Department of Molecular Biology
Director of Graduate Studies
Assistant Professor (continued)
Lecturer with Rank of Professor
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 each entering student the opportunity, with the help of faculty advisers, to design the intellectual program that best meets his or her 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, engineering, physics and psychology). 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, neuroscience, policy and structural biology.
While there are no rigid prerequisites for admission, students are expected to have taken calculus, organic chemistry and biochemistry. Undergraduate courses in physical chemistry, molecular biology and genetics provide important background. Students who have not taken these courses may need to take them during the first two years of their graduate study.
The Graduate Committee advises each new student on a course of study based on the student’s background and interests.
Students 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 10 weeks of research) the summer before entering graduate school are assigned a rotation in September along with other entering students. Those who begin research late in the summer (after July 15) may continue in that laboratory for the September rotation.
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 with the approval of the director of graduate studies.
The general examination is usually administered in January 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 first section, the thesis proposal, probes the student’s depth of knowledge in the graduate student’s chosen research field, and examines the ability of the student to justify and defend his or her goals, experimental logic and methods, and the significance of his or her proposed research plan.The second tests the overall skill of the graduate student in areas of molecular biology that are aligned with, but are not identical to, his or her chosen area of thesis research. Each student is given a distinct, influential paper published during the past year, covering a research topic related to the thesis proposal. This paper is assigned two weeks prior to the examination and chosen by the examining committee, with the aid of the student’s thesis adviser. In this portion of the examination, the paper serves as a starting point for a discussion of relevant findings in the field. Students who do not receive a passing grade on all parts of the examination may retake it within one year.
A Master of Arts (M.A.) may be awarded to students who complete the formal courses and three laboratory rotations required for Ph.D. students, and who demonstrate 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.
Dissertation Research, Writing and Final Public Oral Examination
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 then read by the adviser. Next, two second readers chosen by the student read the dissertation. Usually the second readers are the other members of the student’s thesis committee. Upon approval, the student gives a final, public oral presentation of his or her research to the department.
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.
All students enrolled in the program receive tuition and a generous stipend. In addition, many students receive prestigious fellowships from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
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 an off-site, 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.
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.
Joint M.D./Ph.D. Program
The Graduate School has partnered 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. research training 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 a Princeton faculty member. Following the second rotation, a student chooses a laboratory for his or her Ph.D. research by mutual agreement with a faculty adviser and with the approval of the Graduate School.
Students who are accepted to work with a faculty member or an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Molecular Biology enter the Ph.D. program and receive that degree from Princeton. These students fulfill Graduate School and departmental requirements, including the one-year residence requirement and passing the general and final public oral examinations. (It is likely that pre-clinical course work at RWJMS will 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 the approval of the Academic Affairs Committee of the joint-degree program.
Prospective students interested in neuroscience can learn more about Princeton’s new Ph.D. program at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute website. This new program is intended for students who wish to gain a strong grounding centered in neuroscience and who wish to carry out thesis research leading to a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Interdisciplinary students whose main interest lies at the interface between molecular biology and neuroscience may prefer to pursue the joint degree program in neuroscience. The program leads to a Ph.D. in molecular biology and neuroscience within the molecular biology department.
Quantitative and Computational Biology
Students interested in Princeton’s graduate-level Program in Quantitative and Computational Biology (QCB) can apply to the Department of Molecular Biology and pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology, with the interdisciplinary nature of the thesis indicated in the degree. The program is offered by the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.
Princeton encourages a multidisciplinary approach to research. Graduate students have the option of pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Molecular Biology while performing research with faculty in the departments of chemical engineering, chemistry, computer science, ecology and evolutionary biology, electrical engineering, physics or psychology.
MOL 504 Cellular Biochemistry
Frederick M. Hughson
MOL 505 Molecular Biology of Prokaryotes
Thomas J. Silhavy
MOL 506 Molecular Biology of Eukaryotes
Paul D. Schedl
MOL 507 Developmental Biology
Rebecca D. Burdine
MOL 508 Advanced Topics in Neurobiology
MOL 510 Introduction to Biological Dynamics
Ned S. Wingreen, Carlos D. Brody
MOL 514/APC 514 Biological Dynamics
Curtis G. Callan
MOL 515/PHY 570/EEB 517/CHM 517 Method and Logic in Quantitative Biology
Ned S. Wingreen, David Botstein
MOL 523 Molecular Basis of Cancer
James R. Broach, Yibin Kang
MOL 525 Intercellular Signaling and Signal Transduction
Gertrud M. Schupbach, James R. Broach
MOL 528 Developmental Genetics
Paul D. Schedl, Elizabeth R. Gavis
MOL 535 Advanced Topics in Cell Biology
Michael D. Cole
MOL 536 Statistical Methods for Genomic Data
John D. Storey
MOL 537/PSY 517 Computational Neuroscience and Computing Networks
Carlos D. Brody
MOL 540 Research Projects in Molecular Biology (Laboratory Rotations)
MOL 541 Research Projects in Molecular Biology (Laboratory Rotations)
MOL 545 Advanced Microbial Genetics
Mark D. Rose, Bonnie L. Bassler, Zemer Gitai
MOL 547 Special Topics in Molecular Biology
James R. Broach
MOL 548 Special Topics in Molecular Biology
Jeffry B. Stock
MOL 549 Laboratory in Neuroscience
David W. Tank, Alan Gelperin
MOL 550/CHM 550 Contemporary Problems in Molecular Biophysics
MOL 551/COS 551 Introduction to Genomics and Computational Molecular Biology
Mona Singh, Saeed Tavazoie
MOL 557/COS 557 Analysis & Visualization of Large-Scale Genomic Data Sets
Olga G. Troyanskaya
MOL 559 Viruses: Strategy and Tactics
Lynn W. Enquist
MOL 560 Developmental Genetics of Mammals
Shirley M. Tilghman, Lee M. Silver, Albert S. Bendelac
MOL 561 Scientific Integrity in the Practice of Molecular Biology
Lee M. Silver
MOL 573 Eukaryotic Chromosome Structure
Virginia A. Zakian
Lee M. Silver
MOL 586A/WWS 586A Topics in Science Technology and Environmental Policy
Lee M. Silver