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.
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 take part in one journal club per semester. First-year Ph.D. students take two lab rotations to select a dissertation lab and must pass a written qualifying exam. Second-year students must pass an oral proposal exam. Dissertation candidates must pass a dissertation prospectus and final exam.
Typical Course of Study for the Ph.D.
Year Four and Five
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 requirement of two semesters of teaching experience. All MCB graduate students sign up for the MCB Seminar, held weekly during both semesters.
During the winter session between semesters, first-year students finish their first lab rotation and prepare a poster on the results of their work. The poster is presented during the second semester as an MCB Colloquium.
In the second semester, first-year students begin their second rotations and take two core courses: Advanced Biochemistry and Advanced Cellular Biology. Most students work as TAs in this semester. First-year students also take part in a journal club, a requirement for all subsequent semesters. At the conclusion of the semester, a written comprehensive exam based upon the three core courses is taken by first-year students.
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.
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 second rotations in an oral presentation during the MCB colloquium series.
Second-year students submit an abstract detailing a proposed research plan of their own design as part of the oral exam requirement. Most students choose not to take any courses in the second semester so that they can concentrate on preparing for their oral exams, which are held during the second semester.
In the third year, students typically fulfill any remaining advanced electives requirements. At the beginning of the first semester, most students submit their choices for a Ph.D. dissertation committee.
In the second semester, third-year students join the more senior MCB graduate students to present a poster at the MCB retreat describing dissertation research accomplished in the past year. 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. When the student, adviser, and dissertation committee agree that the dissertation research is complete, students will write the dissertation, defend it in front of the committee, and then give a dissertation defense seminar for the whole MCB community.
Typical Course of Study for the M.S.
(Only Five College students are eligible to become M.S. candidates. Students from other institutions are not accepted.)
M.S. students are expected to have a home laboratory prior to admission. Most M.S. students continue research started in the final undergraduate year. Course work in the first semester includes the core course Advanced Molecular Biology plus electives. A total of 30 credits are required for the M.S. degree. 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 prior to graduation.
In the second semester, M.S. students, in consultation with their advisers, take either MOLCLBIO 641 Advanced Cellular Biology or BIOCHEM 623 Advanced General Biochemistry. Note that credits earned in a graduate-level course taken as an undergraduate can be counted toward the M.S. degree, if they have not already been counted toward the B.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.