Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degree

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the highest degree offered by the Microbiology Graduate Program. The goal of graduate education in the MGP is to provide students with the foundation necessary to pursue a career in a university, industry or research institute setting. Students are trained to recognize significant biological problems, to design experimental approaches for solving these problems, and to communicate their results to the scientific community and the public. The Ph.D. program presented below is intended for a timely completion of the required course work, examinations, research and an approved dissertation.

Ph.D. Course Requirements

There are courses taught by MGP faculty, as well as electives offered in numerous disciplines across campus (e.g., Biochemistry, Bioinformatics, Biotechnology, Animal Science, Food Science, Genetics, etc.). Elective courses are chosen by the student, with the help of the student's advisory committee. Continuous enrollment requirements of the Graduate School (for tuition and health benefits) requires all graduate students enroll for a minimum of nine credits in each Fall and Spring semester. After the first year, most of these are Research credits. Therefore, in a four-year Ph.D. program, students will have completed 72 credits. Details of the graduate student support plan (GSSP) are available from the graduate school web site. All graduate students must maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0.

The MGP requires the following MB course credits in the Ph.D. program. All 700 level courses are letter graded, whereas 800 level courses use satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading policies.

Course Number



MB 500/700

Multiple Courses


MB 870

Laboratory Rotations


MB 886

Teaching Experience


MB 801

Seminar in Microbiology


MB 895

Microbiology Research

6 minimum


Professional Development



Graduate Elective Courses (MB or others)



Microbiology Courses (3 credits each)
The field of Microbiology includes several specialized disciplines such as bacterial physiology, microbial genomics and metagenomics, microbiomes, environmental microbiology, immunology, host-pathogen interactions, molecular genetics and virology. At NC State, doctoral students can take courses that represent, and focus on, the various disciplines of Microbiology. Prior experience (such as when a student enters the program with an M.S. degree in Microbiology from another institution) can impact which courses in which the student enrolls. Prerequisites in biochemistry are often required of these courses, so all Microbiology graduate students are encouraged to have the equivalent of introductory biochemistry (NCSU BCH 553) early in the curriculum. For the Ph.D., 12 MB graded graduate credits must be taken. These courses can be chosen for breadth in microbiology or may focus on a sub-discipline of microbiology.  Example courses fitting into two microbiology “tracks” or focus areas are:

Environmental / Industrial

Host-Pathogen Interactions

MB 520 Microbial Cell Bio-ransformations

MB 535 Pathogenic Microbiology

MB 532 Soil Microbiology

MB 718 Introductory Virology

MB 555 Microbial Biotechnology

MB 751 Immunology

MB 590 Symbiosis & Microbiomes

BCH 553 Biochemistry of Gene Expression

MB 505 Food Microbiology

BCH 705 Molecular Biology of the Cell

MB 714 Metabolic Regulation

BMA 771/772 Biomathematics

MB 725 Fermentation Microbiology

CBS 712 Repro & Domestic Animal Disease

MB 758 Microbial Gen & Genomics

ENT 582 Med and Veterinary Entomology


PP 707 Plant-Microbe Interactions


ST 511/512 Exper Statistics for Bio Sciences


Other Graduate Courses (MB 500 – 800 or others)
Students can select other courses (Biochemistry, Genetics, Statistics, etc.) offered by departments and programs throughout NC State. The Ph.D. is a research-intensive degree, so many of the elective credits will be for research (MB 895 Microbiology Research). Letter graded, or satisfactory / unsatisfactory course formats, can be used. Selection of elective courses is done by the student, in consultation with and approval by the advisory committee. Below are examples of elective courses available. The graduate catalog should be consulted for the current comprehensive listing.

BAE 525

Industrial Microbiology & Bioprocessing

BCH 553

Biochemistry of Gene Expression

BCH 701

Macromolecular Structure

BCH 703

Macromolecular Synthesis and Regulation

BCH 705

Molecular Biology of the Cell

BIT 510

Core Technologies in Biotechnology

BIT 595X

Advanced Modules in Biotechnology

GN 513

Advanced Genetics

GN 701

Molecular Genetics

GN 735

Functional Genomics

GN 850

Professionalism and Ethics

MB(PP) 730

Fungal Genetics and Physiology

MB 610

Special Topics in Microbiology

MB 620

Special Problems

MB 601/801

Seminar in Microbiology

MB 690/890

Master's Exam/Doctoral Preliminary Examination

MB 695/895

Microbiology Research

MB 705

Biological Scanning Electron Microscopy

MB(IMM) 783

Advanced Immunology

MB 790I

Practical Digital Imaging


Additional Course Requirements
As listed above, students are required to register for the following:

