Molecular and Cell Biology is the basic science that seeks an understanding of biological processes in terms of the properties and functions of the molecules that make up living cells. The scope of questions addressed in molecular and cell biology ranges from evolution to development to the regulation of gene expression. A career in molecular and cell biology requires a strong background in biology as well as a solid foundation in chemistry, mathematics, and physics.

The Molecular and Cell Biology major has been designed primarily for three groups of students:

  1. those who plan to enter a research career in molecular and cell biology or related areas such as biochemistry, genetics, oncology, microbiology, cell biology, or developmental biology;
  2. pre-professional students who plan to enter either a research or clinical career in medicine or allied health fields; and
  3. students who plan to pursue careers in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical science industries.

Students with other interests are also welcome, of course. Career opportunities for students with an undergraduate degree in molecular and cell biology are amazingly diverse. Graduates of the program have gone into patent law, science journalism, forensics, philosophy, nutrition, genetic counseling, veterinary medicine, anthropology, archeology, marine biology, theology, and much more.

Major requirements have been set to assure a high degree of proficiency in the various areas specified while still allowing as much flexibility as possible for students to individualize their programs. For the undergraduate interested in life sciences, this major uniquely provides access to the extraordinary scope and strength of biology courses and laboratories on the UW–Madison campus. Each student in the major is assigned a faculty advisor, and it is hoped that students will take advantage of both the staff and faculty advising service available to make a judicious choice of courses, as well as to gain scholarly experience outside the classroom that will further their academic and career goals.

Students who wish to obtain further information about the program or to declare a molecular biology major should contact the student services coordinator. Faculty advisors are assigned through the program office and are located in many related departments throughout campus. Molecular and Cell Biology faculty advisors are especially competent to provide counsel regarding the major and career opportunities in molecular biology.

Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate Molecular and Cell Biology students at UW–Madison are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some of the world's leading researchers. Many opportunities for laboratory research experience are available on campus for undergraduate students, and this type of experience is strongly encouraged. Such an experience provides students the opportunity to apply what they're learning and complement their knowledge with practical skills. Research experience is highly valued by employers, graduate programs, and professional schools. See the major website for more information on how to get involved in undergraduate research.

How to Get in

To declare the Molecular and Cell Biology major, students must make an appointment with the Molecular and Cell Biology academic advising manager through Starfish.

Students who intend to major in Molecular and Cell Biology may not combine this major ("double major") with the Biology or Biochemistry majors in either the College of Letters and Science or the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS).

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Letters & Science Degree Requirements: Bachelor of Science (BS)

Students pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in the College of Letters & Science must complete all of the requirements below. The College of Letters & Science allows this major to be paired with either the Bachelor of Arts or the Bachelor of Science degree requirements.

Bachelor of Science Degree Requirements

Mathematics Complete two courses of 3+ credits at the Intermediate or Advanced level in MATH, COMP SCI, or STAT subjects. A maximum of one course in each of COMP SCI and STAT subjects counts toward this requirement.
Language Complete the third unit of a language other than English.
LS Breadth Complete:
• 12 credits of Humanities, which must include at least 6 credits of Literature; and
• 12 credits of Social Science; and
• 12 credits of Natural Science, which must include 6 credits of Biological Science and 6 credits of Physical Science.
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework Complete at least 108 credits.
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced Coursework Complete at least 60 credits at the Intermediate or Advanced level.
Major Declare and complete at least one major.
Total Credits Complete at least 120 credits.
UW-Madison Experience Complete both:
• 30 credits in residence, overall, and
• 30 credits in residence after the 86th credit.
Quality of Work • 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
• 2.000 in Intermediate/Advanced level coursework at UW–Madison

Non–L&S students pursuing an L&S major

Non–L&S students who have permission from their school/college to pursue an additional major within L&S only need to fulfill the major requirements. They do not need to complete the L&S Degree Requirements above.

