Cell Biology Graduate Program Curriculum

A. Objectives of the Program
The objectives of the Cell Biology Graduate Program are threefold:

  1. To expose students to the basic sciences underlying our understanding of how cells, tissues and organs function
  2. To provide laboratory experiences that will allow students to do independent research and contribute to our knowledge base
  3. To provide students with an opportunity to learn how to communicate with others about their research and its underlying science

Graduates of this program should be able to function as researchers and/or teachers in academic institutions, government laboratories, or industry.

B. Physical Facilities
The Cell Biology Graduate Program is housed in the Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology. However, many of the program faculty members have joint appointments in other departments within the University. Each faculty member has a research laboratory containing the equipment required for his or her specific research objectives. A variety of shared research facilities are also available on campus via UTMB’s Core Research Facilities. Also available to our students are: animal care facilities, an electronics shop, photographic services, a well developed computer network, library, etc.

C. Scope of the Program
The Cell Biology Graduate Program is designed for students seeking a Ph.D. degree and coordinates with the M.D.-Ph.D. combined degree program for students seeking joint degrees. Courses within the program provide students the opportunity to gain a basic knowledge of several sub-disciplines of cell biology including molecular cell biology, development, and disease mechanisms. Required Basic Biomedical Science Curriculum (BBSC) courses and electives in other areas of biomedical science are available to provide a broad foundation upon which students can build a research career.

Laboratory techniques utilized by cell biology faculty are diverse and include all major methodologies for interrogating cellular function. These include (but are not limited to) wide field, confocal, and non-linear imaging, microarrays, gene silencing (knockout, siRNA, and related technologies), computational and structural biology, biophysical approaches, and the use of model organisms such as rodents, Drosophila and C. elegans to investigate development and disease. Students rotate through at least four laboratories before selecting an advisor and research project.

Course work and laboratory rotations are normally completed during the first two years. Students then submit a grant proposal which functions as the written qualifying examination as part of the requirements for admission to candidacy. Following successful completion and revision of the proposal as recommended by an ad hoc examination committee comprised of faculty whom are experts in the field of study, the proposal is presented to the faculty as a seminar. The seminar is followed by an oral examination by a five-member faculty committee, one member of which is an external reviewer. This committee typically serves as the supervisory committee for the student’s research. The program is complete when a dissertation is presented to the supervisory committee and successfully defended in an oral examination.

D. Curriculum
The curriculum emphasizes the development of research, teaching, and communication skills. It provides:

  1. A strong background in cell and molecular biology, with an opportunity to pursue specific interests in greater depth
  2. Exposure to current research topics and techniques
  3. Instruction on how to teach
  4. Instruction on how to prepare and present effective seminars
  5. Instruction on how to write and defend research proposals

E. Required Courses
All students are expected to take the following courses:

BASIC BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES CURRICULUM
BBSC 6122 — Introduction to Biostatistics and Experimental Design (fall term)
BBSC 6217 — Principles of Laboratory Safety (Optional)
BBSC 6301 — Laboratory rotations (8-week blocks; three required; one must be done in the 2nd block of the 1st fall term)
BBSC 6302 — Cell Biology (fall term)
BBSC 6401 — Biochemistry (fall term)
BBSC 6403 — Molecular Biology and Genetics (spring term)
BBSC Electives — Students may choose other electives from the BBSC or other programs to total the 6 required hours before Candidacy
MEHU 6101 — Ethics of Scientific Research (fall term)

CELL BIOLOGY CURRICULUM
CELL 6217 — Advanced Academic Success Skills Part I
CELL 6218 — Advanced Academic Success Skills Part II
CELL 6008 — Lab Rotations (in rare cases; only if needed)
CELL 6097 — Research
CELL 6099 — Dissertation
CELL 6195 — Seminar (must be taken every term until graduation)
CELL 6307 — Advanced Cell Biology

F. Course Descriptions
The course offerings are contingent upon adequate student enrollment.

CELL 6X96 (1-3 credits)

SPECIAL TOPICS (Elective)

Prerequisites: — Permission of instructor
Terms offered: — I, II, III
Year offered: — Annually
Hours per week: — Variable, format to be arranged

Topics are selected and study programs arranged on an individual basis with a staff member.