  • MB 886 Teaching Experience
    Students receive academic credit for participating as a teaching assistant in an approved course. 1-2 credits.
  • MB 893/895 Microbiology Research
    MB 893 and 895 provide credit for research performed in the Ph.D. program.  Students register for MB 893 prior to passing the Preliminary Exam. Students may sign-up for a variable number of MB 895 credits each semester, with a minimum of six credits required for the Ph.D. degree. Var. Credits.
  • MB 801 Seminar in Microbiology
    The MGP requires all graduate students to attend Microbiology seminars throughout their degree program. All Ph.D. students must register for at least two credits (two semesters) of Seminar.
  • MB 590 Other Professional Development
    The MGP requires all graduate students to attend either the Microbiology course in Professional Development and Responsible Conduct of Research, or a similar module offered in related programs (BIT, GN, etc.). One credit hour required.

Advisory Committees
Upon admission to the graduate program, the Director of Graduate Programs (DGP) serves as a temporary advisor. Prior to completing the second semester of study, each student is required to select a dissertation advisor (major professor) and by the end of the first year a graduate advisory committee that will meet no less than once a year. The Ph.D. advisory committee will consist of the student's dissertation advisor, at least two additional faculty members from the MGP and one faculty member who holds a graduate faculty appointment in another program. All required committee members must hold appointments within the NCSU Graduate School. Scientists who are not members of the Graduate School faculty (e.g., adjunct faculty, industry scientists) may be appointed to the committee, but will be in addition to the required number of members.

Teaching Experience
The MGP has a minimum teaching responsibility as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree. Graduate students must serve as a laboratory teaching assistant for at least one semester in an NCSU on-campus course. For Ph.D. students, prior teaching experience in an M.S. program will be evaluated. Example courses approved for fulfilling the teaching requirement are: MB 352, MB 412, MB 452 and BIO 181. Specific tools for enhancing teaching effectiveness are provided for teaching assistants, including workshops and constructive evaluation by the instructor and the students. The teaching requirement should be fulfilled at the earliest possible time in the graduate program. One credit of MB 886 is provided for each semester the student teaches.

Graduate Plan of Work (PoW)
The student and major professor will informally outline the graduate plan of work as soon as possible. The plan will be submitted for approval or amendment by the student's advisory committee, and will be formally submitted to the graduate school no later than the end of the student's third semester at NCSU. A Graduate Plan of Work will include all courses, a tentative dissertation title, and an anticipated timetable for taking each course.

Annual Research Progress Reports
The MGP will facilitate scheduling an annual meeting of the student's advisory committee, at which the student will make an oral presentation and submit a written report on their laboratory research. A Graduate Student Progress Evaluation Form will be completed by the advisory committee. A satisfactory evaluation will be necessary for the student to receive assistantship support and/or be able to register for the next semester.

Transferring Between Degree Programs
Students who matriculate in the M.S. program may at a later date wish to bypass the M.S. degree and transfer directly into the Ph.D. program. The student's advisory committee must be supplied with sufficient evidence of research ability, such as published manuscripts, published abstracts, or other scientific presentations, to justify the transfer. The student must meet with the advisory committee to present current research results and research objectives for the Ph.D. dissertation. Following the meeting, a letter signed by the advisor is forwarded to the Director of Graduate Programs (DGP) recommending transfer into the Ph.D. program. Upon approval the student follows the requirements of the Ph.D. program, including the Preliminary Examination.

Students may also wish to pursue admission to the Ph.D. program following completion of the requirements for the M.S. degree in Microbiology at NCSU. Similarly, a student may consider transferring from the Ph.D. program into the M.S. program after a year or more in the graduate program. In either instance, a meeting of the student's advisory committee is held that specifically addresses the status of the student's program. A letter signed by the thesis advisor is then submitted to the DGP with a specific recommendation. Notification of admission or change in program will then be made by letter to the student and their advisor. Any other transfers between degree programs must receive approval by the student's advisory committee and recommendation submitted to the DGP.

Preliminary Examination
As a condition for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree, all students must pass a Preliminary Examination (Prelim), which has both written and oral components. The structure and a more thorough description of the Prelim Exam are provided on a separate web page

Dissertation and Defense
All Ph.D. students must write a dissertation on their research and this must conform to the regulations laid down in the NCSU "Thesis and Dissertation Guide." The content and structure of the dissertation must be approved by the advisory committee, and all degree candidates are expected to prepare their research results for publication prior to completing their program. Doctoral candidates who have completed their research and other degree requirements (72 credit hours) may enroll in MB 899 (Dissertation Preparation) while they are writing their dissertation. All Ph.D. candidates must also present a seminar hosted by the MGP prior to defending their dissertation. Subject to the satisfactory defense of the Ph.D. dissertation, the advisory committee will approve it for transmittal to the Graduate School.