Cell & Molecular Biology Graduate Group

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Overview | Required and Elective Courses | Lab Rotations| Independent Study Projects | Other Requirements| Fellowship Awards

Curriculum Overview

All CAMB Courses
2019 Fall Course List
2019 Fall Course Schedule
2019 Spring Course List

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: Cell Biology, Physiology, and Metabolism; Cancer Biology; Developmental, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology; Genetics and Epigenetics; Gene Therapy and Vaccines; or Microbiology, Virology and Parasitology. Students can switch programs during or at the end of the first 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. A list of all CAMB Courses can be found here. 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 ans 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 Ph.D. degree requires:

  1. 18 course units (c.u.) derived from lecture courses, seminars, lab rotations and independent study;

  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 student typically takes 4 course units each fall and spring semester, and 2 course units in the summer sessions. In May of the second year the student must take the preliminary examination. Upon successfully passing the preliminary examination, the student begins dissertation research.


Overview || Lab Rotations| Independent Study Projects | Other Requirements| Fellowship Awards

Program Requirements

Ph.D Students

Course Requirements:

There are three required core courses for CAMB students, Cell Biology and Biochemistry (BIOM 600) and Regulation of the Genome (BIOM 555), and Statistics in Experimental Design and Analysis (BIOM 611). Their descriptions are given below.These courses train students in advanced, graduate-level concepts in cell biology, biochemistry and molecular biology. The core courses are generally taken during the first year because they serve as a background for further course work and the preliminary examination. In addition to the core courses all first-year students are required to take the First Year Seminar Course (CAMB 605).

Exemptions and modifications:

In rare circumstances a student may have sufficient background to be exempt from the core courses, for example, a student who has received a Master's Degree in an appropriate area of life sciences. Requests for exemption will be considered by the Program Chair and the Executive Committee and will require documentation from the student: transcripts plus descriptions and syllabi of courses taken. If approved, credits will be transferred. There will be no exemptions from the three laboratory rotations.

Typical Course Program
  Fall Semester Spring Semester Summer
Year  1 BIOM 600
1st Year Seminar, (CAMB 605)
Program Req (if applicable)
Lab Rotation
BIOM 555
BIOM 611
Program Requirement
Two Lab Rotations
Lab research
Year  2 Program Requirements and Electives
Pre-Dissertation Research
Program Requirements and Electives
Pre-Dissertation Research
Preliminary Examination
Dissertation research
Year 3+ Dissertation Research Dissertation Research Dissertation Research

Descriptions of Required Courses

BIOM 555: Regulation of the Genome
Regulation of gene expression including chromatin structure, transcription, DNA modification, RNA processing, translation, control of gene expression via microRNAs andpost translational processing. Offered spring semester.

BIOM 600: Cell Biology and Biochemistry
BIOM 600 is an intermediate level graduate course designed to introduce students to the molecular components and physiological mechanisms that underlie the structure and function of cells. The course is designed as an in depth survey to cover general concepts central to the field of biochemistry and cell biology and to emphasize these concepts within the context of current scientific research questions and technical approaches. Offered fall semester.

BIOM 611: Statistics in Experimental Design and Analysis or the equivalent
BIOM 611 provides a foundation for the fundamental concepts in biostatistics as they relate to experimental design and analysis. We focus on defining research questions, carefully choosing appropriate analytic tools and interpreting the results of the analyses, including limitations of the analysis. Labs will help students learn and implement the statistical methods using the freely available software package Rcmdr.  Rcmdr is based on R; it allows students to import and analyze data using menu-driven options. Though there are some formulae and computational elements to the course, the emphasis is on interpretation, concepts, and applications. Offered spring semester.

CAMB 605: Cell and Molecular Biology First Year Seminar
2018 Syllabus
Topics are selected by course instructors and student participants. Course instructors vary yearly. The goal of this course is to provide students with an opportunity to analyze, present, and discuss significant research papers in the field of cell and molecular biology in small group settings. The sections are taught by faculty from the different programs within the Graduate Group.This is a required course for CAMB PhD Students. Other BGS students are eligible, space permitting. Offered fall semester.

Elective Courses:

Each of the six programs makes specific recommendations for appropriate introductory and advanced electives. Requirements and examples of courses for each program are given on the individual program webpages. These courses are subject to change, and new courses are continually being added; for the specific courses given each term see the current course listings on the BGS web site -BGS Course Information

Overview | Required and Elective Courses | Independent Study Projects | Other Requirements| Fellowship Awards

Laboratory Rotations (CAMB 699)

The purpose of the lab rotations is to get experience in specific laboratories that will eventually lead to the choice of a thesis laboratory. Such experience goes far beyond learning techniques; it is an opportunity for the student to determine whether he/she is compatible with the lab and the mentor. Rotations also provide the student with the opportunity to explore areas in which she/he may have interest but no direct research experience. It is recommended that at least one rotation be utilized to explore a field of research that the student may not have previously considered as a future research direction. Students are required to do a minimum of three different lab rotations, and a student can do additional rotations if necessary to find a compatible lab for thesis research.

