Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology

Abu Kwaik LabThe Department of Microbiology and Immunology offers both the Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degree Programs. Both Programs include training in a broad range of research areas using state-of-the-art immunological, microbiological, and molecular technologies. A competitive stipend, health care benefits, a full waiver of tuition and fees are provided to applicants accepted into the Ph.D. Program as Graduate Research Assistants.

The degree requirements are very flexible to allow tailored programs of study. In addition to original dissertation research, the Ph.D. Degree Program includes immunology, cell biology, biochemistry, molecular microbiology, laboratory rotations, research methods, participation in the Candidate Seminar Series and Journal Club, plus three courses from a broad range of electives. Both programs are designed to provide students with a strong background in integrated theory and mentored training in research design, grant writing, and oral presentation.

Areas of faculty research interest include molecular aspects of pathogenesis of infectious disease, and regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses in the contexts of autoimmunity, cancer, and infectious diseases. For more information, click on "faculty" or "immunology program" links on the left of the page. Areas of allied interest include microbiological and immunological aspects of cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, cancer, diabetes, ophthalmology, surgical sepsis, and organ and bone marrow transplantation.

The department joined with the other four basic science departments within the School of Medicine to form the Integrated Programs in Biomedical Sciences (IPIBS) for the fall of 2001 semester. This approach will give students broad exposure to basic science disciplines and greater flexibility in choosing a dissertation research project and advisor during the first year in the program.

The University of Louisville School of Medicine offers a Physician Scientist training program for the fulfillment of requirements for M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. The comprehensive program includes two years in pre-clinical medical training, followed by graduate training in one of U of L's basic research departments, and two years of medical rotations for clinical training. Learn more about the M.D./Ph.D. Joint Degree Program.

M&I PhD Program Flyer


A minimum of 31 credit hours is required for completion of the degree.

Required Courses

Course Number

Course Title

Credit Hours


MBIO 606

Seminar/Journal Club


Fall & Spring (1st & 2nd Year)

MBIO 619


1 - 12

Fall, Spring, Summer (1st& 2nd Year)


 1st  Year



MBIO 600

Laboratory Rotations


Fall & Spring 

MBIO 601

Molecular Microbiology



MBIO 602




MBIO 604

General Virology



MBIO 610

Methods and Analysis



BIOC 630

Research Ethics



BIOC 667

Cell Biology



BIOC 662

Biomed Res Data Analysis




 2nd Year



MBIO 623

Scientific Writing



BIOC 668

Molecular Biology



A minimum grade of B- is required for all core courses

Scientific Electives

Course Number

Course Title

Credit Hours


MBIO 621

 Advanced Immunology: Innate and Adaptive Immunity2Spring

MBIO 687

Microbial Pathogenesis



MBIO 620

Tumor Immunity and Inflammation 1Fall

MBIO 622

Immunity to Microbes and Tumor2Fall

MBIO 624

Immunity to Pathogenic and Commensal Microbes



BIOC 663

High-Throughput Sequencing Data Analysis



BIOC 670

Biomedical Genetics and Genomics



BIOC 675

Cancer Biology



Professional Development Electives 

Course NumberCourse TitleCredit HoursSemester
MBIO 611Learning Theories & Instructional Strategies in Science Education2Summer

A minimum of 3 scientific electives is required. At least 2 electives must be offered in the Department MBIO.

Additional courses outside of the department can be taken as electives in consultation with the Research Advisor and Graduate Program Director.

Note: Students enrolled in the M.D./Ph.D. Joint Degree Program, who have completed step I of NBME, will have satisfied all of the required course requirements except seminar, Research Ethics, Research Methods, Scientific Writing and research. Three electives will be required. They will be required to satisfactorily complete the Qualifying Exam and successfully defend a dissertation research project, in addition to attending all journal club sessions and seminars.

Departmental Research Seminars and Journal Club

The departmental journal clubs meet during the Fall and Spring semesters on Tuesdays, 11 a.m. - 12 p.m
Generally, graduate student and faculty research seminars are scheduled on Thursdays, 12 p.m. - 1 p.m.
Attendance at departmental research seminars and Journal Club is required of all graduate students in the department.
Attendance below 80% for either M&I seminar or M&I Journal Club will result in a failing grade for students enrolled in Seminar or a review of progress towards their degree for students in candidacy.

Program of Study

Selection of a Research Advisor, Dissertation Committee and Research Proposal

Selection of the Research Advisor and specific research area is one of the most important decisions of the student’s entire graduate training program, and is a joint decision by the student and faculty member. Students must select a Research Advisor for their dissertation research by the end of their second semester. Selection of the Research Advisor and formation of the Dissertation Committee must be approved by the Graduate School Dean. Upon approval of the Research Advisor, the student will formally decide upon a dissertation research project. The student, Research Advisor, and Departmental Chairperson will form a Dissertation Committee with a minimum of five (5) graduate faculty members by December 1 of their second year. The Committee will be composed of the Advisor, three faculty members of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and one additional graduate faculty member from another department. At least 3 members of the committee must have primary appointments in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. If the Advisor does not have a primary appointment in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, one of the three other department members with primary appointments in the department must serve as Co-Advisor. The Chairman of the Department may serve as an ex-officio member of the Committee. The student will submit a specific aims page of the proposed research cosigned by the Dissertation Advisor to the Department chair on the planned Ph.D. dissertation topic by November 1 in their second year of the program.

