MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Due to our program reorganization, the Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (MMG) Program is being phased-out -- this information applies only to students who joined the Program prior to Fall 2017.

Prospective students, please click here to find a listing of our current reorganized Programs, including the new Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Program.

Contact Person(s)

Dr. Danielle Garsin, Director

Dr. Ambro van Hoof, Co-Director

Course Requirements

In addition to the general GSBS course requirements, the MMG Program requires the following courses:


MMG Program students also attend the MMG departmental seminar series, the MMG Journal Club, the Graduate Student Summer Seminar Series, and the MMG Program retreat.  These requirements offer students a chance to hone their presentation skills in a variety of formats and settings.

Candidacy Exam Information -- Format: On-Topic Exam

The MMG format follows the GSBS on-topic format except for the following features:

Step 1) Consultation with Chair of the Advisory Committee The student submits a 1-page thesis proposal abstract and a proposed Examination Committee to the chair of their Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee chair obtains approval of the Advisory Committee and informs the student and the Examination Committee. The student should be certain that all members of the proposed Examination Committee are available to participate in the exam at the expected time.

Step 2) Petition to Academic Standards Committee The student submits abstract, Examination Committee roster (signed by all Examination Committee members) and Petition to Advance to Candidacy (signed by all Advisory Committee members) to the Program Director for approval. It is then forwarded to the Academic Standards Committee (ASC) of the GSBS for approval at their next scheduled meeting (deadline is 12:00 noon on the first Wednesday of each month). This should be done immediately after obtaining signatures to ensure that ASC has time to review the application.

Step 3) Consultation with Chair of the Examination Committee The examination clock starts upon notification of the ASC’s approval. Immediately after obtaining this approval, the student meets with their Exam Committee chair to discuss the three areas of breadth on which to be examined and to set the schedule for the exam to be held in 6-7 weeks. The Examination Committee chair approves the areas of breadth in consultation with the Examination Committee. Example breadth areas include: microbial pathogenesis, membrane biology, transcription, metabolic regulation, bioenergetics, signal transduction, protein-protein interaction. Given the diversity of our faculty and students, large latitude will be given in the three areas, as long as they are reasonably distinct and general. Ideally, the breadth areas will match the expertise of the committee members.

Step 4) Submission of the Proposal The 7-page proposal (see below) is submitted to the chair of the Examination Committee after three weeks. The Examination Committee briefly reviews the proposal and decides whether it is adequate to proceed. If judged below the minimum quality required to proceed, the student has three weeks to revise it for a second, and final, attempt.

Step 5) The written component of the exam If the proposal is acceptable, the Exam Committee Chair will provide the student with three questions within three days. The questions are prepared by the Exam Committee and will cover the student’s chosen areas of breadth. The student has two weeks after receiving the three questions to prepare an up to five-page answer to one of the questions (single spaced, excluding references). The student turns in the answer to each member of the Examination Committee. The student must research the literature and prepare the answer entirely independently, without consultation with others. The student is also responsible for a general understanding of the other two questions, to be questioned on during the oral exam.  An example question might be: "A fundamental question in bacterial chemotaxis is the mechanism of transmembrane signaling, i.e., how chemoeffector binding in the periplasm modulates the activity of the cytoplasmic histidine-kinase. Review current models for this process and propose an experimental strategy to distinguish them. Identify possible outcomes and pitfalls in your experimental design." 

Step 6) The oral exam In the oral exam, the student will be tested on (i) the proposal, (ii) the written answer, (iii) the other two questions, and (iv) other aspects of the areas of breadth. The student is expected to have a good command of the material taught in our curriculum, which is implicitly tested in the Proposal, the breadth answer, and the oral exam.


It is the student's responsibility to submit a Research Proposal in the form of a research grant proposal to each member of the Examining Committee. For MMG program students the research proposal should be “on topic”, i.e., on the actual thesis topic the student is planning to pursue. The proposal should be prepared by the student without assistance from any faculty member. The format of the proposal follows the research section in NRSA F31 Fellowship applications as follows: