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, 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 (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 
        • All students must take Mechanisms of Early Development module, aimed at exposing students to fundamental principles.
      • 3 of these modules must have a quantitative/data science focus
        • Students may alternatively fulfill this requirement by taking biostatistics and other quantitative based classes.
    • Hands on Development DSCB730. First 2 weeks of Fall of first year. 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.
    • Classic Papers in Development DSCB700. Second 2 weeks of Fall of first and second year. This journal-club based module reinforces principles in Developmental Biology.
    • Stem Cell Biology CBI/MCB 730 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. 
    • Developmental Biology Colloquium.  CBI 830  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.
      • BIOTRAIN750 and BIOTRAIN701 Fall 1st year
      • BIOTRAIN751 spring 1st year.
      • BIOTRAIN753 2nd/3rd year.
      • BIOTRAIN754 spring 4th year.
      • Total Credits: 18 hours are required for Biomedical Students
    • 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.
    • Grant writing BIOTRAIN720Taken in fall of second year. This exposes second year students to how to write an NIH-style grant. 


  • Students may elect to take courses depending upon the department they affiliate with. Some popular choices include:
      • Cellular Signaling (CBI 781)
      • additional CMB/UPGG modules
      • Human genetics (MGM732)
      • Data visualization (BIOTRAIN730)
      • “Graduate Student 101” (Biology 701)
      • Academic writing (GS720 and GS730)
      • Academic Presentations (GS731)
      • Quantitative Approaches to Biological Problems (CMB640)
      • Experimental Design and Biostatistics (CMB733)
      • GCB workshops in bioinformatics. 

Lab Rotations

  • PhD students in the DSCB Program are advised to complete four 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 weeks long. There is some flexibility with length of rotations. All students must have approval by the DGS prior to rotating.
  •  All students should select from DSCB affiliated faculty. Should a student wish to rotate in a lab outside of affiliated faculty, prior discussions with DGS are necessary and the faculty must be in T3 with mentor training.
  • Before the start of each rotation, students are required to complete and submit plans to rotate in the OBGE T3 training site. As the rotation end date approaches, the DSCB Program will solicit the mentor and trainnee for feedback on the rotation.
  • 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.