Requirements for the Major

Mathematics, Chemistry & Physics

Mathematics and Statistics6-10
Complete one of the following:
MATH 221 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 15
MATH 217 Calculus with Algebra and Trigonometry II5
Complete one of the following:
MATH 222 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 24
MATH 213 Calculus and Introduction to Differential Equations3
STAT 240 Data Science Modeling I4
STAT 301 Introduction to Statistical Methods3
STAT 371 Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences3
General Chemistry—complete one option:5-10
CHEM 103
CHEM 104
General Chemistry I
and General Chemistry II
CHEM 109 Advanced General Chemistry5
CHEM 115
CHEM 116
Chemical Principles I
and Chemical Principles II (by consent of instructor only)
Organic Chemistry -complete the sequence8
CHEM 343 Organic Chemistry I3
CHEM 344 Introductory Organic Chemistry Laboratory2
CHEM 345 Organic Chemistry II3
Physics -Choose a first and a second calculus based physics option OR elementary based physics sequence with additional calculus10-12
Calculus Based Physics: First Introductory Course— complete one class:
PHYSICS 207 General Physics5
PHYSICS 201 General Physics5
PHYSICS 247 A Modern Introduction to Physics5
Calculus Based Physics: Second Introductory Course— complete one class:
PHYSICS 208 General Physics5
PHYSICS 202 General Physics5
PHYSICS 248 A Modern Introduction to Physics5
Elementary Based Physics --complete three
PHYSICS 103 General Physics4
PHYSICS 104 General Physics4
MATH 234 Calculus--Functions of Several Variables4

Introductory Biology

Complete one option:10-13
Option A:
ZOOLOGY/​BIOLOGY/​BOTANY  151 Introductory Biology5
ZOOLOGY/​BIOLOGY/​BOTANY  152 Introductory Biology5
Option B: 1
BIOCORE 381 Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics3
BIOCORE 382 Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics Laboratory2
BIOCORE 383 Cellular Biology3
BIOCORE 384 Cellular Biology Laboratory2
BIOCORE 485 Principles of Physiology3
Option C:
ZOOLOGY/​BIOLOGY  101 Animal Biology3
ZOOLOGY/​BIOLOGY  102 Animal Biology Laboratory2
BOTANY/​BIOLOGY  130 General Botany5

Breadth Coursework

Biochemistry -complete one of the following:
BIOCHEM 501 Introduction to Biochemistry3
General Biochemistry I
and General Biochemistry II
Cell Biology
ZOOLOGY 570 Cell Biology3
Molecular Biology and Genetics -complete one of the following:
Evolution, Ecology, and Genetics
and Cellular Biology
and Biological Interactions
GENETICS 466 Principles of Genetics3
General Genetics 1
and General Genetics 2
MICROBIO 470 Microbial Genetics & Molecular Machines3
Total Credits9-18

Depth Coursework

Students must complete 6 unique credits of depth coursework. Courses may be concentrated in one area or distributed across multiple areas. 2
Biochemistry and Biophysics (no minimum)
CHEM 575 Advanced Topics in Chemistry1-4
BIOCHEM/​NUTR SCI  560 Principles of Human Disease and Biotechnology2
BIOCHEM 601 Protein and Enzyme Structure and Function2
BIOCHEM/​GENETICS/​MICROBIO  612 Prokaryotic Molecular Biology3
BIOCHEM/​GENETICS/​MD GENET  620 Eukaryotic Molecular Biology3
BIOCHEM/​BOTANY  621 Plant Biochemistry3
BIOCHEM 625 Mechanisms of Action of Vitamins and Minerals2
Cellular Systems (no minimum)
ZOOLOGY 470 Introduction to Animal Development3
ZOOLOGY/​PSYCH  523 Neurobiology3
ZOOLOGY 603 Endocrinology3-4
GENETICS 627 Animal Developmental Genetics3
ONCOLOGY 401 Introduction to Experimental Oncology2
PATH-BIO/​M M & I  528 Immunology3
BIOCORE 587 Biological Interactions3
NTP/​NEURODPT  610 Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience4
Genetics (no minimum)
AN SCI/​DY SCI  361 Introduction to Animal and Veterinary Genetics2
AGRONOMY/​HORT  338 Plant Breeding and Biotechnology3
GENETICS 520 Neurogenetics3
GENETICS/​HORT  550 Molecular Approaches for Potential Crop Improvement3
GENETICS/​MD GENET  565 Human Genetics3
HORT/​AGRONOMY/​BOTANY  340 Plant Cell Culture and Genetic Engineering3
MICROBIO 607 Advanced Microbial Genetics3
GENETICS/​BIOCHEM/​MICROBIO  612 Prokaryotic Molecular Biology3
GENETICS/​BIOCHEM/​MD GENET  620 Eukaryotic Molecular Biology3
GENETICS 627 Animal Developmental Genetics3
GENETICS/​BIOCHEM  631 Plant Genetics and Development3
GENETICS/​MD GENET  662 Cancer Genetics3
Microbiology and Virology (no minimum)
MICROBIO 303 Biology of Microorganisms3
MICROBIO/​AN SCI/​BOTANY  335 The Microbiome of Plants, Animals, and Humans3
MICROBIO/​SOIL SCI  425 Environmental Microbiology3
MICROBIO/​SOIL SCI  523 Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry3
MICROBIO 526 Physiology of Microorganisms3
PL PATH 622 Plant-Bacterial Interactions2-3
BOTANY/​ENTOM/​PL PATH  505 Plant-Microbe Interactions: Molecular and Ecological Aspects3
BIOCHEM/​M M & I  575 Biology of Viruses2
ONCOLOGY/​M M & I/​PL PATH  640 General Virology-Multiplication of Viruses3
Quantitative Biology (no minimum)
MATH/​COMP SCI  240 Introduction to Discrete Mathematics3
MATH 340 Elementary Matrix and Linear Algebra3
STAT 303 R for Statistics I1
STAT 304 R for Statistics II1
STAT 305 R for Statistics III1
STAT 333 Applied Regression Analysis3
STAT 421 Applied Categorical Data Analysis3
B M E 556 Systems Biology: Mammalian Signaling Networks3
COMP SCI 300 Programming II3
COMP SCI 368 Learning a Programming Language1
COMP SCI 540 Introduction to Artificial Intelligence3
COMP SCI/​B M I  567 Medical Image Analysis3
COMP SCI/​B M I  576 Introduction to Bioinformatics3
MICROBIO 657 Bioinformatics for Microbiologists3