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CELL 6195 (1 credit)

SEMINAR (Required)

Prerequisites: — None
Terms offered: — I, II, III
Year offered: — Annually
Hours per week: 1; 16 weeks

The objectives of this course are to expose students to a wide range of current research topics in cell biology, and to allow students to organize and present seminars in their own fields of interest. All Cell Biology Graduate Program students must register for seminar course every term irrespective of status in the program. Generally, the class will be graded S/U. However, in the semester the student presents a seminar, the student will receive a letter grade from an assigned faculty member.

Specific expectations for achieving a grade S are as follows:

  1. All students are expected to attend seminars presented by local and invited speakers on a regular basis. All students (pre-candidacy and in candidacy) are required to attend all Cell student seminars, including oral qualifying exam presentations and oral defense presentations, and faculty candidate seminars. A sign-up sheet will be available to each student at the start of each semester. The sign-up sheet must be completed by the student and turned in to the coordinators office one week before the end of the semester. Excuses will only be granted with PRE-APPROVAL of the Course Director. Failure to attend a required seminar (as described above) without an excuse will result in an unsatisfactory (U) grade. Students are also required to attend seminars of invited speakers if the speaker has been invited by the Cell Program.
  2. Students in pre-candidacy are required to attend 12 seminars per term. These can include seminars presented by Cell students, faculty candidates and Cell invited speakers. The students will be responsible for maintaining their sign-up sheet for the semester and will turn it in to the program coordinator at the end of the semester. Pre-candidacy students are required to give a seminar once a year which describes the research project they have worked on either during a lab rotation or after the student has chosen a laboratory to work in on their dissertation proposal. The student will receive a letter grade (A-C) from the assigned faculty/examination committee members in the semester in which the student gives a seminar.
  3. Students in candidacy are NOT required to document 12 seminars per semester though seminar attendance is still an essential part of training as a doctoral student. Students in candidacy are, however, required to record attendance of all Cell student seminars and faculty candidate seminars on the sign-up sheet provided by the program coordinator in order to receive a satisfactory (S) or letter grade. Students in candidacy are expected to present their research once per year, and will receive a letter grade in the semester they present the seminar. This can include the seminar given at the time of oral exam/oral defense. The annual seminars may be coordinated with a committee meeting. In the semester the student presents their research seminar, the student will receive a letter grade. The student must have recorded attendance at all Cell student and faculty candidate seminars on the sign-up sheet provided until and unless they have received pre-approval by the program director to be excused.
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CELL 6307
(3 credits)

ADVANCED CELL BIOLOGY (Required)

Prerequisites: None
Term offered: — III
Year offered: — Annually
Hours per week: — 3 - Lecture

The objective of this course is to instruct students in advanced concepts and techniques in cell biology. The development of critical thinking skills will be emphasized. Students will be graded in two exams, a midterm (25%) and a comprehensive final examination (25%). The remaining 50% of the score will be based upon presentation of relevant research papers by the students. The final exam will cover both the first (20%) and second (80%) halves. Examinations will use short-answer format. Instructors are requested to generate two short-answer problems for each week. Each week will begin with an introductory lecture by the instructor on Monday. The class on Wednesday will be devoted to techniques in the relevant discipline. This may be formal classroom discussion or a direct demonstration in a research laboratory. The class on Friday will consist of student presentation of a relevant paper in the discipline being discussed that week.