The minimum period for a rotation is 11 weeks; students often spend a few weeks longer, depending on the term in which the rotation is done. A rotation can be done in the summer before the beginning of the first year or during the summer between the first and second years. Summer rotations before the first year must last for at least 12 weeks. In the 2019-20 academic year, there will be one 12 week rotation in the fall term, which must start no later than September 16th, and two 11-week rotations in the spring, the first starting no later than January 6th and the second starting March 30th.

All rotations are arranged between the student and the faculty mentor and are subject to approval by the Program advisors. Members of the Graduate Group have provided descriptions of their research, which can be found on the CAMB web site under Faculty. New students should begin thinking about their first rotation before arriving at Penn. Once at Penn, these choices should be explored by talking to students and conferring with Program advisors. The students should then make a short list of faculty with whom they wish to work and set up appointments to talk to the faculty about their research, possible rotation projects and the possibility of working in their laboratories. When a rotation is agreed upon the student and faculty member should meet to discuss and clearly define the goals of the project. A signed “Faculty Agreement for Rotation Monitoring” form (see Appendix) must be returned to the student’s program coordinator, and the project should commence as soon as possible. During the first rotation the student should begin planning subsequent rotations. Upon completion of a rotation, the rotation advisor must submit a grade and a written evaluation of the student's performance. An evaluation form (see Appendix) will be provided by the CAMB Office; it will be included in the student's file. A copy of the evaluation will also be given to the student. Students are encouraged to discuss the contents of the written evaluation form with their rotation advisor.

Grading Guidelines Distributed to Faculty for Rotations:

Please give an A if: The student worked hard on their project, understood what they were doing, produced interpretable results that you trust, and made an intellectual contribution to the lab.Please do not give a grade of A unless you would be happy to welcome them into your lab as a thesis level student and you would be comfortable recommending them to any of your colleagues.

Please give a B if: The student performed well in your lab and you have a reasonable level of confidence that they will be able to accomplish thesis level research leading to a PhD.

Please give a C if: The student performed poorly in your lab and you are unsure whether they will be able to accomplish thesis level research leading to a PhD without significant improvement in their performance.

Combined Degree Students

There are five required courses for combined degree students, BIOM 510, Case Studies in Translational Research, BIOM 555 and BIOM 600 (see above), BIOM 611 (see above) and CAMB 542, Topics in Molecular Medicine. CAMB 542 is taught in the first semester of the first year, concurrent with the first-year medical curriculum. Combined degree students are expected to do independent study projects (see below), one during the spring of the first year and BIOM 510 in the fall of the second year. In the third year, combined degree students do a year of full-time course work that includes one of the required core courses plus additional seminar/lecture courses each semester.

Overview | Required and Elective Courses | Lab Rotations| Other Requirements| Fellowship Awards

Independent Study Projects

Independent Study projects offer a less formal mode for CD students to begin graduate studies. The format of the project is flexible, typically consisting of guided readings from the scientific literature followed by weekly in-depth discussion with the chosen faculty member. At the end of the project, the student writes a paper or makes a formal presentation, which is evaluated and graded by the faculty advisor. CD students may do no more than two independent study projects, and these do not count towards the required 7 lecture/seminars. The independent study is most commonly taken during the spring semester of their first year.

Typical Course Program
  Fall Semester Spring Semester Summer
Year 1 CAMB 542 CAMB 799 (Indep. Study) or Program Elective Lab Rotation
Year 2 BIOM 510 No CAMB activity No CAMB activity
Year 3 BIOM 600
Program Requirements
2 Lab Rotations

BIOM 555
Program Requirements or Electives
Pre-Dissertation Research
Dissertation research
Year 4+ Dissertation research BIOM 611
Dissertation research
Dissertation research


Combined degree students will do three rotations. Students may request permission to waive the third rotation upon completion of two successful rotations from CAMB and the CD Advisors.The usual time frame for rotations is as follows for the 2019-20 academic year.

There is a possibility of completing a rotation the summer before one enters medical school. If a student has completed three rotations or has received permission to waive the third rotation prior to October 21 of the fall semester of the third year, he/she must register for a 9-week period of pre-dissertation research in the chosen thesis lab starting no later than October 21.

Overview | Required and Elective Courses | Lab Rotations| Independent Study Projects |Fellowship Awards

Other Requirements

Faculty Mini-talks: All first-year PhD and combined degree students attend a series of faculty research presentations during the first few weeks 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 students and faculty and poster sessions. 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.

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 confidental between you and your advisor or advisory committee.

Detailed instructions, as well as links to the IDP forms, are at www.med.upenn.edu/bgs/idp.shtml.

Overview | Required and Elective Courses | Lab Rotations| Independent Study Projects | Other Requirements|

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.

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.

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 here.


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