Curriculum Overview

The curriculum in the Cell and Molecular Biology Graduate Group (CAMB) is designed to provide superior graduate-level education in modern cell and molecular biology and thereby to prepare students for leadership careers in biomedical research. Students are asked to select a CAMB program to pursue specialized study in one of the six research areas: Cancer Biology (CB); Cell Biology, Physiology, and Metabolism (CPM); Developmental, Stem Cell, and Regenerative Biology (DSRB); Genetics and Epigenetics (G&E); Gene Therapy and Vaccines (GTV); or Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology (MVP). Students can switch programs until their second year. First-year graduate students participate in a common core curriculum of courses and seminars designed to provide a strong foundation of knowledge in the fields of molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry. In addition, students initiate a series of laboratory rotations designed to provide experience in modern laboratory research methods. Program advisors help students select lab rotation mentors and appropriate courses. Each program offers lecture and seminar courses to provide in depth knowledge in selected areas of research, providing students with the opportunity to master concepts and methodology, and critically evaluate research findings. There is sufficient flexibility to allow course work to be tailored to the specific background and research interests of each candidate.
The PhD degree requires:

  1. 18 course units (c.u.) derived from lecture courses, seminars, lab rotations and independent study.
    Please see our list of all CAMB Courses. You can also view all CAMB courses on the Course Catalog.
    Refer to the PhD Curriculum and Combined Degree Curriculum pages for general CAMB Course Requirements
  2. Passing the preliminary examination; and
  3. Dissertation research and the successful defense of the thesis.

The 18 course units must be completed in the first two years. During the first two years a PhD student typically takes 4 course units each fall and spring semester, and 2 course units in the summer sessions. Students must take the preliminary examination in late May for all PhD second years, and in early June for all Combined Degree third years . Upon successfully passing the preliminary examination, the student begins dissertation research.

Other Requirements | Fellowship Awards | Academic Calendar and Personal Time | Leaves of Absence

Other Requirements

  • Faculty Mini-talks: All first-year PhD and combined degree students attend a series of faculty research presentations during the first ~two months of the fall semester. Each week, selected faculty will give short presentations about their research so that students can become familiar with ongoing research and research opportunities at Penn.
  • Symposium: CAMB annually organizes a daylong scientific symposium featuring a keynote speaker, talks by current students, poster sessions, and an alumni career panel. Student participation is mandatory.
  • Responsible Conduct of Research, Laboratory Safety, and Laboratory Animal Procedures: Mandatory training in responsible conduct of research is provided by BGS annually to all students. First year students complete an on-line training. Students in years 2-4 participate in small group workshops focusing on case studies in the responsible conduct of research. Students in years 5 and beyond have a variety of options for fulfilling this requirement, including attending seminars sponsored by the Center for Bioethics, or co-facilitating a workshop for the years 2-4 students. All students must also do annual laboratory safety training, and those working with animals must take training courses in laboratory animal safety and procedures. In addition, laboratory mentors are required to dedicate one lab meeting a year to RCR training.
  • Seminars, Student Chalk Talks, and Journal Clubs: Students are expected to participate in the activities of the Graduate Group that are intended to enhance the research environment at Penn. Examples of these activities include Institute, Center or Departmental seminars, student chalk talks, journal clubs, program meetings and training grant meetings. These activities will be advertised by e-mail and mailings to the faculty and students, and are often listed on the Calendar or listed on the Seminar Series page.
  • Individual Development Plans (IDP): Every BGS PhD and combined degree student is required to complete an Individual Development Plan (IDP) on an annual basis, due August 1st of every year. An IDP is intended to help in the design of, and measurement of progress in, training. It is also intended to help in identifying short- and long-term objectives and relevant development activities. The 'Achievements' section of the IDP is completed online through a link in the document, and will be available to the CAMB and BGS office to keep record of your progress. The rest of the form is confidential between you and your advisor or advisory committee. Please see the BGS Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for detailed instructions, as well as links to the forms.

Other Requirements | Fellowship Awards | Academic Calendar and Personal Time | Leaves of Absence

Conditions of Fellowship Awards

All full time CAMB students in residence are guaranteed a BGS fellowship that pays tuition, fees and health insurance and provides a stipend for a period of five years as long as the student remains in good academic standing. Funds for fellowships derive from a variety of sources. Students are generally supported by a training grant and/or a University fellowship during the first two years of study and by faculty resources during the dissertation phase. Some students apply for and receive individual extramural fellowships, such as National Research Service Awards or National Science Foundation fellowships, which provide funding for the majority of a student's graduate training. Students are expected to abide by the conditions of their funding source. For example, students appointed to a training grant must complete the required paperwork and participate in activities required by the grant, and students who receive multi-year individual extramural fellowships must prepare and submit annual renewal materials. Graduate students who accept a fully-funded fellowship are expected to devote themselves full time to their program of graduate study. Students may not simultaneously accept another appointment or be employed either within or outside the University. Exceptions may be made only with the written approval of the Dissertation Advisor (if applicable), the Graduate Group Chair, and the Director of BGS.

All University and extramural fellowship awards in excess of tuition, general fee, and required course-related expenses (e.g., required books) are subject to Federal income tax. Even though they are taxable, the University is not required to withhold Federal taxes or issue an IRS W-2 form for non-service (i.e., institutional or training grant based) fellowships. Some fellowships (i.e., those funded by research grants or teaching assistantships) are also subject to Philadelphia city wage taxes, which are withheld from the paycheck. The University is not qualified to provide specific tax information. Students are urged to seek counseling directly from the IRS.

Other Requirements | Fellowship Awards | Academic Calendar and Personal Time | Leaves of Absence

CAMB Academic Calendar/Student Personal Time

CAMB generally adheres to the University's schedule for Fall and Spring course terms but has a 12-month annual training program. University holidays include New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. The University also gives 4 to 5 “season” days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Most BGS courses do not take the University’s fall and spring breaks. BGS students are expected to work full-time toward the degree; however, they are entitled to take two weeks off per year for personal time. Students at the dissertation level may schedule time off only with the prior approval of their advisor.

Other Requirements | Fellowship Awards | Academic Calendar and Personal Time | Leaves of Absence

Leaves of Absence

The University allows graduate students to take leaves of absence with the permission of the CAMB graduate group chair and the BGS director.
Students must write to the CAMB office requesting the leave; if the chair approves, the request will be forwarded to the BGS Director for approval. The main types of leave are medical, family, and paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. Under medical and unpaid family leaves, stipends are suspended during the leave period and are guaranteed upon return from leave under the conditions of the original award guarantee, i.e., as long as the student remains in good academic standing; students who wish to continue their health insurance coverage past the current cycle may arrange to do so through Student Health Services, and financial assistance for health insurance may be arranged through BGS. Note that students who have passed the candidacy exam may need to arrange fellowship support from a mentor in order to return; there is no guarantee that the original mentor will be able to provide financial support when the student returns from leave. Students receiving NIH NRSA support in the form of a training grant appointment or individual fellowship must also obtain permission for a leave from NIH. More information about the types of leave can be found at BGS Leaves of Absence.