Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry

Track Director: Elizabeth A. Fitzpatrick, Ph.D. (UT Health Science Center)

Students entering the Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry (MIB) Track receive state-of-the-art training designed to prepare them for a research-focused career in academia, industry, or governmental agencies.  The goals of the MIB track and its faculty are to ensure students have the necessary skills to become independent scientists and to successfully compete at the next level of their career development.  To achieve these goals it is essential that students choose a dissertation project that ignites their passion for research.  For those students interested in host-pathogen interactions, mechanisms governing innate and acquired immune responses, vaccine and therapeutic vector development, utilization of genomics/bioinformatics to study human disease, and research into the genetics, biochemical and/or cell biological mechanisms of eukaryotic or prokaryotic organisms, the MIB track has 35 faculty with active research programs spanning a wide range of research interests, including:

  • molecular and cellular bases for bacterial and viral infectious diseases
  • mechanisms of normal and abnormal immune function
  • chronic inflammatory and immune-mediated diseases in humans
  • animal models of human diseases
  • vaccine design and development
  • cancer gene therapy
  • genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and methods to study large biological data sets
  • mechanisms of protein localization and transport
  • cell signaling
  • genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology of transcriptional regulation in prokaryotes and eukaryotes
  • bioinformatics, computational systems biology, gene network modeling, quantitative trait mapping, and data mining methodologies


Faculty in the MIB track include investigators from the Departments of Molecular Sciences, Clinical Pharmacy, Pediatrics, and Medicine at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, as well as scientists from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Veteran’s Administration Hospital and Research Center in Memphis.  In addition, research programs utilizing the newly opened Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL) provide students with an opportunity for training in biocontainment procedures used to study biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) pathogens.
Students accepted into the graduate program will receive stipend support and tuition remission. There is also an opportunity for qualified minority students to participate in a one-of-a-kind T32 training grant to study microbial pathogenesis. This grant provides a much needed way to help produce a larger professional talent pool of underrepresented minorities in academia and industry upon completion of their graduate training.

Curriculum

Students in the Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry (MIB) track are required to complete a minimum of 9 credit hours of a core curriculum consisting of courses that explore emerging concepts in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry.  In addition, students are required to complete a minimum of 6 credit hours of electives, but students may take additional electives at their discretion. Selection of electives will depend on the research interests of the students, and typically are chosen in consultation with the student’s faculty mentor.

In addition to the core and elective courses, 1st year students will participate in a seminar course where they read and discuss a paper provided by a department-invited seminar speaker and then meet with the speaker as a group for one hour prior to attending the seminar.  Students in the MIB track also participate in a literature-based journal club where 2nd year students and above present a recent research paper to fellow students and faculty.  Second year students also have an opportunity to obtain teaching experience as a Teaching Assistant for laboratory sessions in the Medical Microbiology course taken by second-year medical students.

Core Curriculum

IP 805 - Essentials of Molecular Biology – 3 credit hours
IP 806 - Biochemistry – 3 credit hours
IP 841 - Essentials of Cell Biology – 3 credit hours

Electives

MSCI 812 - Physical Biochemistry and Applications in Structural Biology – 3* credit hours
MSCI 814 - Bioinformatics-I – 2 credit hours
MSCI 815 - Bioinformatics-II – 1 credit hour
MSCI 861 - Cellular Signaling – 3* credit hours
MSCI 928 - Principles of Mass Spectrometry – 3* credit hours
MSCI 929 - Techniques in Molecular Biology – 4** credit hours
MSCI 931 - Immunity and Inflammation – 2 credit hours
MSCI 932 - Viral Pathogenesis – 2 credit hours
MSCI 933 - Bacterial Pathogenesis – 2 credit hours
TBD - Microbial Physiology and Genetics – 2 credit hours
TBD - Fundamentals of Biosafety – 2 credit hours
BIOE 720 - Biostatistics for Public Health – 3 credit hours
*These electives are being evaluated for reduction from 3 to 2 credit hours.
** This course will be divided into two x 2 credit courses, or one 2 credit and one 1 credit course.

Laboratory Rotations

Students in the MIB track will participate in a minimum of 2, or up to a maximum of 6 lab rotations, each lasting 6-weeks. During the rotations students will work in the labs of individual faculty who will be taking students that particular year.  To accept a student into their lab, faculty members must have sufficient funding to support that student during their Ph.D. training.  Lab rotations provide students with an opportunity to experience first-hand the environment of the lab, to interact with other individuals in the lab, and to evaluate potential projects that are available.  Students typically chose their faculty mentors in the spring of their first year, upon mutual agreement with the faculty member.  This allows students to begin developing their dissertation project and working in the lab full-time before the end of their first year.

Admission-to-Candidacy Exam

During the fall of their second year, students will form their dissertation committee and at the end of the spring semester of their second year students will take the Admission to Candidacy exam (or Qualifying Exam).  This exam, which determines whether a student is sufficiently prepared to pursue a Ph.D. in the IBS program, consists of two parts.  First, students will write an NIH F31-style proposal on their dissertation project and submit the proposal to their dissertation committee.  If acceptable, the student then meets with the committee in a closed-door session where the committee members assess the student’s competency on fundamental aspects of molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry.  Once the student has demonstrated proficiency in the core topic areas, the committee will expand the questioning to topics covered in the proposal.  The committee then votes either pass or fail.  If a student does not pass the first time, they may have an opportunity to retake the exam before the beginning of the fall semester of their third year.  Successful completion of the exam results in admission of the student to candidacy to pursue a Ph.D.

Sample curriculum

Year 1
Fall Semester
Biochemistry
Essentials of Cell Biology
Elective #1
MIB Journal Club
Lab rotation #1
Spring Semester
Essentials of Molecular Biology
Elective #2
MIB Journal Club
Lab rotations
Select faculty mentor

Year 2
Fall Semester
Elective #3 (if needed)
Dissertation research
MIB Journal Club
Assemble dissertation committee
Spring Semester
Dissertation research
Take admission-to-candidacy exam
MIB Journal Club

Year 3
Dissertation research
MIB Journal Club

Year 4 and Beyond
Students will defend their dissertation before their faculty committee

Contact Us

Michael A. Whitt, Ph.D
Professor and Chair

858 Madison Avenue
G01 Molecular Science Bldg
Memphis, TN 38163

Phone: 901-448-6150
Fax: 901-448-7360
Email: mwhitt@uthsc.edu