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First Year

Students entering via the Joint Program in Molecular Biosciences take a core curriculum. During the first year students also take rotations in at least three different labs. At the end of the year, students take the written part of a two-part qualifying exam.

The basic first year curriculum may be modified on an individual basis for transfer students, students in special fellowship programs or students who need remedial course work. Such remedial courses will not count in fulfilling degree requirements.

First Year Curriculum

The Graduate Programs in Molecular Biosciences is pleased to implement a new curriculum for the 2013-2014 academic year. The core curriculum spans the entire first year and is designed to expose students to the discovery of fundamental concepts in the molecular biosciences and to reflect the interdisciplinary manner in which major advances in biomedical sciences have been made. The curriculum will provide context for the integration of fundamental topics in molecular and cellular biology, genetics and biochemistry. Courses are designed to give students ample opportunity to delve into the primary literature, develop critical reasoning skills and the ability to identify and experimentally address open questions in molecular biosciences.

Throughout the first year, students will participate in laboratory rotations to identify a thesis advisor. Students are expected to select a thesis advisor by the end of the spring semester.

Core Courses

In the fall semester, the core curriculum will consist of a lecture and discussion based interdisciplinary foundational course coordinated with a paper-based class that teaches students to embrace the primary literature while exposing them to fundamental experimental methods and quantitative data analysis.

Students will enroll in Fundamentals of Molecular Biosciences, Experimental Methods in Molecular Biosciences and Essential Skills I. ( pdf Molecular Biosciences Core Curriculum (59 KB) )

In the spring semester, mini-courses ( pdf Spring 2017 MBS Minicourses (17 KB) ) that span four-week blocks will focus on specific topics that take advantage of faculty expertise and research interests on campus. Mini-courses will give students opportunities to develop writing, speaking, presentation, modeling or other skills as appropriate. Mini-courses will allow for close interaction of small groups of students with faculty engaged in cutting-edge research.

Students will select a total of six mini-courses for the spring semester and will also enroll in Essential Skills II, Ethical Scientific Conduct, and will continue laboratory rotations. ( pdf Molecular Biosciences Core Curriculum (59 KB) )

First Year Curriculum

Fall SemesterSpring Semester
Course Credits Course Credits
Fundamentals of Molecular Biosciences (16:695:538) 6 Mini Courses in Molecular Biosciences (16:695:621-638) 6 (select 6 mini courses)
Experimental Methods in Molecular Biosciences (16:695:539) 2 Essential Skills II (16:695:552) 1
Essential Skills I (16:695:551) 1 Lab Rotation (16:695:616) 2
Lab Rotation (16:695:615) 2 + 2 Ethical Scientific Conduct 1
Fall Credit Total 13 Spring Credit Total 10

Lab Rotations

Students must take three, 8-10 week rotations in three different research laboratories. If a match is not obtained in the first three rotations, a student may take a fourth rotation. During the rotation, it is expected that the student will spend a sufficient amount of time to accomplish the goals established by the research advisor. At the end of each rotation, the student will submit a short summary to the research advisor. A copy of the summary must also be submitted to the Graduate Program Office for the grade to be assigned. Performance will be graded on a pass/fail basis. A limit of six rotation credits can be counted towards the Ph.D. degree.


Students are required to do three laboratory rotations: two rotations of 8 weeks each during the Fall semester, and a third during the first 8 weeks of the Spring semester. Student’s generally choose a thesis advisor at the end of the third rotation. Thesis research begins at this time or after the written qualifying exam at the end of the Spring term. A fourth rotation may be taken by students who have not found a permanent lab after the first three rotations. Financial aid is terminated after the fourth rotation if a match with a Research Advisor cannot be found. There is a document describing the rotation process in detail.

Rotation Credits and Requirements: Each rotation counts as 2 credits with a maximum of 6 credits allowed towards the PhD. The fourth rotation provides no credit. These credits cannot be used to satisfy either the minimum course or research credit requirements.

Several forms must be filled out to track student progress through the rotations.

  1. A rotation form must be submitted by the student to the GSBS office at the beginning of the rotation.
  2. A rotation evaluation must be submitted to the GSBS office at the end of the rotation by the research advisor with whom the work was done.
  3. Students must prepare a one page summary of the work done in each rotation. Copies of the report are submitted to the research advisor and to the GSBS office. This summary should include the name of the lab, the dates of the rotation, the objectives of the work, the nature of the student's participation, and the results.

Setting up Rotations: It is the responsibility of the student to arrange rotations. The Laboratory Rotation Committee can provide guidance. Generally the choice of the next rotation should be made about two weeks before the present one ends. A student may not rotate in the same lab twice.

Written Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Examination has two parts with Part I offered at the end of the Molecular Biosciences Core Curriculum. It is a written examination based on a critical evaluation of a selected set of journal articles provided to the students two weeks before the exam. The aim is to test basic knowledge, comprehension of the papers, and experimental design. The questions can be specific as well as wide-ranging.

Contact Us

Division of Life Sciences Graduate Program Office
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Nelson Lab-604 Allison Rd
Piscataway, NJ 08854
Phone: 848.445.9517