Neuron under a microscope

After the first semester, students choose one of the six tracks below to help guide their coursework and allow them to deepen their knowledge in a specific research area.

The Cellular and Developmental Biology emphasis area focuses on elucidating the molecular and cellular bases of developmental processes using a translational approach that aims not only to understand fundamental mechanisms of organismal development but also to identify applications to human diseases and well-being. Students in this emphasis area, in collaboration with a faculty mentor, conduct original research into basic mechanisms of development, often utilizing animal or plant models to examine animal or human diseases. Research and training opportunities are available in broad areas that include control of cell proliferation/differentiation/death, cell signaling and signal transduction, stem cell biology, cell and developmental neurobiology, cell biology of the immune system, regulation of gene expression, and evolutionary developmental biology.

Courses

Students choose one course with a quantitative focus, plus 9 credits of courses from the list below:

Courses required for emphasis area (unless an alternative plan is developed with program chair).

  • BMMB541 Molecular Biology of Animal Development
  • BMMB 542 Eukaryotic Cell Biology

Additional recommended electives, including some suggested quantitative courses (discuss the best choices with adviser and program chair).

  • BIOL 426 Developmental Neurobiology
  • BIOL/BMB 430 Developmental Biology
  • BIOL 432 Developmental Genetics
  • BMB 460 Cell Growth and Differentiation
  • BIOL 467 Molecular Basis of Neurological Diseases
  • BIOL 469 Neurobiology
  • BIOL 470 Functional and Integrative Neuroscience
  • BMMB 543 Advanced Gene Expression
  • BMMB/IBIOS 551 Genomics
  • BMMB 852 Applied Bioinformatics
  • NEURO 501 Seminars in Neuroscience
  • NEURO 512 Comparative Neuroanatomy
  • NEURO 520 Cell and Molecular Neuroscience
  • STAT 500 Applied Statistics

The Molecular and Evolutionary Genetics emphasis area focuses on understanding the molecular basis for how genes function in organisms at the cellular and organismal levels, as well as on understanding the processes that modulate molecular and phenotypic variation in the diverse organisms of the earth. Students, in collaboration with a faculty mentor, conduct original research ranging the molecular to the population level in a wide range of model systems.

Courses

In addition to the core courses, all students in the Molecular and Evolutionary Genetics option take 3 credits of either:

  • BIOL 428 Population Genetics or BIOL 405 Molecular Evolution

All Molecular and Evolutionary Genetics students complete 3 credits of quantitative qnalysis. Examples of quantitative courses:

  • STAT 500 Applied Statistics
  • STAT 501 Regression Methods
  • STAT 502 Analysis of Variance and Design of Experiments
  • STAT 555 Statistical Analysis of Genomics Data
  • BMMB/MCIBS 551 Genomics
  • BMMB 852 Applied Bioinformatics

The remaining 6 credits come from elective courses determined by the student and their research supervisor. Examples of elective courses:

  • BMMB 541 Molecular Biology of Animal Development
  • BMMB 542 Eukaryotic Cell Biology
  • BMMB 543 Current Topics in Gene Regulation
  • BMMB 554 Foundations in Data-Driven Life Sciences

The Immunology and Infectious Disease emphasis area provides students with a Ph.D. program that focuses on cancer immunology; immune mediated diseases; infectious disease dynamics; and viral, bacterial, and parasitic pathogenesis. In addition to specialized coursework, students conduct original research in collaboration with a faculty mentor into basic mechanisms of disease, often utilizing animal models. 

Courses

Students choose one course with a quantitative focus, plus 9 credits of courses from the list below:

Primary recommended courses (in addition to the core courses)

  • VBSC/MICRO 410 Principles of Immunology (3)
  • VB SC 432 Advanced Immunology: Signaling in the Immune System (3)
  • MCIBS 511 Molecular Immunology (2)
  • VBSC 597A Immunology and Infectious Disease Journal Club
  • STAT 500 Statistics (3)

Additional recommended courses (to be taken at the discretion of the student, adviser, and doctoral committee).

