Ph.D. & MD/Ph.D. Degree

First Year of Graduate School

During the first year of graduate school for those seeking the Ph.D. degree, students rotate in laboratories and select courses from any basic science department in the School of Medicine. After this year of didactic study, , students select their dissertation advisor, join his/her department and adopt the curriculum recommendations of that department. Ph.D. students typically complete at least 27 credit hours: for example, four elective courses (15-20 credits), three laboratory rotations (9 credits) and two seminars (2 credits). These credits, regardless of the departments in which they were taken, will count toward the Ph.D. requirements. Students have an option to specialize in Microbiology & Immunology immediately upon admission to the Ph.D. program simply by electing courses and laboratories exclusively within the department's program recommendations (see below). Note that official entry into Microbiology & Immunology takes place at the end of the first year. Please visit the web sites of the umbrella admissions portals for more details: Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal. More information on pursuing the VCU M.D./Ph.D. degree can be found at the program's web site.


The experience of performing laboratory research is the most important component of the students' graduate-level education. Such research is conducted under the direction of a graduate advisor. Laboratory rotations provide an opportunity to interact closely with faculty in order to determine a suitable match so that an informed decision can be made to join a particular research laboratory. Once the advisor is chosen, the student carries out an original, independent research project under the direction of that advisor. A Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC) of faculty members meets with the student at least once a year to advise on the progress of the students' research.


The student and his/her GAC will formulate a suitable curriculum of study based on the student's area of interest. Normally, a student will have earned about 40 semester hour credits in formal graduate courses before taking the written examination. All Ph.D. programs curricula in Microbiology & Immunology include:

  • Laboratory Safety (IBMS 600)
  • Scientific Integrity (OVPR 601)
  • Student Research Seminar (MICR690)
  • Current Topics - Journal Clubs (MICR692/4)
  • Immunobiology (MICR505)
  • Principles of Molecular Microbiology (MICR515)
  • Laboratory Rotations (IMBS 620)
  • Critical Thinking (IBMS 630)


Based on research interests, the student selects from three possibilities for MICR691 topic courses based on his/her research interests: Immunology, Molecular Pathogenesis or Molecular Biology/Cancer. A typical curriculum of study for the Ph.D. degree would contain the nucleus of graduate courses listed above and also include additional courses such as:

  • Techniques in Molecular Biology and Genetics (MICR607)
  • Advanced Immunology (MICR686)
  • Molecular Bacterial Pathogenesis (MICR618)
  • Prokaryotic Molecular Genetics (MICR605)
  • Molecular Biology of Cancer (MICR684)
  • Special Topic courses from other departments
  • Seminars - Ph.D. students participate in Student Research Seminar (MICR690) and Department Seminar (MICR690) throughout their tenure in the graduate program

Research Proposal and Written Examination

The student must prepare a grant proposal in the style of an NIH F31 fellowship application and writing of this document should reflect soley the student's work, and therefore should be done independently, without assistance from the graduate advisor. Committee members grade this proposal as the basis of the written exam.

Oral Examination and Research Proposal

The oral examination is designed to assess the student's aptitude and potential to ultimately perform as an independent scientist. This examination involves the defense of a research proposal written by the student that describes the research plan he/she expects to follow and which should lead to the Ph.D. dissertation.


Upon completion of the research project, the student prepares a written dissertation based on his or her own research findings. This document is reviewed by an advisory committee of faculty, and the dissertation is defended in a final oral examination. It is expected that the student will present this work at scientific meetings and prepare peer-reviewed manuscripts for publication in scientific journals.

Student Body

There are currently about 30 graduate students in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. Approximately half of the students are women. The Department has one of the largest graduate programs at VCU.

Application for Admission

Application to School of Medicine (SOM) Graduate Programs, including those in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, is now centrally administered via the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal or Molecular Biology & Genetics. Please visit these web sites for more details and directions about making an application to the SOM Graduate Programs, which includes Microbiology & Immunology. More information on pursuing the VCU M.D./Ph.D. degree can be found at the program's web site.

Course Descriptions

MICR 505 Immunobiology. Semester course; 3 lecture. 3 credits. Offered: I. A survey of immunobiology as a total host response to foreign agents, covering the nature of antigens and antibodies, antigen-antibody reactions, immunocompetent cells, allergic reactions, tumor immunology, transplantation immunology, immunological diseases and immunogenetics.

OVPR 601 Scientific Integrity. Semester course; 1 lecture hour. 1 credit. Offered: I. A survey of contemporary issues relating to responsible conduct in research. Topics include academic integrity, mentoring, authorship and peer review, use of humans and animals in biomedical research, ownership of data, intellectual property, conflict of interest, scientific record keeping, collaborative research, research misconduct, and genetic technology.

IBMS 600 Laboratory Safety. Semester course; 1 lecture hour. 1 credit. Offered I. Describes health hazards commonly found in biomedical laboratories and their appropriate safety precautions, government regulations and emergency responses. Includes hazards of working with microorganisms, experimental animals and chemical, electrical, and fire hazards.

