Ph.D. Curriculum

Required Courses

Chemical Biology students follow an interdisciplinary course of preparation not available in most departmental programs. All students take Chemistry 525 and Chemical Biology 502, which discuss the structure, function and chemistry of biological macromolecules including proteins, nucleic acids and carbohydrates. Topics include mechanistic enzymology, the interactions of proteins and small molecules with RNA and DNA, macromolecular folding, combinatorial methods including SELEX and gene shuffling, combinatorial organic synthesis, high throughput screening and chemical genetics.

All students will also complete program coursework, where students are taught critical thinking and analysis through weekly discussion of the primary research literature. 


Based on individual interests, the remaining course requirements of the program can be fulfilled from a variety of chemistry, biochemistry or biology classes taught on campus.

Hence, a major advantage of the Chemical Biology Program is that it allows students maximum flexibility in their training program. 

Research Rotations

During the first year in the program, students are required to conduct two semester-long research rotations in different laboratories of their choosing. These rotations are important for many reasons: they provide an opportunity for students to meet the faculty and other graduate students; they provide a basis to select a research advisor; they give students the chance to experience different types of research; and they acclimate students to the research environment at the University of Michigan.

At the end of the second semester of the program students, select a research advisor located in one of the participating departments of the program. The faculty advisor is the primary support and advisor for the remaining four years of the program.


Admission to candidacy marks the transition from a largely classroom-based experience to one that is focused on independent research, and typically occurs before the third year.

The candidacy exam determines whether the student is ready to lead their thesis project and if there are areas of knowledge or experimental design that need strengthening in order for the student to succeed. Students are questioned on the background material, in addition to specific questions about the choice of experiments, strategies for data analysis and alternative plans if things do not work as outlined. Students who do not pass their exam at the initial taking are able to re-take the exam within a three- to six-month time frame. 

Post candidacy regular annual meetings of the student's dissertation committee are held to ensure progress concludes with a dissertation and defense in the fifth year of the program. Once the advisor and thesis committee deem research results to be suitable for writing a thesis, students begin to write a thesis and then defend it. The Chemical Biology Ph.D. degree is designed to be completed in five years.