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Molecular and Cellular Biology

Houston, Texas

Image 1: Ovulated mouse cumulus cell oocyte complex immunostained for matrix proteins hyaluronan and versican. By JoAnne Richards, Ph.D.; Image 2: By Yi LI, Ph.D.; Image 3: Mouse oocyte at meiosis I immunostained  for tubulin (red) phosphop38MAPK (green) and DNA (blue). By JoAnne Richards,  Ph.D.;  Image 4: Expanded cumulus cell ooctye ocmplex  immunostained for hyaluronan (red), TSG6 (green) and DAN (blue). By JoAnne  Richards, Ph.D.;  Image 5: Epithelial cells taken from a mouse  mammary gland were cultured in a dish and transduced with a retrovirus  expressing two genes. The green staining shows green fluorescent protein and the red  staining shows progesterone receptor expression. The nucleus of each cell is  stained blue. Photomicrograph taken at 200X magnification.  By Sandra L. Grimm,  Ph.D.; Image 6: Ovarian vasculature (red) is excluded from the granulosa cells (blue) within growing follicles (round structures); Image 7:  Ovulated mouse cumulus cell oocyte  complex immunostained for matrix proteins hyaluronan and versican. By JoAnne Richards, Ph.D.
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
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Graduate Program Overview

We are delighted that you are visiting our web site and hope that you find our program unique, exciting and appropriate for you career goals.

The Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology graduate program takes great pride in its students and their accomplishments. The faculty recognizes that we are training the scientific leaders of tomorrow and are committed to making their experience in graduate school successful and rewarding. We honor our students' talents, encourage their success and delight in watching their careers develop and mature.

Each year at our MCB Graduate Student Symposium we express our thanks for all their contributions to our science, to the spirit, vitality, vision and future of our program and their careers.

There seems to be no better time than now to be part of the biomedical research community so we hope you will join the MCB program and participate in our efforts to make things happen and meet every challenge for the world tomorrow.

JoAnne S. Richards, Ph.D.
Professor and Director of Graduate Studies
Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology

Doctor of Philosophy Program

The Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology offers a comprehensive, diverse and extensive graduate program leading to a Ph.D. The program is designed to prepare scientists for highly competitive careers in research, industry and teaching. Graduate students are expected to devote full time to research and study. Entering graduate students spend year one of study in a sequence of required and elective courses that cover the principles and techniques in cellular, molecular, and structural biology while rotating in labs to select an advisor.

The department has been instrumental in designing and participating in the core curriculum offered by The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Courses offered in the areas of developmental biology, regulatory biology, and reproductive biology are subspecialties of the curriculum. Graduate students are encouraged to take advantage of the reciprocity among Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, by taking courses at these institutions. The department prides itself on an interactive, friendly, and productive atmosphere.

Enrollment for 2011-12

  • 55 students (20 men/ 35 women)
  • 4 are pursuing M.D./Ph.D.’s
  • 41 domestic and 14 foreign students

Students Perks

  • Houston’s low cost of living coupled with exciting diversity
  • An excellent collaborative research environment with internationally recognized research faculty to supervise thesis research
  • Well-funded (NIH) research programs in all areas of molecular and cellular biology
  • One of the top molecular and cellular biology departments in the U.S.
  • State-of-the-art facilities
  • Stipend of $29,000 for the 2011-12 academic year independent of being a class teaching assistant
  • Guaranteed tuition scholarship - $22,000
  • Health insurance, optional dental insurance
  • Completion of required coursework within one year

Beginning Graduate School

  • Classes begin the first week in August.
  • Orientation starts the Wednesday before classes begin.
  • Year one is arranged in five cumulative terms with one-week vacations between each term.
  • Students select a lab by the end of Term 4 (May) of year one.
  • Qualifying exams are usually taken at the beginning of year two
  • Students are Admitted to Candidacy by the end of year two

Year 1
A series of programs have been designed to introduce the entering graduate students to the research opportunities available and to facilitate the selection of a major thesis advisor. These include a series of faculty research talks, laboratory rotations, and one-on-one readings with faculty. A vigorous/extensive program of seminars, workshops, and journal clubs also provide students with current knowledge of specialized topics.

Year 2 Through Graduation
Students are admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree upon successful completion of a qualifying examination consisting of an oral presentation and defense of a research proposal. The progress of students’ research and the general quality of their graduate education are maintained by continuous interaction among the student, the major advisor, and the thesis advisory committee. The dissertation is based upon original research work carried out in the major advisor’s laboratory. Many opportunities for presentation and travel are available.

Current Thesis Research
Current thesis research projects include studies of the mechanisms of steroid and peptide hormone action in endocrine cells, hormone-receptor co-activator interactions; gene and chromatin structure, mechanisms and regulation of mRNA transcription and processing; adult and embryonic stem cell differentiation; biochemistry and regulation of the cytoskeleton, mitotic apparatus, cell motility and secretion; cellular communication; molecular and somatic cell genetics; regulation of replication and cell division; regulation of circadian rhythms; regulation of ovarian and testicular function, neuroendocrinology, implantation; cell signaling for learning and memory; developmental analysis of many tissues during mouse embryogenesis; cancer biology (breast, prostate and viral); Drosophila and mouse genetics; gene therapy. In all areas basic and translational studies are available.

Department Activities

Faculty Research Presentations
Incoming students are introduced to MCB faculty by brief presentations that give an overview of faculty research interests and current projects in their labs.

Wednesday Seminar
The Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology sponsors a weekly Department Seminar. Participation is an integral part of the department’s graduate program.

Distinguished Guest Lecture Series
Outstanding scientists from around the world present lectures and meet with students for dinner and discussion.

MCB Graduate Student Symposium
An annual Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology Graduate Student Symposium provides an opportunity for students to showcase their research efforts. The third-year class takes responsibility for organizing this event and selecting a distinguished guest speaker. All students present posters and senior students give oral presentations based on original research. Award winners from this event represent the Department at the Graduate School Symposium held in the fall of each year.

Social Activities
The Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology has great parties throughout the year. The Halloween party includes pumpkin carving, costume, and pie eating contests. We also have annual Holiday and St. Patrick’s Day festivities.


Most students complete their Ph.D. program in about five years. The MCB department takes great pride in the fact that graduates from our program find positions at prestigious academic institutions such as Duke, Harvard, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center, The Salk Institute, The University of California at Berkeley, San Diego and San Francisco, The University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Yale. Other graduates hold key positions in biotechnology companies and industry, such as Merck & Co., Wyeth, and Houston-based Lexicon. Students have also chosen research positions at NASA Johnson Space Center.

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