The MBSB curriculum is divided into three main phases:

  1. The first year emphasizes core courses and research rotations.
  2. By the beginning of the second year, students are expected to have chosen a research advisor; the second year therefore emphasizes research, advanced elective courses and the comprehensive examination.
  3. The third and subsequent years emphasize thesis research, culminating in the successful defense of a Ph.D. thesis.


The of the entire process is estimated to take five years to complete. However, this is of course primarily dependent on the research progress of the student and is therefore determined on an individual basis. The thesis advisor and the thesis committee are responsible for judging the student's research progress and the oversight and evaluations committee ensures that the curricular requirements (i.e. courses, comprehensive exam etc.) are met.


Throughout the entire course of PhD studies, students are required to attend the weekly Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology Seminar Series and the bimonthly Data and Literature Club. Students will receive one credit for each course per semester based on attendance and participation. The seminar series is an exciting opportunity to meet high caliber scientists engaged in Biophysics and Structural Biology research from inside and outside of the Pittsburgh area.

An overview of a typical curriculum is given below*:


* Note: International students may be required to take additional English classes and/or tutoring in the first year. The programming course is required unless Programming Proficiency is demonstrated.


The First Year:

Fall Semester
Foundations of Biomedical Science, Molecular Biophysics I: Structural Biophysics, Lab rotation (Total: 8 credits)
Note: International students may be required to take additional English classes and/or tutoring in the first year.

Spring Semester
Molecular Biophysics II : Biomolecular Interactions and Dynamics, Programming Course unless demonstrated, Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology Seminar Series, Data and Literature Club, Lab rotation  (Total: 6 credits)
Note: International students may be required to take additional English classes and/or tutoring in the first year

Summer Semester
Scientific Ethics, Introduction to Statistical Methods, Lab rotation (Total: 5 credits)

Programming Proficiency

Programming proficiency is a general requirement for the MBSB program, because of the abundance of computing skills in use throughout all areas of biophysics. Furthermore, being able to program is beneficial in the MBSB coursework, in particular the MB3 course. To evaluate programming proficiency, we designed a short test to be taken during the Fall semester of the first year. Students successfully passing this test are not required to take a programming course. To help those students lacking programming experience, remedial courses are to be taken in the subsequent spring semester. Students can choose from several undergraduate-level programming courses. They need to take the course for credit, but these credits do not count towards the PhD degree since this course is considered remedial.

Core MBSB Courses

Fall of 1st year:

  • Foundations of Biomedical Science (3 credits)
  • Molecular Biophysics I: Structural Biophysics (3 credits)

Spring of 1st year:

  • Molecular Biophysics II: Biomolecular Interactions and Dynamics (4 credits) 
  • Programming Course unless demonstrated Programming Proficiency

Fall of 2nd year:

  • Molecular Biophysics III: Theory & Simulation (4 credits)

For more information:

  • More details can be found in the program handbook: here
  • For a full listing of University of Pittsburgh courses click here.
  • For a full listing of Carnegie Mellon University courses click here.

Research Rotations

Laboratory research is a major component of our PhD program. Research rotations should be considered an invaluable resource for learning broad-based skills at the bench as well as an opportunity to focus your scientific interests. Prior to choosing a laboratory, you should speak with your first-year mentor and examine the list of faculty who are interested in having a student in their laboratory by checking faculty list provided to you in orientation. The Program Director and First Year Mentors (see Advising & Support page) supervise the selection of laboratory research rotations. You are expected to complete three research rotations during the first year. At the end of each rotation, you are required to complete a written report that is prepared in the style of a scientific paper. The main goal is to generate a written, scholarly account of the scientific principles, questions, and activities undertaken during the rotation period. It is therefore expected as part of this exercise that rotation advisors will read, comment upon, and discuss changes to the rotation report with the student. When the written report is complete, the rotation supervisor will review the performance of the student and assign a letter grade for the rotation on the evaluation form provided by the administrators of the Molecular Biophysics & Structural Biology Graduate Program.

It is required that the three rotations will be performed in three different laboratories headed by training faculty of the Molecular Biophysics & Structural Biology Graduate Program. This will provide students with an opportunity to identify an area of research interest, to establish a relationship with a potential dissertation advisor, and to learn various laboratory techniques. It is possible for students to take a fourth rotation if necessary upon approval of the Program Director.

Rotation credits

3 credits in total (Fall; 1 credit, Spring; 1 credit and Summer; 1 credit)


Rotation schedule

All rotations take place in accordance with the following schedule (unless a waiver is granted upon petition to the Program Director):

  • Rotation 1: October - December
  • Rotation 2: January - March
  • Rotation 3: March - May
  • Rotation 4: May - July (Pending prior approval in writing by the Program Director - see handbook for specifics):

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam is normally taken at the end of the second year. It includes two written parts, a research proposal in an area not directly related to the student's intended area of research, and a brief dissertation proposal. These are submitted to the examining committee and the proposal in the unrelated area is defended in an oral examination. The primary reason for requesting the brief dissertation proposal is to assure that it is sufficiently distant from the proposal defended orally. Questioning during the oral phase is expected to have sufficient breadth that the exam is indeed comprehensive i.e. it is not limited to the subject matter of the proposal. In special circumstances, for example if a student requires substantial remedial course work, deferral of the examination may be requested. Deferral requires the approval of the Molecular Biophysics Steering Committee.

Advanced Elective Courses

Students are required to complete at least six credits of advanced elective courses, with the aim of providing both breadth and a rigorous background in their chosen area of specialization. Electives will therefore be chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor along with potential input from the dissertation committee. Possible topics include: Graduate physical chemistry, statistical mechanics, simulation and related computational methods, advanced methods in X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, other spectroscopic methods, structural informatics, numerical methods and advanced topics in molecular biophysics.

Teaching Requirement

Students are required once during their graduate student career to serve as a Teaching Assistant. Most often, this will occur in the third year of study. To be eligible to complete the teaching requirement, students must have successfully completed the MB course series.