Laboratory Course

Complete 2 credits minimum: 

Students who complete at least 4 credits of MOL BIOL 699 fulfill both the Laboratory Course and Directed/Independent Study requirements
CHEM 327 Fundamentals of Analytical Science4
CHEM 329 Fundamentals of Analytical Science4
COMP SCI 220 Data Science Programming I4
MICROBIO 304 Biology of Microorganisms Laboratory2
MICROBIO 657 Bioinformatics for Microbiologists3
MOL BIOL 681 Senior Honors Thesis3
MOL BIOL 691 Senior Thesis3
MOL BIOL 699 Directed Studies in Molecular Biology1-4
ZOOLOGY 555 Laboratory in Developmental Biology3

Directed/Independent Study

Students who complete at least 4 credits of MOL BIOL 699 fulfill both the Laboratory Course and Directed/Independent Study requirements
Complete two credits minimum:
Directed/Independent Research
MOL BIOL 699 Directed Studies in Molecular Biology1-4
Senior Thesis
MOL BIOL 682 Senior Honors Thesis3
MOL BIOL 692 Senior Thesis3

Residence and Quality of Work

  • 2.000 GPA in all MOL BIOL and major courses
  • 2.000 GPA on at least 15 credits of upper-level in the major, taken in residence3
  • 15 credits in MOL BIOL, taken on the UW–Madison campus

Honors in the Major

Students may declare Honors in the Molecular Biology and Cell Biology major in consultation with the Molecular and Cell Biology undergraduate advisor.

Honors in the Molecular and Cell Biology Major Requirements

To earn Honors in the Major in Molecular and Cell Biology, students must satisfy both the requirements for the major (above) and the following additional requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 overall university GPA
  • Earn a 3.300 GPA for all courses accepted in the major
  • Complete at least 15 credits of honors courses in the major while in residence at UW-Madison.  This requirement can be broken down as indicated below:
    • At least 9 credits from the Breadth and Depth course options in the Molecular and Cell Biology major
    • Complete two semester Senior Honors Thesis, a piece of original research composition.
      MOL BIOL 681 Senior Honors Thesis3
      MOL BIOL 682 Senior Honors Thesis3
    • Complete one semester of the Molecular Biology senior honors seminar course.
      MOL BIOL 686 Senior Honors Seminar in Molecular Biology1



 BIOCORE is a competitive honors program and certificate. 


Students are encouraged to see their advisor for assistance in choosing depth coursework.


Courses accepted in the major that are Intermediate or Advanced are considered upper-level in this major.

University Degree Requirements 

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Integrate the energetic and thermodynamic bases of life, with an emphasis on the molecular mechanisms underlying them
  2. Integrate the nature of genetic material and its roles in inheritance, evolution, and cellular function
  3. Summarize the fundamental relationship between the structure and function of biological macromolecules
  4. Summarize the principles of cell structure, function, and biological dynamics
  5. Appraise the molecular mechanisms and quantitative principles in biochemistry/physical chemistry, cellular systems, genetics, and microbiology.
  6. Develop skills to communicate scientific information in oral and written form
  7. Develop the ability to formulate hypotheses and plan, design, and carry out scientific experiments to test them
  8. Developing quantitative reasoning skills and the ability to use quantitative approaches to understand basic principles of life.

