation lab project in an oral presentation during the MCB colloquium series, and submit their NSF-style proposals.

Second-year students take part in a journal club, which is a requirement until the fifth year.

Second-year students submit an abstract detailing a proposed research plan of their own design as part of the original research proposal and exam requirement. A preliminary meeting for students and advisors to review ORP guidelines will be held prior to the abstract submission deadline. Most students choose not to take any courses in the second semester so that they can concentrate on preparing for their ORPs, which are completed during the second semester.

Year Three:

In the third year, students typically fulfill any remaining advanced electives requirements. At the beginning of the first semester, students submit their choices for a Ph.D. dissertation committee.

In the summer of the third year, students are expected to write and present a prospectus of proposed work to the dissertation committee.

Years Four and Five:

In the fourth and fifth years in the program, students focus on full-time research lab work directed toward completion of their dissertations. At least two months before the dissertation examination, students are to schedule a data defense with their committee. The successful completion of the data defense gives the student approval to write the dissertation and identifies issues to be addressed prior to the dissertation examination. Students will write the dissertation and defend it in front of the committee and present a dissertation seminar for the whole MCB community.

Typical Course of Study for the M.S.

Only Five-College students (Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, Smith or UMass) are eligible to become M.S. candidates. Students from other institutions are not accepted.

M.S. students are required to have a home laboratory PRIOR to admission, and the student's advisor must be a member of the MCB Program. Most M.S. students continue research started in their final undergraduate years. MCB does not provide financial support (TA or RA) to master's students; funding is entirely between the student and the advisor.

Course work in the first semester includes the core course Advanced Molecular Biology. A total of 30 credits are required for the M.S. degree, and at least half of these credits must be letter-graded. M.S. graduate students sign up for the MCB seminar, a journal club, and the MCB colloquium every semester. A thesis committee must be established early in the semester.

In the second semester, M.S. students, in consultation with their advisors, take either MOLCLBIO 641 Advanced Cellular Biology or BIOCHEM 623 Advanced General Biochemistry. They also complete a master's outline at the beginning of the semester. Note that some credits earned in a graduate-level course taken as an undergraduate may count toward the M.S. degree.

M.S. students who made significant research progress as undergraduates may write and defend their theses at the end of the first year if they have completed all other course requirements. Some M.S. students take a second year to complete their thesis work. The thesis is defended in front of the thesis committee.