Ph.D. in Microbiology

Contact Us

For more information about the Ph.D. in microbiology, contact:

Dwayne Barnes
Graduate Coordinator

Mike Hyman
Director of Graduate Programs

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the highest degree offered by the microbiology graduate program. The goal of graduate education in microbiology is to provide students with the foundation necessary to pursue a career in a university, industry or research institute setting.

Doctoral students in microbiology 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.

Ph.D. Course Requirements

There are core course requirements taught by microbiology graduate faculty, as well as electives offered in numerous disciplines across campus (e.g., biochemistry, bioinformatics, biotechnology, computer science, animal science, food science, genetics, etc.). Students choose elective courses with the help of their advisory committee.

  • In a four-year Ph.D. program, students complete 72 credits
  • The continuous enrollment requirements of the Graduate School (for tuition and health benefits) requires all graduate students to enroll in a minimum of nine credits each fall and spring semester. After the first year, most of these are research credits.  
  • All graduate students must maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0.
  • All 700-level courses are letter graded, whereas 800 level courses use satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading policies.

Required Course Credits in the Ph.D. Program

Course Number Title Credits
MB 500 / 700 Multiple Courses 12
MB 870 Laboratory Rotations 1
MB 886 Teaching Experience 1
MB 801 Seminar in Microbiology 2
MB 895 Microbiology Research 6 minimum
Various Professional Development 1
500-800 Graduate Elective Courses (MB or others) variable 1

Microbiology Courses (3 credits each)

Doctoral students at NC State can take courses that represent the various specialized disciplines of microbiology, including bacterial physiology, environmental microbiology, immunology, molecular genetics and virology. Prior experience (e.g., having a M.S. degree in microbiology from another institution) can impact which courses in which a student enrolls.

Prerequisites in biochemistry are often required for these courses, so we recommend that all microbiology graduate students have the equivalent of introductory biochemistry (BCH 553 at NC State) early in the curriculum.

Students are required to take 12 microbiology (MB) graded graduate credits. They may choose courses for breadth in microbiology or focus on a sub-discipline of microbiology.

An example of courses fitting into two microbiology “tracks” or focus areas:


Environmental/Industrial Host-Pathogen Interactions
MB 520 Microbial Cell Bio-transformations 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 elective courses (biochemistry, genetics, statistics, etc.) offered by departments and programs at 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.

Students select elective courses in consultation with, and approval by, the advisory committee.

An example of available elective courses: 


Course Number Course Title
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

Consult the NC State graduate catalog for a comprehensive list of elective courses.

Additional Course Requirements

Students are also required to register for the following:

  • MB 886 Teaching Experience, 1-2 credits
    Students receive academic credit for participating as a teaching assistant in an approved course
  • MB 893/895 Microbiology Research, Various credits
    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.
  • MB 801 Seminar in Microbiology
    All graduate students must 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, 1 credit hour required
    All graduate students must attend either the microbiology course in professional development and responsible conduct of research, or a similar module offered in related programs (e.g., BIT, GN, etc.). One credit hour required.

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Advisory Committees

The director of graduate programs (DGP) serves as a temporary advisor to students upon their admission to the microbiology graduate program. Prior to completing the second semester of study, each student is required to select a dissertation advisor (major professor) and a graduate advisory committee who will meet a minimum of once per year.

The Ph.D. advisory committee will consist of the student’s dissertation advisor, at least two additional faculty members from the microbiology graduate program, and one faculty member who holds a graduate faculty appointment in another program. All required committee members must hold appointments within the NC State 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 members.

Teaching Experience

The microbiology graduate program has a minimum teaching responsibility as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree. Graduate students must serve as laboratory teaching assistants in two sections for one semester in one of the approved microbiology courses. For Ph.D. students, prior teaching experience in an M.S. program will be evaluated.

Courses currently approved for fulfilling the teaching requirement:

  • MB 351/352,
  • MB 452, and
  • MB 412

Students should fulfill this requirement as early as possible in the graduate program. One credit of MB 886 is provided for each semester the student teaches.

We provide specific tools to teaching assistants for enhancing teaching effectiveness, including workshops and constructive evaluation by the instructor and the students.

Plan of Work (POW)

The student and major professor will outline the plan of graduate study (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.

A Plan of Work will include:

  • all courses,
  • a tentative dissertation title,
  • and an anticipated timetable for taking each course

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Annual Research Progress Reports

The program will schedule an annual meeting of the advisory committee where the student will make an oral presentation and submit a written report on their laboratory research. The advisory committee will complete a Graduate Student Progress Evaluation Form. A satisfactory evaluation will be necessary for the student to receive assistantship support and/or be eligible to register for the next semester.

Transferring Between Degree Programs

Students in the M.S. program may, at a later date, wish to bypass the M.S. degree and transfer into the Ph.D. program. The student must provide his/her advisory committee 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 NC State. 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 to address 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 his/her advisor.

Any other transfers between degree programs must receive approval from the student’s advisory committee and a recommendation submitted to the DGP.

Preliminary Examination, Dissertation and Defense

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.

Dissertation and Defense

All Ph.D. students must write a dissertation on their research. The dissertation must conform to the regulations in the NC State Thesis and Dissertation Guide. The advisory committee must approve the content and structure of the dissertation, 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 microbiology graduate program 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.

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