Four-Year Plan

This Four-Year Plan is only one way a student may complete an L&S degree with this major. Many factors can affect student degree planning, including placement scores, credit for transferred courses, credits earned by examination, and individual scholarly interests. In addition, many students have commitments (e.g., athletics, honors, research, student organizations, study abroad, work and volunteer experiences) that necessitate they adjust their plans accordingly. Informed students engage in their own unique Wisconsin Experience by consulting their academic advisors, Guide, DARS, and Course Search & Enroll for assistance making and adjusting their plan.

Communication A3MATH 2215
Quantitative Reasoning A3-5Ethnic Studies3
CHEM 1034CHEM 1045
Foreign Language (if needed)3-4Humanities Breadth2
 15 15
CHEM 3433CHEM 3442
Social Science Breadth3CHEM 3453
Humanities Breadth3STAT 3713
INTER-LS 21011Elective2
 15 15
ZOOLOGY 5703Literature Breadth3
Social Science Breadth3MOL BIOL 699 or Elective3
MOL BIOL 6991-4 
 16 14
Depth Coursework3Depth Coursework3
Laboratory Course2-4MOL BIOL 699 or Elective3
MOL BIOL 699 or Elective3Literature Breadth3
Social Science Breadth3Social Science Breadth3
 15 15
Total Credits 120

 INTER-LS 210 L&S Career Development: Taking Initiative is an option, but not required for students pursuing the Molecular and Cell Biology major.

Advising and Careers

The MCB Academic Advising Manager provides guidance specific to the discipline and also helps students with major declarations, course selection, registration, DARS, L&S degree and major requirements, and tracking progress toward graduation, as well as connecting students with important resources on campus.

L&S Career Resources

Every L&S major opens a world of possibilities.  SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students turn the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, and other coursework into fulfilling lives after graduation, whether that means jobs, public service, graduate school or other career pursuits.

In addition to providing basic support like resume reviews and interview practice, SuccessWorks offers ways to explore interests and build career skills from their very first semester/term at UW all the way through graduation and beyond.

Students can explore careers in one-on-one advising, try out different career paths, complete internships, prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications, and connect with supportive alumni and even employers in the fields that inspire them.


MCB Steering Committee: Bement (Integrative Biology, Major Chair), Hoskins (Biochemistry) Grinblat (Integrative Biology), Otegui (Botany), Riters (Integrative Biology), Roy (Biostatics and Medical Informatics)

Resources and Scholarships

Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship

The Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowships support undergraduate research done in collaboration with UW–Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff. Approximately 97–100 Hilldale awards are available each year. The student researcher receives $3,000, and the faculty/staff research advisor receives $1,000 to help offset research costs (e.g., supplies, faculty or student travel related to the project).

Holstrom Environmental Research Fellowship

The Holstrom Environmental Research Fellowship supports undergraduate research done in collaboration with UW–Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff. Research proposals must have an environmental focus, and applicants must have at least a junior standing at the time of application.

Sophomore Research Fellowship

Funded by grants from the Brittingham Fund and the Kemper K. Knapp Bequest, the Sophomore Research Fellowships support undergraduate research done in collaboration with UW–Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff. Approximately 15 awards are available.

Undergraduate Research Scholars

The Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) program is dedicated to enhancing the academic experience of UW–Madison students by providing first- and second-year undergraduates with opportunities to earn credit for participating in research and creative work with UW–Madison faculty and staff. The program has been designed to include partnerships between students and mentors, seminars on research-relevant issues, and practice in research/artistic presentations. The many benefits of the program are found in the fluid interaction between these activities.

Undergraduate Symposium

The annual Undergraduate Symposium showcases undergraduate creativity, achievement, research, service-learning, and community-based research from all areas of study at UW–Madison, including the humanities, fine arts, biological sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences. This past year nearly 700 students presented, displayed, or performed their work for members of the university, the surrounding community, family, and friends.

University Book Store Award

Supported by a generous grant from the University Book Store, this award recognizes undergraduate students who have completed an outstanding independent project, such as a senior thesis, at UW–Madison. Projects in all academic fields are eligible.

Wisconsin Idea Fellowships

Wisconsin Idea Fellowships are awarded annually to undergraduate student projects working toward solving a challenge identified along with local or global community partners. Fellowships are awarded to semester-long or year-long projects designed by an undergraduate student (or group of students) in collaboration with a community organization and a UW–Madison faculty or academic staff member.