Program Requirements

Laboratory Rotations

First-year students participate in 3 laboratory rotations, to gain hands-on experience with the theoretical and technical approaches to research that are practiced in different laboratories, and select a permanent laboratory based on extensive contact with several research groups. 


Laboratory rotations typically occur during the Autumn, Winter, and Spring Quarters of the 1st year. Students may arrange for a rotation during the Summer Quarter prior to their 1st year of study. A 4th rotation is possible with permission of an MCB Program Director.

At the completion of each lab rotation, students write a brief report describing the objectives, results and conclusions of their research and present a 10-minute research talk to fellow students and program faculty. After the rotation talk, the rotation advisor provides the student and Program with a written evaluation of the student’s performance. 

Course Credit Requirements

Due to the broad nature of the program, formal course requirements are kept to a minimum to accommodate the different learning objectives of  individual students.


MCB students complete 18 graded credits of coursework.   Each Area of Interest within MCB has a model curriculum consisting of about 9 credits in Keystone Courses and the remainder in Methods, Statistics, Career Development, and other relevant courses.    Students are recommended to follow one of the model curricula, but will be given maximum flexibility to mix and match.  The only required courses remain the MCB Lit Review in year 1.  

A minimum grade of 2.7 is needed to receive course credit.  Students must maintain a 3.0 average to be a student in good standing.

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Annual Committee Meeting

Students form their Supervisory committee at the end of their first year after they choose a permanent laboratory.  Students are required to hold a committee meeting annually starting their 2nd year. The meeting must be held before June 30 of each year, and an Annual Report submitted to the MCB Office.  The General Exam does not count as a committee meeting.


Failure to comply with this requirement will result in the following:
  1. MCB probation. MCB travel money frozen, and the directors disinclined to help out the student, PI and/or lab with subsequent problems.
  2. A freeze on new rotations in the corresponding laboratory. In other words, laboratories and PIs that have current students who have not fulfilled their annual requirements will not be allowed to take on new students.
  3. Graduate School probation. Can result in expulsion from Graduate School after 3 consecutive quarters without fulfilling annual program requirements.

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General Exam Overview

The General Exam is designed to rigorously evaluate a student's broad command of concepts, background, ideas and hypotheses surrounding his/her research field, as well as his/her command and defense of possible experimental strategies to address central questions in that field. The ability to clearly articulate well-crafted hypotheses, and/or to describe how a 'discovery' based project would lead to the development of novel research directions and goals, is a key component of the exam.


The exam consists of a written proposal, oral presentation and subsequent questions and answers for the primary research project. The basic format of the written proposal consists of a 300-word, non-technical abstract, and a 6-page proposal written in NRSA grant style. The body of the proposal should contain the specific aims, significance, and approach to the problem being investigated.   Preliminary data generated by the student is not a requirement for taking the general exam.  The oral exam is broken into 2 halves. The 1st is focused on background and significance, and general command of core knowledge and concepts surrounding the research project. The 2nd half proceeds into experimental goals and strategies, and defense of experimental plans. Further questioning on general concepts and backgrounds are still allowable throughout the exam.

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Final Exam Overview

Writing and defending the doctoral dissertation is the final requirement for a Ph.D.  Your Supervisory Committee determines if you have completed a body of work meeting the standards of the program.

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Time to Degree Limit

The MCB Program has a 7-year limit on the time to receive a degree.


The details for the probation/petition process are as follows:
  1. Students are informally encouraged to graduate within 5.5 years.
  2. In Summer Quarter of the 6th year students are reminded that there is a policy in place requiring completion of PhD within 7 years.
  3. In Winter Quarter of the 7th year students are informed that they will be placed on probation starting Spring Quarter, but can petition the Directors to hold off on probation. The petition must declare that they intend to graduate within the next 2 quarters (i.e., by the end of Summer Quarter), or ask for an extension beyond 7 years with evidence of progress towards degree. This petition must include email support (or no support) from each member of their Supervisory Committee. It must be submitted to the Directors by the end of the 5th week of Winter Quarter, together with the supporting emails from the supervisory committee.
  4. The Directors will reply to the petition, giving their decision by the beginning of Spring Quarter.
  5. If the student’s petition is denied by the Directors, the student will be placed on Final Probation for Summer Quarter, and will have until the end of the quarter to graduate. If the student does not complete all the requirements for graduation by the end of this same Summer Quarter, the UW Graduate School will automatically remove them from the UW enrollment.