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The graduate program in the Department of Molecular Biology fosters the intellectual development of modern biologists. We welcome students from a variety of educational backgrounds and offer an educational program that goes well beyond traditional biology. The molecular biology department at Princeton is a tightly knit, cohesive group of scientists that includes undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty with diverse but overlapping interests. Graduate students have a wide choice of advisers, with a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary interests and research objectives.
The graduate program offers all entering students the opportunity, with the help of faculty advisers, to design the intellectual program that best meets their unique scientific interests. Each student chooses a series of research rotations with faculty members in molecular biology and associated departments (chemistry, computer science, ecology and evolutionary biology, chemical and biological engineering, physics and neuroscience). Entering students, with the aid of the graduate committee, select core and elective courses from a large number of offerings in a variety of departments and disciplines. This combination of a cohesive department, one-on-one advising, and individualized programs of course work and research provides an ideal environment for graduate students to flourish as independent scientists.
Areas of concentration include biochemistry, biophysics, cancer, cell biology, computation and modeling, development, evolution, genetics, genomics, microbiology and virology, policy and structural biology.
Optional: Applicants may submit a statement with their application, briefly describing how their academic interests, background, or life experiences would advance Princeton’s commitment to diversity within the Graduate School and to training individuals in an increasingly diverse society. Please submit a succinct statement of no more than 500 words.
By the end of the first year students must have completed four core courses, achieving an average of B or better, including passing all rotations. Students may take additional elective courses that are closely related to their research topic.
By the end of the third year, students must have completed MOL 561 - Scientific Integrity in the Practice of Molecular Biology.
Students must complete three laboratory rotations with different advisers as part of their research training during the first year of study (MOL 540, MOL 541 Research Projects); a fourth rotation is optional. Students who complete a full rotation (approximately 8 weeks of research) the summer before entering graduate school are assigned a rotation in September along with other entering students. A student may elect to work with any member or associated member of the program. Students who desire to work with members outside the program may do so only with the approval of the director of graduate studies.
Faculty/Student Research Talks
In the fall of their first year, graduate students attend a series of informal talks given by each faculty mentor. These discussions are designed to introduce first-year students to current research projects that might serve as rotation and thesis topics.
Molecular Biology Annual Retreat
The molecular biology annual retreat is a two-day symposium of research talks and poster sessions held in the fall and attended by all graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty in molecular biology and associated departments.
Graduate Student Colloquia
Graduate students, together with postdoctoral fellows and faculty, attend weekly research seminars given by graduate students. This graduate colloquium provides both experience in the presentation of research results and a forum for scientific discussion with peers.
The general examination is usually administered in the January general examination period of the second year of study, after students have met all formal course requirements. This three-hour oral examination is administered by three faculty members from the graduate program, none of whom may be the student’s thesis adviser. The examination consists of two parts: the thesis proposal and second topic.
The thesis proposal probes depth of knowledge in the chosen research field and examines the ability of the student to justify and defend the goals, significance, and the experimental logic and methods of the proposed plan.
The second topic, or mini-proposal, is a two-page written document that uses an assigned research paper as the foundation for a research proposal. The student will propose a question and experiments to follow up on the results and/or conclusions in the assigned second topic paper.
The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after successfully passing all parts of the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that the following requirements are met: completion of the formal courses and three laboratory rotations required for Ph.D. students, and demonstration of an appropriate level of research competency. Research experience must include at least one year of independent work in the laboratory, and competency must be demonstrated in writing. A faculty mentor and the graduate committee must approve the master’s paper.
Students are normally required to teach in two undergraduate-level courses. Students may have the opportunity to do additional teaching if they wish to gain more experience. The first assignment is normally a laboratory course, while the second is normally a major undergraduate lecture course.
Each graduate student chooses a thesis committee that consists of the thesis adviser and two other faculty members who are knowledgeable in the student’s area of research. The thesis committee meets formally with the graduate student at least once per year, and sometimes more frequently on an informal basis. The responsibility of this committee is to advise students during the course of their research.
When the research is completed, the student writes the dissertation, which is first read by the adviser then by two additional readers chosen by the student. Usually the second readers are the other members of the student’s thesis committee. Upon acceptance of the dissertation, the student gives a final, public oral presentation of the research to the department.
The Ph.D. is awarded after the candidate’s doctoral dissertation has been accepted and the final public oral examination sustained.
The Princeton Graduate School has a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) and the Rutgers University (New Brunswick) Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to serve as a Ph.D. site for students enrolled in the M.D./Ph.D. program of RWJMS.
Students admitted to the M.D./Ph.D. program at RWJMS perform laboratory rotations at Princeton during the summer before and the summer after the first year of the pre-clinical portion of the program, prior to their enrollment as doctoral students, and subject to the approval of the faculty member. Following the second rotation, a student will choose a laboratory for Ph.D. research by mutual agreement with a faculty adviser and approval by the Graduate School.
Students who are accepted to work with a faculty member in, or an affiliated faculty member of, the Department of Molecular Biology will enter the Ph.D. program and receive that degree from Princeton. These students will fulfill Graduate School and departmental requirements, including the one-year residence requirement, taking and passing the general examination, and sustaining the final public oral examination. (Pre-clinical coursework at RWJMS will typically substitute for the department’s core curriculum.)
The Ph.D. portion of the joint program is expected to take three to four years. Extension beyond a fourth year requires approval from the Academic Affairs Committee of the joint degree program.
For those considering the dual degree program, please take time to review the M.D./Ph.D. General Information page and the M.D./Ph.D. Rotation Information page.
M.D./Ph.D. students in the Department of Molecular Biology must take two courses, which can be either core or elective courses, from the approved departmental course list.
Molecular Biology Annual Retreat
The molecular biology annual retreat is a three-day symposium of research talks and poster sessions held in the fall and attended by all graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty in molecular biology and associated departments.
The thesis proposal probes the depth of knowledge in the chosen research field and examines the ability of the student to justify and defend the goals, significance, and the experimental logic and methods of the proposed plan.
The second topic, or mini-proposal, is a two-page written document that uses an assigned research paper as the foundation for a research proposal. The student will propose a question and experiments to follow-up on the results and/or conclusions in the assigned second topic paper.
The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after successfully passing all parts of the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that the following requirements are met: completion of the formal course requirements and demonstration of an appropriate level of research competency. Research experience must include at least one year of independent work in the laboratory, and competency must be demonstrated in writing. A faculty mentor and the graduate committee must approve the master’s paper.
Bonnie L. Bassler
Bonnie L. Bassler
Ileana M. Cristea
Lynn W. Enquist
Elizabeth R. Gavis
Frederick M. Hughson
Michael S. Levine
Coleen T. Murphy
Paul D. Schedl
Jean E. Schwarzbauer
Thomas E. Shenk
Thomas J. Silhavy
Jeffry B. Stock
Shirley M. Tilghman
Eric F. Wieschaus
Ned S. Wingreen
Rebecca D. Burdine
Alexei V. Korennykh
Mohamed S. Abou Donia
Martin C. Jonikas
Jared E. Toettcher
Martin H. Wühr
Heather A. Thieringer
Karin R. McDonald
Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.