Program Requirements

Course Requirements 

The Developmental and Stem Cell Biology (DSCB) curriculum is designed to provide a strong core of knowledge in development, while allowing students the flexibility to explore individual interests in particular fields, such as developmental genetics, mechanisms of development, stem cells and regeneration, or evolution and development. 

DSCB is a PhD admitting umbrella program held together by common interests in developmental and stem cell biology. Once students choose a mentor, they affiliate with the department/program of their mentor, which becomes their degree-granting home. The class requirements are designed to overlap with those of most Duke departments.  Upon completion of the course requirements below (24 credits), graduating DSCB students receive an additional certificate in Development and Stem Cell Biology.

  • DSCB students are required to take the following classes:
    • 9 modules from either CMB710 and/or UPGEN778. Fall of first year. 
      • CMB710 A-F (the Cell and Molecular Biology core course)
      • UPGEN778 A-F (University Program in Genetic and Genomics)
      • 6 of these modules must have a development focus 
      • 3 of these modules must have a quantitative/data science focus
    • DSCB 730 Hands on Fundamentals of DevelopmentFirst 2 weeks of Fall of first year. This course is composed of 3 mini-modules, which meet 6 times each over 2 weeks.
      • 1. A lecture-based Mechanisms of Early Development module, aimed at exposing students to fundamental principles.
      • 2. A journal-club based module called Classic Papers in Development, which reinforces principles taught in the morning lecture. ***This is also taken by second year students, which provides mentoring opportunities to upper year students.
      • 3. Hands on Development. A lab-based course designed to give new students exposure to faculty and state-of-the-art techniques in Developmental Biology. Students spend 6 afternoons in different labs in the first two weeks of the first semester. 
    • CBI/MCB 730 Stem Cell Biology Taken in spring of first year. This course covers the fundamentals of stem cell biology and regeneration. The course is presented in a lecture and discussion format based on the primary literature. 
    • CBI 830 Developmental Biology Colloquium.  Spring of first and second year.  The Colloquium is integrated with the Spring Developmental Biology Seminar series, which brings nationally and internationally distinguished researchers to Duke University. Students meet weekly with faculty to discuss papers published by the speaker's laboratory, and then meet with the seminar speaker immediately following the seminar. In this way, students are able to interact directly with many of the leaders in the field of Developmental Biology.
    • Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training. 1st and 4th years. Academic integrity and research ethics are fundamental to the practice of science. All biomedical PhD students are required to participate in RCR training when they first matriculate and later in their graduate program. 
    • Student-organized informal research seminar.  Fall of all years.  DSCB students all participate in a student-only Monday evening series in which upper year DSCB students present short talks on their research, and discuss different aspects of the program. This provides a great networking opportunity for students and also introduces incoming students to the diverse areas of research going on in the program. Dinner is provided.
  • 3 additional credits are required for the certificate. Students may elect to take courses depending upon the department they affiliate with. Some popular choices include:
    • Cellular Signaling (CBI 760)
    • 3 additional CMB/UPGG modules
    • MGM732 Human genetics
    • Grant writing (UPGEN 702): This exposes second year students to how to write an NIH-style grant. 
    • “Graduate Student 101” (Biology 701 - Succeeding in Graduate School in the Biological Sciences). 
    • Academic writing (GS730); Academic Presentations (GS731); Writing in STEM fields (GS720). These courses are offered to students for whom English is a second language. Students may be exempt from taking these.
    • Quantitative courses in Biology. 
    • Biostatistics
    • GCB workshops in bioinformatics. 

Lab Rotations

  • PhD students in the DSCB Program are advised to complete three rotations in the first year prior to choosing a research mentor and affiliating with a degree-granting department or program.  Rotations are selected by the students, based on their specific interests. Each rotation is approximately 8 – 10 weeks long with flexibility in timing and duration. 
  • Please keep the Director of Graduate Studies and Program Administrator informed of any deviation to the rotation schedule, or if a fourth rotation is necessary.  All students should select from DSCB affiliated faculty. Should a student wish to rotate in a lab outside of affiliated faculty, prior approval is required by the DGS
  • Before the start of each rotation, students are required to complete and submit a DSCB Rotation Form that includes the name of the mentor, start and end dates, and a brief description of the proposed research plan. A copy of this form will be sent to the rotation mentor. As the rotation end date approaches, the DSCB Program will solicit the mentor for feedback on the student’s rotation in his/her lab.
  • Affiliation. Most students affiliate with labs by April/May of their first year. 

Yearly Benchmarks

  • After choosing a laboratory and affiliating with a Department, students are required to pass a qualifying/preliminary exam.  Students choose a committee composed of their mentor and 3-4 additional faculty members, with relevant expertise. This committee typically becomes the thesis committee, which must meet annually to assess the progress, future plans, and any issues students may encounter. The OBGE uses the T3 program to help guide students' training. 
  • Pursuing a PhD in the biological sciences opens the door to many fulfilling careers. The NIH now requests PhD students to complete an Individual Development Plan (IDP) by their third year to explore career opportunities and set goals to best prepare for a career path.