University of Southern California
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Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology

Hoffman Medical Research Center 401
2011 Zonal Avenue, Los Angeles
(323) 442-2337
FAX: (323) 442-1721

Chair, Graduate Advisory Committee: Stanley M. Tahara, Associate Professor (Neurology)


Gunther Dennert, Interim Chair and Professor

Berle and Lucy Adams Chair in Cancer Research: Jeffrey Weber

Richard Angus Grant, Sr., Chair in Neurology: Leslie P. Weiner

Distinguished Professor: M. M.C. Lai (Neurology)

Professors: G. Dennert; D. A. Horwitz (Medicine); C.O. Jacob (Medicine); D.B. Kohn (Pediatrics); M. Lieber (Pathology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology); M. McMillan (Neurology); J.-H. Ou; P. K. Pattengale (Pathology); S. A. Stohlman (Neurology); K. Weinberg (Pediatrics); Leslie P. Weiner (Neurology)

Associate Professors: E. Bogenmann (Pediatrics); G. Coetzee (Urology); L. Comai; R. Duncan (Pharmacy); H. K.W. Fong (Ophthalmology); Y.K.T. Fung (Pediatrics); C. Hill (Radiation Oncology); A. Jong (Pediatrics); J. R. Landolph (Pathology, Toxicology); G. Matioli; A. Schönthal; S. Walker (Pediatrics); J. Weber (Medicine)

Assistant Professor: E. Zandi

Professor of Research: M.D. Trousdale (Ophthalmology)

Associate Professor of Research: G.M. Shackleford (Pediatrics)

Emeritus Professors: F. Aladjem; I. Gordon; M. Lieb; R. Parkman (Pediatrics)

The Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology is located on the Health Sciences campus in the Elaine Stevely Hoffman Medical Research Center, McKibben Hall, and the Norris Cancer Hospital and Research Institute. Faculty guidance and specialized facilities are available for advanced research in animal virology, eucaryotic cell biology and cellular differentiation, molecular and cellular immunology, microbial and molecular genetics, control of gene expression, control of protein synthesis, and chemical and viral carcinogenesis.

Graduate Programs

An applicant to the graduate programs in molecular microbiology and immunology must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university with a major in science -- usually biology, chemistry or physics. The applicant must have demonstrated strength in science or mathematics. Undergraduate course work should have included at least one year of biology, chemistry through organic chemistry, mathematics through calculus, physics and physical chemistry. Deficiencies may be made up early in the predoctoral program.

The department encourages applicants to contact its office prior to making formal application. Each applicant must pass satisfactorily the general and advanced (biochemistry, cell and molecular biology or biology, chemistry or physics) portions of the Graduate Record Examinations, and must also arrange for three letters of recommendation to be written. In addition, the applicant must provide a one-page statement of career objectives, including the general area of research interest. This statement is intended to facilitate selection of those students who will most benefit from the department's graduate program. A personal interview is strongly recommended but not required.

Applicants who have attended graduate school at another university may be admitted to advanced standing upon recommendation of the department.

Training Grants and Fellowships
Incoming domestic students are supported by a departmental training grant or by a research grant to a specific faculty mentor during their first year; subsequently, students are supported by research grants awarded to individual faculty members. Foreign students are supported by research assistantships.

Master of Science
The primary objectives of this program are to provide the necessary theoretical preparation for microbiological and immunological careers and to expose students to microbiological and immunological research activities culminating with the master of science degree. Goals of the program are to train students in preparation for (1) microbiological and immunological positions in industry and academia, (2) teaching positions at the community college level and (3) further doctoral study.

Admission requirements are the same as for the doctor of philosophy degree. The prerequisite for applicants to the graduate program in molecular microbiology and immunology is a bachelor's degree with an undergraduate major in one of the natural sciences. A minimum GPA of 3.0 in the natural sciences (including mathematics) is normally required. Applicants must satisfactorily pass the general and advanced (biology, chemistry or molecular biology) portions of the Graduate Record Examinations. In addition, the department requires at least three letters of recommendation from faculty members who can evaluate the applicant's potential for graduate work and independent research. Demonstrated proficiency in the English language is required. Special circumstances may provide consideration for conditional admission. Students admitted for studies leading to the Ph.D. may request a change in degree objective to the M.S. with the permission of the faculty.

Course Requirements
A total of 34 units is required. Students may pursue a thesis option which requires completion of MICB 594abz (2-2-0) plus 30 units of approved course work, no more than 8 of which can be MICB 590 Directed Research. Students pursuing a non-thesis option must complete 34 units of approved course work. Students must choose one of these options by the end of the first year of study.

Fourteen or more course units must be taken in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology; 8 units may be pursued outside the department and, upon approval, a maximum of 8 units of directed research in molecular microbiology and immunology may be applied to the degree. No more than 4 units of course work taken outside of USC can be applied toward the M.S. degree requirements. Students considering such an action should submit a petition to the department and document a rigorous academic standard for the course (reading materials, tests and other performance criteria, lecture content, etc.). The graduate advisory committee will review the petition and inform the student of its decision.

Doctor of Philosophy
The Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology offers a Ph.D. degree program geared toward training students for future independent research careers in an academic or industrial setting. The program introduces students to research early in their first year through rotations in laboratories. Subsequent required course work in basic and advanced topics and an intensive research experience are designed to foster independent and critical thinking.