MICR 515 Principles of Molecular Microbiology. Semester course; 3 lecture hours, 3 credits. Offered: I. A comprehensive course designed to provide the student with a thorough understanding of microbial physiology, genetics, and diversity. Also covered are some basic concepts in microbial pathogenesis and in applied microbiology. The course focuses on structural and functional characteristics of microorganisms; ecological and physiological diversity of microbes; growth and control of microorganisms; genetics of bacteria and viruses; bacteria as agents of disease; and applications of microbiology.

MICR 605 Prokaryotic Molecular Genetics. Semester course; 2 lecture hours. 2 credits. Offered: I. Prerequisite BIOC/MICR 503-504 and MICR 515 or permission of the instructor. A comprehensive course examining the organization of the genetic material in bacteria and their viruses and the molecular mechanisms involved in its maintenane, replication, exchange and expression. Emphasis will be on experimental approaches integrating classical and modern methods of genetic analysis with biochemical studies of genetic regulatory mechanisms.

MICR 607 Techniques in Molecular Biology and Genetics. Semester course; 2 lecture hours. 2 credits. Offered: I. Prerequisite: BIOC/MICR 503-504 or equivalent, permission of instructor. This course is designed to give an overview of the techniques utilized in modern molecular biology. The principles underlying techniques such as plasmid and phage cloning, RNA and DNA analysis, PCR, DNA sequencing, mutagenesis, genomic mapping, heterologous gene expression, production and analysis of recombinant protein and transgenic mouse technology will be discussed in detail by experts in the field.

MICR 608-609 Microbiology. Continuous course; lectures and 4 laboratory hours. 1-3 credits. Offered: I, II and S. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor. Required of all first year graduate students. Introduction to all active research programs in microbiology and immunology. Presentations of research programs by investigators and rotation of students through faculty laboratories to gain direct exposure to individual research projects.

MICR 618 Molecular Mechanisms of Bacterial Pathogenesis. Semester course: 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. Offered: alternate Spring with MICR 616. Prerequisite: Undergraduate-level courses in microbiology or microbial physiology, immunology, and molecular genetics. The goals of this comprehensive course are to explore in detail the virulence mechanisms of microbes and the response of the infected host. The focus will be on important bacterial pathogens.

MICR 653 Advanced Molecular Genetics. Bioinformatics. Semester course; 3 lecture hours, 3 credits. Offered: II. Prerequisite: BIOC 530-533 and MICR 504 permission of instructor. An advanced course on contemporary bioinformatics. Topics covered include the principles and practice of DNA, RNA and protein sequence analysis, computational chemistry and molecular modeling, expression array analysis and pharmacogenomics. The course includes lectures, reading, computer lab, homework problem sets and projects.

MICR 684 Molecular Biology of Cancer. Semester course; 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: BIOC/MICR 503-504 or permission of instructor. Advanced graduate-level course to provide theoretical background to graduate students interested in cancer research. Emphasis will be placed on experimental approaches integrated classical and modern methods of genetic analysis with biochemical studies in genetic regulatory mechanisms. The course includes presentations by students and interactive discussion of the scientific literature in the area of oncogenesis.

MICR 686 Advanced Immunology. Semester course; 3 lecture hours, 3 credits. Offered: II. Open primarily to residents, medical students, and graduate students with an immunology background such as MICR 505. Lectures, seminars, and conferences on basic and clinical immunobiology. Topics have included tumor immunology, cell interactions in the immune response, genetics of the immune response, mechanisms of host-defense and membrane receptors in immunology and neoplasia.

MICR 690 Microbiology Research Seminar. Seminar course; 1 lecture hour. 1 credit. Presentation and discussion of research reports and topics of current interest to the department seminar or special group seminars.

MICR 691 Special Topics in Microbiology. Semester course; 1-4 credits. Lectures, tutorial studies, and/or library assignments in selected areas of advanced study not available in other courses or as part of the research training.

MICR 692 Current Topics in Molecular Pathogenesis. Semester Course; 1 lecture hour. 1 credit. Offered: I,II. This offering presents a forum for the discussion of recent advances in the study of the molecular mechanisms of microbial pathogenesis. The course consists of presentations by students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty followed by interactive discussions of the implications of presented work to the study of molecular pathogenesis. This course is open to all graduate and certificate students.

MICR 694 Current Topics in Immunology. Semester course; 1 lecture hour. 1 credit. Open to all graduate students. Presents a forum for discussion of the scientific literature in the area of cellular and molecular immunology, focusing on mechanisms involved in the operation and regulation of the vertebrate immune system. Consists of presentations by students and interactive discussions on the implications of presented work to the study of immunology.

MICR 697 Directed Research in Microbiology. Semester course; 1-15 credits. Research leading to the M.S. or Ph.D. degree and elective research projects for other students.

Mission Statement

The Graduate Programs of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology School of Medicine include degrees offered at the Master’s and Doctoral levels. These educational programs have as their mission the preparation of individuals for a variety of career objectives in microbiology and immunology. The programs incorporate formal instructional activities and, as appropriate, research training, mentored by the members of the faculty. The Ph.D. or doctoral programs are distinguished by inclusion of the preparation of the individual to function as an independent scientific investigator.

Department of Microbiology and Immunology Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center