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About the Program

Molecular Biology Program Overview

The Molecular Biology Program is dedicated to providing rigorous training to its students in a supportive environment. Molecular Biology faculty are members of many different departments and are applying the techniques of molecular biology to answer questions in diverse areas. Molecular biology, the science of how living things work at the molecular level, has led the recent revolution in our understanding of human disease and gave birth to the biotechnology industry. In almost all aspects of modern biomedical research, a professional knowledge of molecular biology is essential. Our training program is designed to equip students for careers at the cutting edge of biology.

The Molecular Biology Program has been supported by a T32 from the National Institutes of Health since 1999, which supports graduate student training in their second and third years.

Many details about the program are described in the Student Handbook.

Anschutz Medical Campus

The Molecular Biology Program is located on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, one of four University of Colorado campuses serving the Rocky Mountain region. CU Anschutz is 6 miles east of downtown Denver in Colorado’s third largest city, Aurora. CU Anschutz is one of the newest health sciences campuses in the nationbut and is the largest academic health center in the Rocky Mountain regional area. With funding totaling more than $450 million annually, CU Anschutz has become a national leader both in health care and life sciences research through a combination of teaching, research, and clinical facilities. The campus provides a variety of state-of-the-art facilities. Graduate students in the Molecular Biology Program interact with many sectors of campus, yielding a highly interdisciplinary and collaborative training program.

Denver to DIA Skyline


The program is designed for students to complete the Ph.D. degree in five to six years and is geared to train students for successful careers in biomedical research. The number of courses required is fairly limited, thus providing ample time and flexibility for pursuit and development of individualized research interests. There are no teaching assistant requirements. Stipends for students are provided for laboratory research.

First year

The first year is devoted largely to course work, with students taking the Biomedical Sciences Core Course in the fall semester with other incoming CU Anschutz Ph.D students, as well as a research ethics course. First year students also rotate through three different laboratories to learn about research areas and methods from different Molecular Biology training faculty. In the spring, Molecular Biology first years take Advanced Topics in Molecular Biology, which covers critical thinking, experimental design and grant writing skills, and is designed to prepare students to pass their preliminary exam after the end of the semester. The preliminary exam format is in the form of a written mini-proposal, which is defended in a one hour oral exam administered in early June by a standing faculty committee. After successful completion of these requirements, students select a thesis mentor and begin their thesis research.

Second year

The majority of time in the second year is spent in the laboratory developing a research thesis project. Required coursework in the second year includes Biostatistics in Research in the fall, and Rigor and Reproducibility in Biomedical Research in the spring semester. After completion of the 2nd year, students take their comprehensive examination to advance to the Ph.D. candidacy. This examination consists of a written thesis proposal in the form of a research grant application and an oral defense in front of the student’s thesis committee.

Third year & beyond

Students are expected to form a thesis committee and pass their comprehensive exam by the end of the fall semester in their third year. The fourth year and beyond are devoted almost entirely to research. During this period, students continue to participate in program events, and are required to continue to meet at least annually with the thesis advisory committee during their final year(s). Students also take a refresher course in biomedical ethics in their fourth or fifth year in the program. It is the goal of the program for students to complete their thesis research and to successfully defend their thesis by the end of their fifth year.

Biomolecular Structure Track

Incoming students have the opportunity to train in a specialty track in Biomolecular Structure. This track provides additional course work in advanced protein chemistry and structural analysis of biomolecules and the opportunity to conduct thesis research in laboratories that have expertise in the application of NMR spectroscopy, X-Ray crystallography, mass spectrometry, and Cryo electron microscropy to questions concerning that of structure and function of biomolecules. More details are available in Appendix 3 of the Student Handbook.

Professional Development

The NIH BESST program provides career development opportunities in biomedical science training to increase the preparedness and employability of bioscience Ph.D. in the non-academic workforce.

Outreach and Advocacy

Many student-run professional organizations provide opportunities to get involved in leadership, community outreach, and graduate student advocacy.

Program Statistics

  • 41 full time PhD students
  • 69 faculty from 12 different departments
  • 17% URM students
  • 56% female students
  • Annual retreat in the Rocky Mountains
  • Weekly seminar series
  • Monthly student-led roundtables
  • Annual spring symposium
History and Statistics
  • Founded in 1987
  • Graduates to date: 98
  • Time to graduation: 5.6 years (mean)
  • Incoming student GPA and GRE (AY 15-16): 3.40 and 156/153/4.0 (mean)

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