  • VB SC 418 Bacterial Pathogenesis (2)
  • VB SC 435 Viral Pathogenesis (2)
  • BIOL 439 Practical Bioinformatics (3)
  • BIOL 497A Evolution of Infectious Disease
  • STAT 501 Regression Methods (3)
  • STAT 503 Design of Experiments (3)
  • MCIBS 570 Bortree Seminars (2)
  • VBSC 514 Prostaglandins and Leukotrienes (3)
  • VBSC/BMMB 515 Macrophage Biology (2)
  • VBSC 520 Pathobiology (3)
  • BMMB 543 Current Topics in Gene Regulation
  • BMMB 551 Genomics (3)
  • VBSC 591 Disease Research Modules (A-I) (1 credit each)
  • NUTR597D Readings in Molecular Nutrition (1.5)
  • BMMB 852 Applied Bioinformatics

The Molecular Toxicology emphasis area focuses on investigating how, why, and when chemicals cause harm to life, such as affecting cellular and molecular processes that lead to cancer. Students, in collaboration with a faculty mentor, conduct original research into the interaction between living systems and chemicals.

Courses

Students choose one course with a quantitative focus, plus 9 credits of courses from the list below:

  • STAT 401 Experimental Methods
  • BMB 464 Molecular Medicine
  • BMB 400 Molecular Biology of the Gene
  • BIOL 472 Mammalian Physiology
  • BIOL 426 Developmental Neurobiology
  • BIOL 469 Neurobiology
  • BIOL 470 Functional and Integrative Neuroscience
  • BMMB 541 Molecular Biology of Animal Development
  • MICRB 410 Principles of Immunology
  • NEURO 501 Seminars in Neuroscience
  • NEURO 512 Comparative Neuroanatomy
  • NEURO 520 Cell and Molecular Neuroscience
  • VB SC 430 Principles of Toxicology
  • VB SC 432 Advanced Immunology
  • VB SC 433 Molecular and Cellular Toxicology
  • VB SC 511 Molecular Immunology
  • VB SC 520 Pathobiology
  • VB SC/IBIOS 530 Regulation of Gene Expression by Xenobiotics
  • VB SC 532 Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology
  • VB SC 534 Current Topics in Cancer Research 

Elective courses in statistics and physiology are especially encouraged.

The Cancer Biology emphasis area focuses on training future cancer researchers in the molecular and cellular bases of cancer and in the mechanisms of prevention and treatment. Graduate students in Cancer Biology can work in multiple cancer research labs at Penn State that span several departments and colleges, and can take coursework that covers current concepts in the molecular and cellular biology of cancer and translational cancer research. In addition, our students can interact with and shadow clinical oncologists at Mt. Nittany Cancer Care Partnership in order to gain insight into clinical aspects of cancer and its treatment, and they can interact with cancer researchers in the Penn State Cancer Institute through the annual research retreat, program meetings seminars, and journal clubs. Our students have access to state-of-the-art equipment in multiple core facilities to conduct, as well as the opportunity to present their research to peers at Penn State and at national and international meetings.

Courses

Cancer Biology students take core courses and quantitative requirements, and can take as core electives the following courses relevant to the emphasis area:

  • BIOL 416 Biology of Cancer
  • BMB/MICRB 480 Tumor Viruses and Oncogenes
  • VBSC 534 Current Topics in Cancer Research
  • MCIBS/VBSC 535 Oncology, Bench to Bedside

Additional electives are available at both the University Park and Hershey campuses.

The Neurobiology emphasis area  focuses on molecular and cellular approaches to elucidate the basic functions of neurons and neural networks. Neurons can last a lifetime and have highly complex anatomy and synaptic connections. This presents unique challenges for the development, function, and maintenance of nervous systems. Students in the Neurobiology emphasis area use molecular, cellular, and genetic approaches to investigate key properties of neurons, neural networks, and the relationships between neuronal function and behavior.

Courses

In addition to core courses, students choose 9 credits of courses from the list below, plus 3 credits of quantitative courses:

Primary recommended courses

  • BIOL 469 Neurobiology or NEURO 520 Cell and Molecular Neuroscience
  • NEURO 501 Seminars in Neuroscience 

Additional recommended courses

  • BIOL 426 Developmental Neurobiology
  • BIOL 467 Molecular Basis of Neurological Diseases
  • BIOL 470 Functional and Integrative Neuroscience
  • BMMB 541 Molecular Biology of Animal Development
  • NEURO 512 Comparative Neuroanatomy
  • NEURO 521 Systems Neuroscience
  • Appropriate quantitative course that best matches project; for example, statistics or bioinformatics