Students normally select a faculty research advisor for their dissertation by the end of their first year.

Course Requirements A minimum of 60 units of graduate study is required for the Ph.D. degree; at least 30 of these must be taken at USC. Because the background of applicants varies widely, the department's Graduate Committee consults with each student to design an individualized schedule of prescribed courses. In the course of their program, all students are expected to become familiar with the principles of microbiology and general biochemistry and to study advanced biochemistry, microbial physiology and genetics, immunology, virology, molecular biology, and chemical and viral oncology.

Screening Procedure Before completing more than six courses (24 units) in regular graduate status, each student is required to pass a written screening examination administered at the end of the first year of graduate study. This examination consists of questions submitted by all faculty and is intended to expose any areas of weakness in the student's abilities. After passing the screening examination, the student is expected to select an area of research and obtain the consent of a member of the department to serve as research advisor.

Guidance Committee The department's Graduate Committee serves as the advisory committee for all first- and second-year graduate students. To replace the Graduate Committee, a five-member guidance committee is appointed for each student after the departmental screening examination is passed. The guidance committee is responsible for counseling the student, preparing the student for the qualifying examination, administering the examination, and recommending advancement of the student to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. The student may recommend a chair for this committee, who must be a departmental faculty member but not the student's Ph.D. advisor. Appointment of the chair is subject to approval of the student's research advisor, the department chair and the Graduate Advisory Committee. Other committee members must include three faculty from within the department and one faculty member from another Ph.D. granting department. Members of the committee must be approved by the department chair and the full training committee faculty and are officially appointed by the dean of graduate studies.

Qualifying Examination Students in the Ph.D. program must pass both the written and oral portions of the qualifying examination administered by their guidance committee during the second year of graduate study. The examination consists of a research proposition which must be presented in written form and defended orally. The written proposition is an independent research proposal, outside of the student's immediate area of thesis research and supported by documentary references. The Graduate Advisory Committee and the guidance committee will instruct the student in how to prepare the proposition in appropriate subdisciplines of microbiology. The final draft of the written proposition must be submitted to the department faculty at least two weeks in advance of the oral examination.

The oral examination is open, and all members of the department faculty may participate in questioning the student. The examination will include exploration of the student's written proposition but need not be restricted to it; faculty may also question the student on relevant areas of science covered in course work or in current scientific literature. All portions of the oral examination must be completed at the same time.

Final evaluation of the examination is by vote of the guidance committee alone. If there is more than one dissenting vote from the guidance committee, the student is judged to have failed the examination. At the discretion of the committee, the student may be allowed to repeat the examination once within a period of one year from the date of the original examination but not before six months.

Annual Research Appraisal (ARA) Beginning in the second year, each graduate student presents a progress report to his or her research committee. For students not yet appointed to candidacy, their major advisor, one faculty member from within the department and one faculty member from outside the department comprise the committee. Students appointed to candidacy meet with their dissertation committee. Prior to the meeting, the student prepares a short written document describing significant experiments, problems and projected studies. This document is distributed to committee members and is included in the student's file. The ARA meeting is intended to be a working session between the student and his or her committee; experimental results and problems are discussed within this context. In addition the student presents a research plan for the next year of work.

A satisfactory ARA is required of every student for each year in residence.

A final ARA is required before the student is permitted to write the dissertation. The student collects and organizes all experimental data to be written into the dissertation as the final ARA document. This will be considered a preliminary draft of the dissertation. At the conclusion of the final ARA meeting, the dissertation committee will either recommend further experiments or approve the document and give permission for writing the dissertation.

Advancement to Candidacy When the student has successfully passed the qualifying examination, the guidance committee recommends the student's advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Admission is by action of the dean of graduate studies. At this time the guidance committee also approves the student's dissertation topic.

Dissertation Committee After advancement to candidacy and approval of the dissertation topic, and with the unanimous recommendation of the committee to the dean of graduate studies, the guidance committee may be reduced to a three-member dissertation committee. Members of the dissertation committee should include the student's research advisor as chair, another faculty member from the department and one faculty member from outside the department; additional members may be appointed. This committee is responsible for counseling the student during preparation of the dissertation, and conducting the final oral examination during the dissertation defense.

Dissertation and Oral Defense The student's research is reported in a dissertation written under the guidance of the research advisor. The dissertation must demonstrate the student's capacity for independent research, scholarly achievement and technical mastery of a special field. When the final draft of the dissertation is ready, the student will take the final oral examination, which is open to the university community. This examination is a defense of the major research conclusions of the dissertation.

All doctoral candidates must be registered in 794 Doctoral Dissertation each semester (excluding summer sessions) from the time of their advancement to candidacy until their dissertation is approved for final typing. Under exceptional circumstances students may be excused from registration for a semester by petitioning the Graduate School for a leave of absence. The granting of a leave does not alter the student's responsibility to meet the time schedule for completion of all degree requirements.

Time Requirements It is the policy of the department to encourage the student to complete the degree program for the Ph.D. as rapidly as possible. Ph.D. degrees are currently taking an average of four-and-a-half to five years. The university requires that the student complete the degree within six or eight years of the date on which USC graduate work commenced, depending upon whether the student was admitted with a prior applicable master's degree. Extensions may be granted for compelling reasons, but in no case may the time be extended for more than two years.