The graduate program in Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) has been a pioneer in graduate education fields of cell biology and molecular biology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison since 1961. The program is research-oriented and interdisciplinary leading to the PhD degree. UW–Madison has one of the largest and most prestigious biology facilities in the world, well-noted for its cooperation and collaboration across department boundaries. Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) is an important part of that interdepartmental strength, providing students with the opportunity to work with more than 200 faculty members in 40 departments.

Research and coursework experience allow students to obtain a solid foundation in cell biology and molecular biology that is tailored to their professional objectives. Research focus groups are composed of students and faculty studying a common research area. The focus groups are: cancer biology, cell adhesion and cytoskeleton, cellular and molecular metabolism, developmental biology and regenerative medicine, immunology, membrane biology and protein trafficking, molecular and genome biology of microbes, physiology, plant biology, RNA biology, systems biology, transcriptional mechanisms, and virology.


Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline December 1
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not exclusively in English, must provide an English proficiency test score earned within two years of the anticipated term of enrollment. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Requirements for Admission policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1241.
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

Admission to the program is highly competitive. Admission is based on demonstrated ability and interest in biology, chemistry, and the physical sciences; three letters of recommendation; and the personal statement. Previous research experience is required. All application materials must be received by the fall deadline in order to be reviewed by the Cellular and Molecular Biology Admissions Committee. More information about Cellular and Molecular Biology Admissions can be found on the Cellular Molecular Biology website.


Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

All students accepted into the PhD degree program receive financial support from Graduate School fellowships, interdepartmental training grants, and/or research assistantships. The program strives to maintain a nationally competitive stipend. Students are guaranteed a stipend each year in addition to tuition remission. The current stipend rate can be found on the Financial page of the CMB handbook. Graduate students are also eligible for comprehensive health insurance; individual or family coverage is available at a minimal cost. Students are strongly encouraged to apply for a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship at the time of application to graduate school and/or during the first or second year on campus.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements

Mode of Instruction

Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students typically take enough credits aimed at completing the program in a year or two.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.

Curricular Requirements

Minimum Credit Requirement 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 51 credits credits must be graduate-level coursework. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1244.
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Refer to the Graduate School: Grade Point Average (GPA) Requirement policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1203.
Other Grade Requirements n/a
Assessments and Examinations Doctoral students are required to take a comprehensive preliminary/oral examination at the end of their second year. In order to complete their preliminary exam, students must have cleared their record of all Incomplete and Progress grades (other than research and thesis). Deposit of the doctoral dissertation in the Graduate School is required.
Language Requirements No language requirements.
Graduate School Breadth Requirement Doctoral students in the CMB program are not required to complete a doctoral minor or graduate/professional certificate, but may choose to.

Required Courses

Eleven credits of coursework, not including 990 research credits, are required to complete the CMB course requirements. One course must be taken from the "molecular biology core" list of courses and one course must be taken from the "cell biology core" list of courses. The remaining credits can come from either the "molecular biology / cell biology core" or "elective" list of classes to bring the total number of credits to ten.  In addition, one credit must be fulfilled through the required ethics course. All Cellular and Molecular Biology course requirements must be completed by the end of the student's second year, before completing the preliminary exam and obtaining dissertator status.

Course Requirements 1
Molecular Biology Core3
Choose one of the following:
Eukaryotic Molecular Biology
Prokaryotic Molecular Biology
General Virology-Multiplication of Viruses
Cell Biology Core2-3
Choose one of the following:
Plant Cell Biology
Developmental Neuroscience
Cellular and Molecular Biology/Pathology
Carcinogenesis and Tumor Cell Biology
Developmental Genetics
Biology and Genetics of Fungi
Ethics Core1
Advanced Topics
Ethics in Science
Research Ethics and Career Development
Remaining credits can come from either the core or elective list of classes to bring the total number of credits to eleven.
Elective Courses4-5
Introduction to Tissue Engineering
Stem Cell Bioengineering
Design of Biological Molecules
Biology of Heart Disease and Regeneration
Engineering Extracellular Matrices
Systems Biology: Mammalian Signaling Networks
Introduction to Bioinformatics
Introduction to Biostatistics
Statistical Methods for Molecular Biology
Special Topics in Biostatistics and Biomedical Informatics
Mathematical Methods for Systems Biology
Regulatory Mechanisms in Plant Development
Plant Biochemistry
Advanced Nutrition: Intermediary Metabolism of Macronutrients
Computational Modeling of Biological Systems
Protein and Enzyme Structure and Function
Advanced or Special Topics in Biomolecular Chemistry
Plant-Microbe Interactions: Molecular and Ecological Aspects
Phylogenetic Analysis of Molecular Data
Biophysical Chemistry
Cell Signaling and Human Disease
Fundamentals of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology
Molecular and Cellular Organogenesis
Statistical Methods for Bioscience I
Molecular Approaches for Potential Crop Improvement
Genomic Science
Plant Genetics and Development
Population Genetics
Advanced Topics in Genetics
Advanced Genomic and Proteomic Analysis
Advanced Topics in Medical Microbiology
Mechanisms of Microbial Pathogenesis
Bioinformatics for Microbiologists
Systems Neuroscience
Stem Cells and the Central Nervous System
Host-Parasite Relationships in Vertebrate Viral Disease
Selected Topics in Medical Physics
Microbiology at Atomic Resolution
Advanced Microbial Genetics
Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Advanced or Special Topics in Cancer Research
Bioinformatics for Biologists
Ocular Diseases of the Mammalian Vision System
Biology of Aging
Pathogenesis of Major Human Diseases
Immunopathology: The Immune System in Health and Disease
Special Topics
Computer-based Gene and Disease/Disorder Research Lab
Research Credits
A minimum of 51 credits taken in graduate level courses are required: the 11 above, and the remaining credits can be 990 research credits.41
Total Credits51

EXCEPTION: MD/PhD students are only required to take 3 credits from the Core Curriculum or the Elective Courses list.


EXCEPTION: MD/PhD students are not required to take an ethics course because they received this training in their MD courses.

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions

On a case-by-case basis, refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.

Undergraduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions or UW-Madison

On a case-by-case basis, refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.

Credits Earned as a Professional Student at UW-Madison (Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, and Veterinary careers)

On a case-by-case basis, refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.

Credits Earned as a University Special student at UW–Madison

On a case-by-case basis, refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.


Refer to the Graduate School: Probation policy.

Advisor / Committee

The thesis advisor will assist the graduate student throughout the duration of their PhD studies. Upon choosing a thesis advisor, the student should formulate goals and expectations when starting in a permanent lab home. The student and thesis advisor should work together to ensure that mutual goals and expectations are met. The thesis advisor will monitor and guide the student's progress toward the PhD degree, provide the student with advice about how and when to meet the degree requirements of the program, and help the student decide on appropriate coursework during PhD studies.

After joining a thesis lab, students are required to form a thesis committee. The purpose of the thesis committee is to: guide the student through the process of earning the PhD degree and meeting all Cellular and Molecular Biology program requirements; assist the student in developing as an independent scientist in the student’s area of research; provide the student with an array of ideas and opportunities regarding the direction of the research and thesis project; and evaluate the student’s research proposal, attend curriculum certification, preliminary exam, annual progress report, and thesis defense.

The thesis committee consists of five faculty members, including the thesis advisor. All committee members must be readers when the student defends their dissertation. Three committee members, including the thesis advisor, must be faculty trainers in the Cellular and Molecular Biology program. Two committee members must be outside the student's direct area of expertise.

Credits Per Term Allowed

15 credits

Time Limits

Refer to the Graduate School: Time Limits policy.

Grievances and Appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:


If a student feels unfairly treated or aggrieved by faculty, staff, or another student, the University offers several avenues to resolve the grievance.  Students’ concerns about unfair treatment are best handled directly with the person responsible for the objectionable action.  If the student is uncomfortable making direct contact with the individual(s) involved, they should contact the advisor or the person in charge of the unit where the action occurred (CMB Program Administration or Chair, Lab Department Administration or Chair, Lab Manager, etc.).  Many departments and schools/colleges have established specific procedures for handling such situations; check their web pages for more information.  If such procedures exist at the local level, these should be investigated first.  For more information, see the Graduate School Academic Policies and Procedures.


