Sep 25, 2023  
Graduate Record 2020-2021 
Graduate Record 2020-2021 [ARCHIVED RECORD]

Cell Biology


Successful applicants must have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Biology or allied sciences.  Students entering the Cell Biology program will be expected to have demonstrated academic excellence in their prior training.  In addition, they are expected to have appreciable experience in independent laboratory research. Prospective students should apply for admission through the Biomedical Sciences (BIMS) Graduate Program.

Program Information

All students are required to successfully complete the Core Course in Integrative Biosciences (BIMS 6000) in their first semester, and will complete three laboratory research rotations to select a dissertation laboratory.  This foundation is followed by advanced modular courses in the Spring of the first year and Fall of the second year.  In addition to the required modules for the Cell Biology degree (listed below), a wide variety of modules offered by all of the Biomedical Sciences programs are available that may be relevant to the particular research project being undertaken for the dissertation and can be taken as electives.  The second year culminates in the qualifying exam, in which students are evaluated both on the written thesis proposal and an oral exam for advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.  Upon completion of the required coursework and successful advancement to candidacy, students may also elect to obtain an en route M.S. in Biological & Physical Sciences.

With advancement to candidacy, students then focus on their dissertation research.  One of the primary expectations for the Ph.D. degree in Cell Biology is the ability of the student to carry out independent research while matriculating, with the goal of becoming an independent investigator upon completion of the program. The dissertation must represent an original and significant contribution to science and must be of merit sufficient to achieve publication in a professional peer-reviewed journal.  Students are required to publish a minimum of one article as the first-author in a peer reviewed professional journal prior to the dissertation defense.

Requirements for Ph.D. in Cell Biology

Required Courses

All BIMS students must complete a minimum of 72 hours of graduate credit. A minimum of 24 out of the 72 credit hours must be graded coursework, and no more than 48 of the 72 credit hours can be comprised of Non-Topical Research.

Requirements for graduation include the following courses:

BIMS 6000 - Core Course in Integrative Biosciences Credits: 10  

BIMS 7100 - Research Ethics Credits: 1  

CELL 8101 - Introduction to Animal Development Credits: 2  

CELL 8301 - Advanced Topics in Cell Biology Credits: 2  

CELL 8450 - Effective Science Writing for Grants and Fellowships Credits: 2  


Students are required to earn a minimum of 4 credits from any affiliated science.  Electives can be selected to enhance dissertation research or meet requirements set by specific NIH Training Grant programs.

Journal Club

Students are required to enroll in Journal Club each term that they are enrolled in the PhD program, excluding their first semester in the BIMS program.

Associated Course:

CELL 5950 - Journal Survey in Cell & Developmental Biology Credits:   

Laboratory Rotations

All BIMS students will complete three laboratory research rotations, beginning in the Summer preceding the first academic year. Students are guided through the rotation selection process by a transition advisor and are encouraged to consider options across the spectrum of BIMS research opportunities.  Students can complete dissertation research in a lab outside of the Department of Cell Biology and matriculate in the Cell Biology PhD program.

Associated Course:

BIMS 8995 - Topical Research: Research in Biomedical Sciences Credits:   taken summer, fall and spring of first year

First Author Publication

Students are required to publish a minimum of one article as the first-author in a peer reviewed professional journal prior to the dissertation defense.

Milestone: RORERPT

Conference Presentation

Students are required to present at a minimum of one national or international meeting/conference as advised by their dissertation mentor or committee.

Milestone: PROFCONF



Students should begin defining aims for dissertation research during the spring semester of the first year of doctoral study.  By the spring semester of the second year, the student is required to prepare a dissertation research proposal that will provide both background to the chosen problem area and a description of the research to be performed.  The preferred length of the proposal is 10–15 pages (not including references, title page, or abstract).  Any figures and figure legends are to be included in the main body of the proposal. Optimally, an outline of the proposal (i.e., specific aims) is prepared by the student in consultation with the mentor and discussed with committee members individually.  The proposal outline is then revised and refined based on input received from the advisor and committee.  The proposal should be completed during the spring semester, with the goal of defending it no later than June 15th.  The research proposal should follow the following format:

TITLE PAGE: include title of proposal, student’s name, laboratory affiliation, and date, time and room for the scheduled oral examination.

ABSTRACT: provide a concise overview of the problem to be studied, the significance, and a description of the research to be performed (~1/2 page)

RESEARCH PLAN: (10 page limit, including figures and legends):

  • Specific Aims (1 page or less)
  • Background and Significance (2 pages or less)
  • Preliminary Data (~1-3 pages, if available – otherwise expand sections 2. and 4.)
  • Research Design & Methods (~4-5 pages)
  • Timetable (~1 page or less) provide a flow-chart outline of each specific aim with approximate dates for completion of project goals

The committee for the proposal defense meeting will consist of the student’s dissertation committee and one “add-on” member selected by the program from the Cell Biology primary faculty.  The add-on faculty member serves as chair for the defense meeting, and typically only attends the defense (i.e., does not keep a formal role or attend annual meetings).

Prior to the start of the defense meeting, the committee will hold a brief session without the student present.  While the student is out of the room, the committee will review and discuss the student’s progress in the graduate program including his/her performance in courses and during rotations, and present and discuss opinions on the written dissertation proposal.

