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Ph.D. in Microbiology

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the highest degree offered by the Microbiology Graduate Program (MGP). The goal of our doctoral program is to provide students with the foundation necessary to pursue a career in a university, industry or research institute setting.

Students in our doctoral program are trained to recognize significant biological problems, design experimental approaches for solving these problems and communicate their results to the scientific community and the public.

The requirements listed below are the minimum requirements to be met by all students in our Ph.D. program. A student’s advisory committee may recommend additional requirements as deemed appropriate, based on a student’s background and research plans.

Curriculum and Courses

The Microbiology Graduate Programs at NC State are interdisciplinary. Our Ph.D. students take many courses taught by MGP faculty, as well as elective courses offered in numerous disciplines and departments across campus, including Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Animal Science, Food Science and Genetics. Our Ph.D. curriculum allows for flexibility
Doctoral students will have completed at least 72 credits by the end of their fourth year in the program.

All microbiology graduate students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. The Graduate Student Support Plan (GSSP; tuition and health benefits) also requires continuous enrollment, meaning all graduate students must enroll for a minimum of nine credits in each Fall and Spring semester to qualify. After the first year, most of these are Research credits.

Required Course Credits for a Ph.D. in Microbiology

Course NumberCourse NameCredits
variableMicrobiology-Related Courses12
MB 870Laboratory Rotations1
MB 886Teaching Experience1
MB 801Seminar in Microbiology2
MB 895Doctoral Dissertation Research6 minimum
variableProfessional Development1
500-800Elective Courses
(MB or others)
All 500-700 level courses are letter graded. 800 level courses use satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading policies.

Required Courses

As listed above, students are required to register for the following:

Students are required to take 12 graduate-level, letter-graded microbiology (MB) credits. Courses are 3 credits each.

MGP students are able to take courses that focus on the various specialized disciplines of microbiology, including bacterial physiology, environmental microbiology, immunology, molecular genetics and virology. Prior experience can impact which courses a student can enroll in.

Prerequisites in biochemistry are required for many of these courses, so we recommend that all microbiology graduate students have the equivalent of introductory biochemistry (BCH 553) at NC State early in the curriculum.

An example of courses that fit into two of many different microbiology “tracks” or concentrations:

Environmental/IndustrialHost-Pathogen Interactions
MB 520 Microbial Cell Bio-transformationsMB 535 Pathogenic Microbiology
MB 532 Soil MicrobiologyMB 718 Introductory Virology
MB 555 Microbial BiotechnologyMB 751 Immunology
MB 590 Symbiosis & MicrobiomesBCH 553 Biochemistry of Gene Expression
MB 505 Food MicrobiologyBCH 705 Molecular Biology of the Cell
MB 714 Metabolic RegulationBMA 771/772 Biomathematics
MB 725 Fermentation MicrobiologyCBS 712 Repro & Domestic Animal Disease
MB 758 Microbial Gen & GenomicsENT 582 Med and Veterinary Entomology
 PP 707 Plant-Microbe Interactions
 ST 511/512 Exper Statistics for Bio Sciences

Doctoral students supported by a teaching or research assistantship are required to participate in a minimum of two research rotations, allowing them to experience the types of research performed in MGP faculty member’s laboratories and choose a research area of high interest to them. An additional rotation is possible, with approval from the Director of Graduate Programs (DGP) and the respective faculty.

Research rotations take place each year from July through the end of the Fall semester. Students earn 1 credit (MB 870) for both laboratory rotations, and their performance is formally evaluated by the principal investigator of the laboratory. Students must also provide a written or oral report about their rotation experience. Following their last research rotation, students may choose a laboratory for their dissertation research.

Although doctoral students supported by a stipend funded from a faculty grant or other source are not required to participate in the research rotations, they may choose to do so with approval from the principal investigators. We encourage all students to review MGP faculty pages and meet with faculty before deciding upon a specific lab for their rotation.

A minimum teaching responsibility is part of the requirements for a Ph.D. degree in Microbiology from NC State. Students must serve as a laboratory teaching assistant for at least one semester in an NCSU on-campus course. Prior teaching experience in an M.S. program will be considered to fulfill this requirement. One credit of MB 886 is provided for each semester the student teaches.