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CELL 6217 & CELL 6218 (2 credits each)

ADVANCED ACADEMIC SUCCESS SKILLS PART I & PART II (Required)

Prerequisites: Must have chosen the primary mentor and an area of research in which the student will work for their dissertation research, Preferably the student will have developed the specific focus of their research in the mentor’s laboratory, and generated some preliminary data towards their goals/hypothesis
Term offered: — I
Year Offered: — Annually
Hours per week: 4 for both Parts I and II (run concurrently)

Academic Success is heavily dependent on scientific communication and writing skills. Successful scientists can spend anywhere from 50-80% of their time reading, writing and presenting their data. In part I of the course, the students learn how to improve their presentation skills as an oral seminar, and learn how to present their dissertation proposal as an oral seminar in allocated time. In Part II of the course, the students learn how to develop their dissertation proposal in the NIH RO1 format. The schedule for Part I and Part II of the course is flexible and developed with the students who are taking the course. All the work in this course will be graded on an A-F scale. Class participation and home assignments (which must be e-mailed/submitted 1 day before the indicated class date) account for ~25% of the final grade for both Parts I and Part II. 75% of the final grade is based on the quality of the oral presentation of the dissertation proposal (part I) and written research proposal (part II). The grade for the oral and written proposals is given by an assigned examiner.

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CELL 6008 (1-9 credits)

LABORATORY ROTATION (Required)

Prerequisites: — Permission of instructor and the Program Director
Term offered: — I, II, III
Year offered: — Annually
Hours per week: — 12 - 36 Laboratory

The majority of students will have completed their lab rotations in year I while enrolled in the required BBSC 6301 laboratory rotation course. The students are expected to have chosen their mentor before starting year II. With the approval of the Program Director, any student who has not chosen a mentor and lab in which to conduct their dissertation research can register for Cell Laboratory Rotation.

The objectives of this course are to acquaint students with the research activities of individual faculty members and to assist students in selecting their areas of specialization. Upon mutual agreement with faculty, the students will rotate through 1-2 laboratories during each term in year II and spend approximately seven weeks in each laboratory. During this time the student will observe and participate in specific research projects. It is expected that the student will spend a minimum of 12 hours in the laboratory per week. Grading will be based on a written report describing the project worked on in each laboratory. Course may be repeated for credit.

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CELL 6097 (3-9 credits)

RESEARCH (Required)

Prerequisites: — None
Terms offered: — I, II, III
Year offered: — Annually
Hours per week: — 3 - 27 Laboratory

Formal research directed toward Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy degree programs. Grading will be based upon the student’s level of performance as reported by the student’s research supervisor and will be assigned as satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

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CELL 6098 (3-9 credits)

THESIS (Offered only under special circumstances)

Prerequisites: — Admission to candidacy for the Master of Science degree
Terms offered: — I, II, III
Year offered: — Annually
Hours per week: 1 Conference or Discussion; 3 - 7 Research

The Cell Graduate Program does not recruit students for the Master of Science degree. However, in certain special circumstances, students who are unable to continue with their Doctorate of Philosophy degree research program may be allowed to obtain a Master of Science degree.

Formal research and writing, leading to the preparation and completion of the thesis for the Master of Science degree, is expected under the direction of the student’s supervisory committee. Grading will be based upon the student’s level of performance as reported by the chairperson of the student’s supervisory committee and will be assigned as Satisfactory, or Unsatisfactory. Students that elect to transition to MS degree, due to special circumstances as described above, are expected to register for a total of 9 credit hours.

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CELL 6099 (3-9 credits)

DISSERTATION (Required)

Prerequisites: — Admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree
Terms offered: — I, II, III
Year offered: — Annually
Hours per week: — Variable

Formal research and writing, leading to the preparation and completion of the dissertation for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, is expected under the direction of the student’s supervisory committee. Grading will be based upon the student’s level of performance as reported by the chairperson of the student’s supervisory committee and will be assigned as Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. Students in Dissertation are expected to register for a total of 9 credit hours.

