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:


BIOL 201

RNA Processing, M. Ares, M. Jurica, J. Sanford

BIOL 203

Ribosomes and Translation, H. Noller

BIOL 204

Chromatin and Transcription, H. Boeger, G. Hartzog, R. Kamakaka

BIOL 205

Epigenetics, S. Strome, J. Tamkun

BIOL 206

Introduction to Stem Cell Biology, B. Sullivan


Current Protocols in Stem Cell Biology, D. Feldheim

BIOL 208

Cellular Signaling Mechanisms, D. Kellogg

BIOL 214

Advances in Cancer Biology, L. Hinck

BIOL 215

Applied Statistics for Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, J. Arribere

BIOL 217

Influence of Environment and Experience on Brain Development, Y. Zuo, D. Smith

BIOL 218

CRISPR/Cas Technologies, S. Carpenter, A. Zahler

BIOL 226

Advanced Neuroscience, Y. Zuo

BIOL 228

Developmental Neurobiology, B. Chen

BIOL 230 ² ⁴

Grant Writing

BIOL 290  ² 

Career Planning, N. Bhalla

BME 110

Computational Biology Tools

BME 130


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

CHEM 200A 

Advanced Biochem:  Biophysical Methods


Advanced Biochem:  Protein Structure and Function


Advanced Biochem:  Structure and Function of Nucleic Acids

CHEM 230 ² ⁴

Grant Writing

ECE 236  ³

Special Topics in Electrical Engineering "Optics and Microscopy" 

ECE 237  ³

Image Process and Reconstruction 

METX 202

Cellular and Molecular Toxicology


Advanced Microbiology

METX 210

Bacterial Pathogenesis

METX 238

Pathogenesis:  Molecular Mechanisms of Disease 

PDP  ²

Training in teaching offered by the Institute for Scientist and Engineer Educators (ISEE)

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

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 who take Biol 290 Career Planning, take Chem 230 or Biol 230 Grant Writing, and/or participate in the Professional Development Program (PDP) may count only 1 of those as an advanced graduate elective.

³ Students may count either ECE 236 or ECE 237, but not both, toward their advanced graduate electives. 

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 2021-22 MCDB Graduate Handbook below:


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, Grace Kistler-Fair 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.