The teaching requirement should be fulfilled at the earliest possible time in the graduate program. Example courses approved for fulfilling the teaching requirement are: MB 352, MB 412, MB 452 and BIO 181. Specific tools for enhancing teaching effectiveness are provided for teaching assistants, including workshops and constructive evaluation by the instructor and the students.

The MGP requires all graduate students to attend Microbiology seminars throughout their degree program. All Ph.D. students must register for at least two semesters (two credits) of seminar.

MB 893 and MB 895 provide credit for research students perform in our Ph.D. program.  Students register for MB 893 prior to passing their Preliminary Exam, after which they may sign-up for a variable number of MB 895 credits each semester. A minimum of six credits is required for the Ph.D. degree. However, this is a research-intensive degree, so many credits will end up being for research (MB 895 Microbiology Research).

All our graduate students are required to attend either the Microbiology course in Professional Development and Responsible Conduct of Research, or a similar module offered in related programs (BIT, GN, etc.). One credit hour is required.

Doctoral students can choose to take other courses offered by departments and programs throughout NC State (Biochemistry, Genetics, Statistics, etc.). Selection of elective courses is done by the student, in consultation with and approval by the advisory committee. Letter graded or satisfactory/unsatisfactory course formats can be used.

Below are examples of elective courses available. The graduate catalog should be consulted for the current comprehensive listing.

  • BAE 525 – Industrial Microbiology & Bioprocessing
  • BCH 553 – Biochemistry of Gene Expression
  • BCH 701 – Macromolecular Structure
  • BCH 703 – Macromolecular Synthesis and Regulation
  • BCH 705 – Molecular Biology of the Cell
  • BIT 510 – Core Technologies in Biotechnology
  • BIT 595X  – Advanced Modules in Biotechnology
  • GN 513 – Advanced Genetics
  • GN 701 – Molecular Genetics
  • GN 735 – Functional Genomics
  • GN 850  – Professionalism and Ethics
  • MB(PP) 730  – Fungal Genetics and Physiology
  • MB 610  – Special Topics in Microbiology
  • MB 620  – Special Problems
  • MB 801  – Seminar in Microbiology
  • MB 705  – Biological Scanning Electron Microscopy
  • MB(IMM) 783 – Advanced Immunology
  • MB 790I  – Practical Digital Imaging

Advisory Committees

Doctoral students are required to select a dissertation advisor before the end of their second semester (until then, the Director of Graduate Programs (DGP) serves as a temporary advisor). By the end of their first year, each student must also have selected a graduate advisory committee with the help of their dissertation advisor. Advisory committee’s will consist of a student’s dissertation advisor, at least two additional faculty members from the MGP and one faculty member who holds a graduate faculty appointment in another program.

All required committee members must hold appointments within the Graduate School at NC State. Students may select scientists who are not members of the Graduate School faculty (e.g., adjunct faculty, industry scientists) for their committee, but it is in addition to the required members. Graduate advisory committees must meet no less than once a year.

Graduate Plan of Work (PoW)

A Graduate Plan of Work (PoW) will include all courses, a tentative dissertation title and an anticipated timetable for taking each course. Students and their dissertation advisors will informally outline the PoW as soon as possible. The plan will be submitted for approval to and/or amendment by the student’s advisory committee. Then the PoW will be formally submitted to the graduate school by the end of the student’s third semester at NC State.

Visit the Graduate School website for more information about the graduate PoW.

Annual Research Progress Reports

The MGP will facilitate scheduling an annual meeting of the student’s advisory committee, at which the student will make an oral presentation and submit a written report on their laboratory research. A Graduate Student Progress Evaluation Form will be completed by the advisory committee. A satisfactory evaluation will be necessary for the student to receive assistantship support and/or be able to register for the next semester.

Dissertation and Defense

All Ph.D. students must write a dissertation on their research and this must conform to the regulations laid down in the NCSU “Thesis and Dissertation Guide.” The content and structure of the dissertation must be approved by the advisory committee, and all degree candidates are expected to prepare their research results for publication prior to completing their program. Doctoral candidates who have completed their research and other degree requirements (72 credit hours) may enroll in MB 899 (Dissertation Preparation) while they are writing their dissertation. All Ph.D. candidates must also present a seminar hosted by the MGP prior to defending their dissertation. Subject to the satisfactory defense of the Ph.D. dissertation, the advisory committee will approve it for transmittal to the Graduate School.