Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology (MCD)


The graduate training track in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology provides intensive training in the skills necessary to begin outstanding research and teaching careers in modern biology. The goal of the program is to produce graduates with both a broad foundation in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, as well as in-depth knowledge and skills in the specific area of their thesis research. New trainees undertake rigorous core coursework that emphasizes critical evaluation of scientific models and experimental results. New trainees also participate in three seven-week laboratory rotations and at the end of the first year initiate independent research, which ultimately leads to a dissertation. Second-year students take an oral qualifying exam. Graduate students work under the direct supervision of one of thirty-eight affiliated faculty members in a highly interactive, collaborative research environment. All students participate in a variety of seminars, advanced special topics courses, and research group meetings designed to provide continuing learning opportunities.

General Requirements

  • Coursework: Students take 9 courses – 7 core courses and 2 electives (courses listed below)
  • Research Rotations: Students complete 3 rotations in different laboratories during the 1st year
  • Rotation Seminar: Students present a talk at the end of each rotation in the 1st year.
  • Teaching: Students must fulfill no less than 2 TAships in their graduate career.
  • Oral Qualifying Exam: Exam is taken at the end of the 2nd year.
  • Research Seminar: Students formally present their research at the end of the 3rd year.
  • Thesis Advisory Committee: Students must meet with their Thesis Advisory Committee at least once a year.
  • Doctoral Dissertation: Students must submit a doctoral thesis to their Thesis Advisory Committee.
  • Oral Dissertation Defense: Students must present a formal departmental seminar on their thesis research.

Required Course Work

Required Core Courses:

Core Courses


Critical Analysis of Scientific Literature


Experimental Design


Logic and Approaches to Scientific Discovery

BIOL 215

Applied Statistics for Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology

BIOL 288

Pedagogy in STEM

BIOL 289

Practice of Science

BIOL 230

Grant Writing (Year 2)

Elective Courses:

Content-Based Electives
BIOL 201 RNA Processing
BIOL 203 Ribosomes and Translation
BIOL 204 Chromatin and Transcription
BIOL 205 Epigenetics
BIOL 206 Introduction to Stem Cell Biology
BIOL 206L Current Protocols in Stem Cell Biology
BIOL 208 Cellular Signaling Mechanisms
BIOL 214 Advances in Cancer Biology
BIOL 215 ³ Applied Statistics for Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
BIOL 217 Influence of Environment and Experience on Brain Development
BIOL 218 CRISPR/Cas Technologies
BIOL 226 Advanced Neuroscience
BIOL 228 Developmental Neurobiology
BME 110 Computational Biology Tools
BME 130 Genomes
BME 160 Research Programming in the Life Sciences
BME 163/263 Applied Analysis and Visualization of Scientific Data
BME 205 Bioinformatics:  Models and Algorithms
BME 222  Applied Biotechnology: Engineering Immunotherapeutic Drugs
BME 229 Protein and Cell Engineering
BME 230A Intro to Computational Genomics (Prereq: BME 205)
BME 230B Advanced Computational Genomics (Prereqs: BME 205, BME 230A)
BME 237     Applied RNA Bioinformatics
BME 272 Precision Medicine
BME 273 Stem Cell Epi/Genomics
BME 278 Stem Cell Biology
CHEM 200A  Advanced Biochem: Biophysical Methods
CHEM 200B Advanced Biochem: Protein Structure and Function
CHEM 200C Advanced Biochem: Structure and Function of Nucleic Acids
ECE 236  ² Special Topics in Electrical Engineering "Optics and Microscopy" 
ECE 237  ² Image Process and Reconstruction 
METX 202 Cellular and Molecular Toxicology
METX 206A Advanced Microbiology
METX 210 Bacterial Pathogenesis
METX 238 Pathogenesis:  Molecular Mechanisms of Disease 
STAT 108  ¹ Linear Regression
STAT 202  ¹ Linear Models
STAT 205B  ¹ Intermediate Classical Interference
STAT 208  ¹ Linear Statistical Models
STAT 266A  ¹    Data Visualization and Statistical Programming in R

Skills-Based Electives 

(Students may only count 1 of the following courses towards their graduate electives)

BIOL 220 STEM Outreach
BIOL 230 ³ Grant Writing
BIOL 247 Stem Cell Research: Scientific, Ethical, Social, and Legal Issues
BIOL 290  Career Planning
BME 275 Entrepreneurship in Biotechnology
CHEM 230 ³ Grant Writing
PDP Training in teaching offered by the Institute for Scientist and Engineer Educators (ISEE)
¹ Students who have had no or very little Statistics should audit or take STAT 7 (5 credits) and perhaps also STAT 7L (2 credits) to learn the basics, before taking one of the graduate level courses.
² Students may count either ECE 236 or ECE 237, but not both, toward their advanced graduate electives. 
³ Biol 215, Chem 230, and Biol 230 may only count as electives to PhD students who matriculated prior to fall 2020.

Detailed descriptions of courses and other requirements can be reviewed in the 2023-24 MCDB Graduate Handbook below:


Graduate students who matriculated Fall 2022 may consult the 2022-2023 Graduate Handbook here.

Graduate students who matriculated Fall 2021 may consult the 2021-2022 Graduate Handbook here.

Graduate students who matriculated Fall 2020 may consult the 2020-2021 Graduate Handbook here.

Graduate students who matriculated Fall 2019 may consult the 2019-2020 Graduate Handbook here.


For additional questions specific to the MCD Biology training track, email the MCDB Graduate Program Adviser, Carrie Niblett at

nih UCSC's graduate  Program in Biomedical Sciences and Engineering is supported by training grants from the National Institute of General Medical Science and the National Human Genome Research Institute.