Procedures for proper accounting of student grievances within the CMB Program:

  • The student is encouraged to speak first with the person toward whom the grievance is directed to see if a situation can be resolved interpersonally at this level.
  • Should satisfactory resolution not be achieved, the student should contact the CMB Office and the CMB Program Chair to discuss the grievance.  The program will facilitate problem resolution through informal channels and facilitate any complaints or issues of students.  The first attempt is to help the student informally address the grievance prior to any formal complaint.  Students are also encouraged to talk with their faculty advisor or thesis committee members if appropriate. 
  • If the issue is not resolved to the student’s satisfaction, the student can submit a formal grievance in writing to the CMB Office and CMB Program Chair. The written formal grievance must be submitted within 60 days of the alleged unfair treatment.
  • On receipt of a written complaint, a faculty committee will be convened within 10 working days by the CMB Program to manage the grievance.  The program faculty committee will obtain a written response from the person toward whom the complaint is directed.  This response will be shared with the person filing the grievance.
  • Within 10 working days of being convened, the faculty committee will make a decision regarding the grievance.  The CMB Program will report on the committee's decision and any action taken by the committee in writing to both the student and the party toward whom the complaint was directed.
  • At this point, if either party (the student or the person toward whom the grievance is directed) is unsatisfied with the decision of the faculty committee, the party may file a written appeal within 10 working days of the committee's decision. The appeal will go to the tenure home School/College of the grieving student's primary advisor.

The Graduate School has procedures for students wishing to further appeal a grievance decision made at the school/college level.  These policies are described in the Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures.


Cellular and Molecular Biology students all earn a stipend that is set by the program each year, and tuition is covered. First year rotating students are funded through the Cellular and Molecular Biology program during the first semester. After the first semester, students are typically funded by their thesis advisor. In some cases, students earn individual fellowships or training grant slots and are funded through these mechanisms. Contact the Cellular and Molecular Biology program for specific questions about stipend level, etc.

Professional Development

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Program Resources

The CMB program offers and encourages participation in many professional development opportunities. The student-led Professional Development Committee plans events such as visiting speakers, panelists, and an annual mock interview event. The program shares information about alumni and their current employment with CMB students and encourages collaboration between the two groups. At the annual student retreat, students hear a panel featuring CMB alumni working in academic and non-academic positions. Program requirements such as an annual oral presentation and an annual thesis committee meeting foster professional development skills. Students also have opportunities to participate in program governance and leadership roles in other program activities such as advising and orientation, recruiting, admissions, the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, and the Coordinating Committee. A weekly email newsletter publicizes other relevant upcoming professional development opportunities. More information can be found on the CMB Professional Development page.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Gain a broad understanding of the cellular and molecular principles that underlie biological processes.
  2. Develop proficiency in a chosen area of cellular and molecular biology.
  3. Learn to think critically and problem solve to address research challenges using a broad range of theories, research methods, and approaches to scientific inquiry.
  4. Create research and scholarship that makes a substantive contribution to the field of cellular and molecular biology.
  5. Experience collaboration with scientists within the lab, the department, the program, the university, and beyond.
  6. Clearly and effectively communicate scientific ideas and research to both scientists and non-scientists in written and oral forms.
  7. Exhibit and foster ethical and professional conduct.
  8. Gain exposure to potential career paths and develop leadership and professional skills that will prepare them for a successful and rewarding career.
  9. Develop and apply skills to foster a climate of inclusion for diverse members of the scientific community.


Faculty Chairs: David Wassarman (Program Chair), Daniela Drummond-Barbosa (Admissions Chair), Caroline Alexander (Awards Chair), Beth Weaver (Curriculum Chair), Colleen McDowell (Diversity Chair)

Focus Group Chairs: Caroline Alexander (Cancer Biology), Wilmara Salgado-Pabon (Cell Adhesion and Cytoskeleton), Dudley Lamming (Cellular and Molecular Metabolism), Junsu Kang (Developmental Biology and Regenerative Medicine), Lisa Arendt (Immunology), Sebastian Bednarek (Membrane Biology and Protein Trafficking), Robert Landick (Molecular and Genome Biology of Microbes), Raunak Sinha (Physiology), Hiroshi Maeda (Plant Biology), David Brow (RNA Biology), Megan McClean (Systems Biology), Melissa Harrison (Transcriptional Mechanisms), Paul Ahlquist (Virology).

For a list of all participating faculty, see the program website