The mentor is required to leave the room prior to the start of the student presentation/defense.  The oral examination (i.e., defense) will then begin with a 20-minute illustrated presentation of the proposal by the student.  The student is encouraged to include original preliminary data if available, and/or a report of progress (i.e., successes and failures) thus far.  The committee members are free to interrupt the presentation at any point to ask questions regarding the proposal.

At the conclusion of the oral defense, the student is asked to leave the room and the faculty will evaluate the student’s performance and determine whether he or she has satisfactorily completed all portions of the dissertation proposal defense.


The range of possible outcomes from the dissertation proposal defense include:

  1. The student passes unconditionally.
  2. The student passes with specified conditions (e.g., additional coursework, directed study in specific areas).
  3. In extreme circumstances, the committee recommends that the student be allowed to rewrite all or part of the proposal and reschedule the defense (see additional note below).
  4. The examination committee recommends that the student discontinue PhD study, but be allowed to earn the Master of Science in Biological and Physical Science degree.
  5. The examination committee recommends that the student discontinue PhD study.

The add-on committee member will complete a summary of the defense, to include any conditions set (if applicable), and forwards a copy to the full committee, Cell Biology Program Administrator, and student.  The summary will be added to the student’s permanent record.

Note: The dissertation proposal defense may be rescheduled once (only in extreme circumstances) and must be completed successfully within 2 months of the first scheduled date.  The Cell Biology Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and at least two members of the Cell Biology Executive Academic Committee must approve this option.

Milestone: PHDCAND


Once students have joined a lab and selected Cell Biology as their degree program, they should begin the selection of their dissertation committee in consultation with their mentor.  Committees must be comprised of four BIMS-approved mentors; the committee chair must hold a primary appointment in the Department of Cell Biology; one member must hold a primary appointment outside of the Department of Cell Biology (as defined in the Academic Regulations section for Biomedical Sciences in the School of Medicine Graduate Record. Students are strongly encouraged to hold committee membership to four members, including any appointments required by NIH Training Grants (e.g., CMB, BTP) Students are required to meet with their committee as a group at least annually, but may be instructed to do so semiannually or more frequently (at the discretion of their committee) to track progress.

Milestone: PHDFANPGS (annually- starting year 2)


Each student must complete a piece of original and significant research as part of the requirements of the Cell Biology doctoral degree. Original and significant research is defined as being suitable for publication in a high-quality peer-reviewed journal. It is expected that data from the dissertation will have been published (i.e., in print or “in press”) in a minimum of one first-author publication.* The mentor, in collaboration with the dissertation committee, will determine when the student is ready to proceed writing the dissertation. The dissertation committee has the option of assigning one of the members the role of first reader.

During the writing process, the student should work with their mentor and/or first reader to assess and revise the dissertation document. The final revised version of the dissertation is used as the basis for the dissertation defense and must be distributed to each member of the committee no less than two weeks prior to the scheduled defense meeting.

The Cell Biology program appoints an add-on committee member who will chair the dissertation defense meeting.  The defense must be scheduled to accommodate the schedules of all members of the dissertation committee, including the add-on member. For the defense, the student gives an illustrated presentation with slides outlining the significant results from the dissertation research, and answers questions from the committee throughout and after the presentation is concluded. 

If the student passes the dissertation defense without significant qualifications, the student is allowed to submit the document to the UVa Library and schedule (in consultation with the Program Administrator) a public seminar.  Alternatively, the student may be required to make written revisions to the dissertation document (the extent of these revisions is decided at the time of the defense).  These edits must be completed prior to scheduling the public seminar or submitting the document to the UVa Library.  The public seminar should be scheduled no less than one week after the private defense.

*First author being defined as the primary driver of the project, specifically contributing the majority of benchwork, data analysis, and writing.


Summation of Thesis to UVA Library

Doctoral students must upload the final, approved version of the dissertation to the University Library’s digital repository, also known as LIBRA, by the same due dates as for the Final Exam form.

Information regarding the repository, the submission process and copyright law is available through the LIBRA web site. Please note the following:

  • The title page of the dissertation should be formatted according to the approved template. Signatures of the dissertation committee members should appear only on the final examination form. These signatures should not appear on the title page of the document that is uploaded to LIBRA.
  • Students are responsible for ensuring that they upload the final, approved version of their thesis. Documents submitted to LIBRA cannot be deleted or corrected.
  • The thesis title submitted to the department in step three above will appear in the LIBRA upload interface. If the title listed in LIBRA does not match the final title of the thesis, the student must stop the upload process and inform his or her departmental graduate administrator of the correct title. The thesis title listed in SIS, LIBRA and the student’s transcript should be identical.

LIBRA will accept the thesis as a single PDF document up to 100MB. Students also have the option to upload supplemental files.

Formatting Requirements
There are no formatting requirements or restrictions; however, students should adhere to traditional physical standards if they wish to purchase bound copies from UVA Printing and Copying Services.

Milestone: LIBRA

Survey of Earned Doctorates

All students are required to complete the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates

Milestone: SURVEY

Requirements for Dual Degree Program

The Cell Biology Program accepts students in the Medical Science Training Program (dual degree MD and PhD students). Students in the MSTP are in an accelerated curriculum and generally complete their Graduate Requirements within 4 years.

MSTP students have the core course BIMS 6000 waived and are required to complete 18 credits of graded coursework (instead of the standard 24) based on their completed work from the basic sciences portion of the MD curriculum.