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PhD Degree in Microbiology and Immunology

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology at IU School of Medicine offers a PhD program that is typically completed in about five years. The curriculum is designed to move students into the laboratory and their prospective dissertation project as quickly as possible. Following the first year of course work, through the IBMG program, students usually take four credits of course work in their second year and begin to focus on their research. After passing the qualifying examination at the end of their second year, students advance to PhD candidacy and devote their time primarily to their dissertation research projects.  The program prepares students for productive careers as research scientists, as faculty, or in other leadership positions in their chosen fields. Opportunities to gain teaching experience with introduction to modern teaching theory are available for students interested in academic careers.

Begin PhD Application

Incoming PhD students enter through the Indiana Biomedical Gateway (IBMG) program, which provides a shared first-year experience for all biomedical-science PhD students.


Options for Specialty Focus

As the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at IU School of Medicine has grown to encompass many specialty areas, PhD students can specialize within the disciplines of pathogenesis, immunology, cancer, hematopoiesis and gene transfer therapy.


To earn a PhD degree in Microbiology and Immunology through IU School of Medicine, a student must complete a total of 90 credits; 40 credits must in research. At least 26 credits should be completed in course work, of which 14 credits are within a student’s major and the remaining 12 credits are in the student’s chosen minor. Participation in weekly departmental seminars and journal club forums and attending and presenting at the department’s student seminar series at least once each year are also required. Attendance is reported to mentor and committee for consideration in assigning research grades. This PhD curriculum trains excellent biomedical researchers who become independent, creative investigators.

  • Year One
    Students entering through the IBMG Program complete a total of 22 credits their first year. Learn more about the IBMG Program course requirements.

    Upon entry into the Microbiology and Immunology PhD program, each student forms an Advisory Committee consisting of three departmental faculty and one external faculty who represents the student’s minor. The committee composition is developed in consultation with the mentor and the department’s graduate advisor. The committee advises the student and assigns grades for research credits at twice-yearly meetings.

  • Year Two
    Students must take at least one of the following courses: J807 Current Topics in Immunology, J829 Current Topics in the Molecular Genetics of Microorganisms, or J842 Neoplastic Determinants. Plus, students complete G855 Skills – Experimental Design and Biostatistics and G505 Responsible Conduct of Research.

    In total, a minimum of 12 credits in a minor and 14 credits in a major should be completed. Required courses may count in the major or minor but not in both. Beyond the required coursework, students enroll in research credits (J810) to reach the 90-credit minimum.

  • PhD Minors
    All PhD students must complete a minor with a minimum of 12 credits. These credits must be in lecture or laboratory courses outside of research and must meet the requirements of the department in which the minor is taken. Although any minor offered within IU School of Medicine may be taken, the following are recommended for microbiology and immunology doctoral students: bioinformatics minor, business of biomedical sciences minor, cancer biology minor, clinical research minor, diabetes and obesity minor, life science minor and transnational sciences minor. Learn more about the minors offered at IU School of Medicine.
  • MD-PhD Combined Degree (MSTP) Students
    Combined-degree students can transfer credits from medical school courses to fulfill the minor requirement. For the Microbiology and Immunology PhD degree, MSTP students must take G655, G855, G505 and three credits of coursework from their first-year spring introductory courses and second-year advanced courses offered by the department. The remaining credits can be transferred from medical school courses as approved by the advisory committee.
  • Qualifying Examination
    At the end of the 2nd year, each student takes their qualifying examination, which consists of a written proposal, in NIH grant style, of the dissertation project they intend to complete; the proposal is orally defended to the student’s advisory committee. Developing the proposal provides students the opportunity to take a big-picture, long-range view of their project, critically analyze the literature and their own data, and design a hypothesis-driven research plan. The committee assesses the student’s overall progression and development of the research proposal. Following successful defense of the proposal, the student progresses to PhD candidacy. Often, students at this point polish their proposals for submission to external agencies for competitive predoctoral fellowships.
  • Dissertation
    Upon satisfactory completion of the qualifying examination, the PhD candidate forms a research committee, which may be similar or identical to the student’s advisory committee. The research committee assists the student in thesis research and in thesis preparation and determines satisfactory completion of the thesis and the thesis examination. The research committee and a summary of the proposed research must be approved by the graduate school at least eight months prior to the thesis examination.
  • Teaching Experience
    Students have the option to gain teaching experience through a nonpaid teaching assistantship in J210, an undergraduate microbiology and immunology course for nursing students. Student participation in teaching activities beyond J210 must be approved by the faculty thesis mentor. Teaching activities are considered a part of the microbiology and immunology graduate training program, and students do not receive additional compensation beyond the annual stipend for time devoted to teaching.
  • Grades
    Grades for research credits (J810, G901) are assigned by the student’s committee. An overall average of at least a B (3.0 GPA) is required. Only three credits of C (2.0 GPA) can be counted toward the required credits of coursework.