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CELL 6222 (2 credits)

MATERNAL AND FETAL BIOLOGY (Elective)

Prerequisite: — None
Term Offered: — III
Year Offered: — Annually
Hours per week: 2 Lecture

This course will advance the interest and knowledge in the area of maternal and fetal medicine. It is designed to:

  1. Teach the student to appreciate and understand the physiological processes that affect maternal and fetal well being
  2. Enable the students to understand the mechanisms by which pregnancy affects fetal outcome.

Experience is gained by working with the faculty and the other students in an active class discussion.  Emphasis is also placed on the role of the fetal programming of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

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CELL 6701 (7 credits)

GROSS ANATOMY (Elective)

Prerequisites: — None
Terms offered: — I
Year offered: — Annually (Depending on various circumstances, the course may not be offered every calendar year.)
Hours per week: — 7 Laboratory and Lecture

Lectures, conferences and laboratory work cover the gross anatomy of the human body. Additional bi-weekly conferences focus on such topics as the history of anatomy, anatomical terminology, developmental anatomy and anatomical topics in current medical and scientific literature. Exposure to Problem-Based-Learning is also likely. Laboratory sessions involve the complete dissection of a human cadaver (4-5 students/cadaver). Laboratory study is aided by anatomical models, permanent glass-mounted dissections, roentgenograms, computer based cross sectional anatomy exercises and gross pathology demonstrations. Although traditionally offered in the fall semester, actual dates and times of the course will be determined by the anatomy teaching staff. Enrollment requires prior consultation with and approval of course director. Only post candidacy students can take this course if approved by their mentor. Year I students can take this course only if they have tested out of the required BBSC courses in the fall.

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CELL 6324 (3 credits)

TEACHING: GROSS ANATOMY (Elective)

Prerequisites: — Cell 6701 - Gross Anatomy (Must have received a grade B or higher and have approval by dissertation mentor.)
Terms offered: — I
Year offered: — Annually (Depending on various circumstances, the course may not be offered every calendar year.)
Hours per week: — 3 - 6 Laboratory and Lecture

This course provides additional training in gross anatomy for graduate students anticipating future teaching responsibilities in this discipline. Enrollment is only open to those students who have had significant previous training in human gross anatomy, including extensive dissection experience. This course requires performance as a teaching assistant in the gross anatomy lab on a daily basis and may include gross anatomical prosection, dissection and formal presentations of the dissected regions to the SOM freshman medical class, senior medical students and/or PA/PT students in the School of Health Professions. Participation in a clinical anatomy journal club is also required. Although traditionally offered in the fall semester, actual dates and times of the course will be determined by the anatomy teaching staff. Enrollment requires prior consultation and approval of the course director.

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CELL 6207 (2 credits)

TEACHING: imaging in biology (Elective)

Prerequisites: — None
Term offered: — I
Year offered: — Annually
Hours per week: — 2 - 4

This is a 16 week course consisting of 3 modules that will encompass the basic principles of imaging. This course is taught from a syllabus that will be available on the first day of the class. A letter grade (A-F) will be given. The final grade in this course will be determined from class participation, student presentations and written exam.

The first module is comprised of the principles of imaging, which will cover:

  1. The basic properties of electromagnetic waves
  2. Laser/non-laser radiation
  3. Interaction of light with molecules, cells and tissues
  4. Fundamentals of spectroscopy and imaging
  5. Laboratory demonstrations and paper discussions

The second module will cover fluorescence microscopy from both the theoretical and practical points of view. There will be a series of lectures as well as practical applications including:

  1. Image processing
  2. Light microscopy (phase and DIC)
  3. Confocal and multiphoton laser scanning microscopy.

The last module of this course will cover single molecule detection and manipulation, including atomic force microscopy. In addition to lectures, this segment will also consist of demonstrations and group discussions.

Cell Biology Graduate Program Contacts:

Program Director:
Pomila Singh, Ph.D.

Program Coordinator:
Aurora Galvan
120-E BSB, Route: 0625
Phone: (409) 772-2124

CELL BIOLOGY GRADUATE PROGRAM HANDBOOK