Cell and Molecular Biology Department Ph.D. Training Program

Summary of Degree Requirements

  • Register for and pass 72 graduate school credit hours
  • Register for and pass 10 semesters of the departmental Student Seminar course
  • Maintain GPA of 3.0
  • Perform three laboratory rotations
  • Pass Preliminary Exam I and Preliminary Exam II qualifying exams
  • Perform dissertation research
  • Prepare and successfully defend dissertation

Academic Advising

Initial advisement is provided by the Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) Department’s Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Dominic Smiraglia, and by Dr. Norman Karin, Associate Dean of the Roswell Park Division, University at Buffalo. After graduate students have arranged for a thesis advisor in the second year of training, the thesis advisor serves as the primary academic advisor until graduation

Tuition Scholarship

The University provides a tuition scholarship for 72 credit hours over a period of up to five years to approved students receiving a stipend. Students may retain full time status even when registering for less than 9 credit hours per semester by filing the appropriate forms with the Graduate School and registering for at least 1 credit hour each semester. Payment of tuition for more than 72 accumulated credit hours is the responsibility of the student.

Courses/Credit hours

Year 1:

Semester 1, Fall
BPN 530 Oncology for Scientists, 1 - 4 hrs
BMS 503, Biochemistry - 4 hrs
BIR 501, Student Seminar - 1 hr
Research Credits (with Dr. Smiraglia) - 10 hrs

Semester 2, Spring
BPN 532 Oncology for Scientists 2 - 4 hrs
BPR 577 Tools and Models for Molecular Oncology - 3 hrs
BIR 502, Student Seminar  - 1 hr
Research Credits (with Dr. Smiraglia) - 11 hrs

Year 2

Semester 3, Fall
BIR 571 Regulatory Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Cells - 4 hrs
BIR 501, Student Seminar - 1 hr
Research credits (with mentor) - 12 hrs
Research Credits (with Dr. Smiraglia) - 2 hrs

Semester 4, Spring
BIR 502, seminar - 1 hr
Research credits (with Mentor) - 2 hrs

Total Credits completed after four semesters: 60 hrs.

Remaining 12 hrs are taken 2 per semester for the remaining 6 semesters, with one credit of student seminar and one credit of research in your mentor’s lab..

Students are required to take the indicated courses. Students may choose to take an elective course in semesters 2 – 4, the course credits for which would replace an equivalent number of research credits.


Students are required to register for and attend Student Seminar (BIR 501/502) for 10 semesters (8 semester for students beginning in Fall 2009 or earlier).  Students registered for BIR 501/502 are required to present one seminar each semester, although first year students are not expected to present in their first semester.  The Fall semester Student Seminar course will have students presenting their own research. Students are also expected to attend Departmental and Institute research seminars, especially those that cover research topics relevant to their dissertation research.


Students are expected to receive a grade of B or better in each course they register for.  At the end of each semester students must provide a copy of their transcript to Dr. Smiraglia.  If a student’s GPA is below 3.0, the student is no longer considered to be in good standing. 

Laboratory Rotations

Students must perform three laboratory rotations during the first year of training.  The first two rotations take place during the first and second semesters; the third takes place over a 14 week period during the summer of the first year. Students may perform one of the three required laboratory rotations in a laboratory outside the department. Please inform Dr. Smiraglia and Dr. Kisailus of the name of your rotation advisor as you begin each rotation.

Thesis Advisor and Dissertation Committee

Students are expected to choose a thesis advisor after laboratory rotations are completed at the end of the first year of training. They must form a dissertation committee in consultation with the thesis advisor before they take Preliminary Exam II.  The dissertation committee is chaired by the thesis advisor and consists of at least two other faculty members, including at least one faculty member (in addition to the thesis advisor) who is a member of the CMB Department.

Preliminary Examination I

Students must take the first Preliminary Qualifying Examination in the January that follows the third semester of their training.  Prelim Exam I is a written examination consisting of short-answer questions and longer essay-type questions.  Exam questions are solicited from department faculty members and from other faculty who have lectured in courses taken by CMB students.  Questions are based in part on material covered in courses, but may include questions related to other areas of research as well.  Students who do not pass Prelim Exam I will be placed on academic probation but will be allowed to retake the exam a year later after pursuing remedial measures recommended by the faculty.  Students who fail to pass the exam the second time will not be allowed to remain in the Ph.D. program.

Preliminary Examination II

After passing Preliminary Exam I, students are required to prepare a research proposal in the format of a NIH-style grant application that includes specific aims, background and significance information, preliminary findings (if any are available), and descriptions of the proposed experimental approaches. The research topic should be what the student proposes for his/her dissertation work.  Preliminary data supporting the proposal is desirable, but not required.  This exam MUST be completed by September 30th after Preliminary Exam I.  Failure to meet this deadline will result in the student being placed on Academic Probation.  In extraordinary circumstances, a short extension of the deadline may be granted if both the student and the mentor request an extension from the department’s Admissions and Standings Committee. 

Progress Reports

Students must schedule at least one thesis committee meeting by May 31 of each year and they are encouraged to schedule at least two meetings each year. At each thesis committee meeting students provide an update of their dissertation research. Committee members assess dissertation research progress and provide suggestions and other input to guide the student’s research. At the end of each meeting, committee members complete and sign an evaluation form that indicates whether dissertation research progress has been acceptable since the last committee meeting. 

At an appropriate time determined by the thesis committee, students are granted permission by the committee to prepare a dissertation and a dissertation defense; this is noted on the evaluation form signed by committee members at the thesis committee meeting at which this permission is granted.