Qualifying Examination for Ph.D. Candidacy

The Qualifying Exam (both oral and written components) should be completed by the 3rd week of the second year of study. It is highly recommended that students complete their qualifying exam as early as possible. Students will submit a title and abstract describing the qualifying exam to the curriculum committee in mid-January of their second year of study. By the first week of March, second year students must submit an original clearly written research proposal in an area of Microbiology or Immunology that is clearly different from the chosen topic of dissertation research. The purpose of this exam is to evaluate the student’s ability to independently interpret research literature and integrate material from the graduate curriculum into a research proposal. Consequently, the oral examination may encompass one or more of the areas in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology (e.g.… microbiology, virology, or immunology) appropriate to the proposal and to the proposed experimental technology. Three to five faculty with expertise in the area of the proposal will be selected by the Curriculum Committee to serve as the Examining Committee. The majority opinion of the Committee will stand as record of the student’s performance. If the student’s performance is judged to be unsatisfactory by the majority of the committee, the student may petition the Examining Committee for re-examination. Failure to pass the qualifying exam after two attempts will result in dismissal from the Ph.D. program. If extenuating circumstances exist, such as medical or family problems, the student and/or students' faculty advocate, may petition the Executive Graduate Faculty for a postponement of the qualifying exam (first or second trial) for a period of time which must be specified in the petition. Following completion of required course work with a minimum 3.0 GPA (with a grade no lower than a B- in MBIO 601, MBIO 602, MBIO 604, Pass grades in all required courses with Pass/Fail grading, and a satisfactory judgment from the Examining Committee on the Qualifying Exam, a student may enter degree candidacy.

Dissertation Research Proposal and Student Evaluation

All Ph.D. candidates will work with their mentor to prepare a dissertation research proposal in NIH Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31) grant format. The research proposal will be submitted to the student’s Dissertation Committee by October 15th of the third year. The Dissertation Committee will provide a written critique of the proposal and return to the student by October 31. The student will submit a completed research proposal to the department (Graduate Program Coordinator) along with accompanying documents (see Dissertation Proposal Guidelines pdf on M&I website) by December 1 of the third year. Students are strongly encouraged to submit the proposal as a predoctoral fellowship to the NIH or private foundation. Should the candidate change to a new, unrelated research project, the Graduate Director may require a replacement dissertation research proposal and approval by the student’s Dissertation Committee. Following approval of the research proposal, the Dissertation Committee should meet at least annually to evaluate the progress of the Ph.D. candidate on her/his research project. Students are expected to maintain satisfactory progress in their research project each semester. The student will also be required to present a research seminar to the Department each year until completion of the program. The student will present a research seminar to the Department in the first semester of their third year based upon her/his research proposal and preliminary experimental results. It is expected that graduate students' dissertation research will result in publication-quality work. First author publication (in press or in print) of dissertation original research in a reputable journal is a requirement for completion and award of the PhD degree. Students attaining 2 or more peer-reviewed publications will receive a Chair's Citation of Recognition for their accomplishments.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

The dissertation is to be an original scholarly achievement in research conducted by the Ph.D. student, and should demonstrate a thorough understanding of research techniques in the specific area and the ability to conduct independent research. Following preliminary review and approval by the student's Advisor, the unbound dissertation will be submitted to the Dissertation Committee members, and a written request sent to the Graduate School Dean, at least two weeks prior to the scheduled date of the final oral exam. The final oral exam will be preceded by a research seminar open to all faculty, students and other interested persons. The oral exam will be administered by the Dissertation Committee, and will be open to any other interested graduate faculty members. To satisfactorily pass the oral exam, a student may not receive more than one unfavorable vote from a member of the Committee.
The approved dissertation must be signed by members of the Dissertation Committee prior to submitting to the Graduate School by the published deadline date. Please refer to the Graduate School Website  and current Graduate Bulletin for specific dissertation guidelines.

For more information

  • Action Plan for Entering Class of 2021 PhD Students [PDF]

How to Apply

For admission to the Ph.D. program, the applicant must have earned the B.S or B.A. degree, or equivalent, with a minimum grade-point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 point scale). In addition, the following should be submitted online directly to Graduate Admissions:

  • A completed application form and $60 application fee
  • Official TOEFL or IELTS scores (only international applicants)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • A brief statement of purpose describing interests and career goals
  • A current resume or curriculum vitae
  • Official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate course work (mailed to Graduate Admissions)
    • International applicants must provide evaluations (WES or ECE) on transcripts completed outside of the United States to be admitted

The final application deadline is March 1st each year. Applications received before January 15th each year will receive full consideration for an IPIBS Fellowship. After that date, applications will be reviewed and considered for fellowship awards on a limited basis, depending on availability. Submission prior to deadline is strongly encouraged in order to ensure that all required materials (especially letters of reference) are received by the deadline. Qualified prospective students will be invited for a visit and personal interviews. Qualified prospective PhD students who apply by January 15, may be invited to interview before March 1st.

A limited number of stipends with full tuition remission are available for highly qualified Ph.D. applicants. The stipend may be renewed annually, provided the student maintains good academic standing, demonstrates satisfactory progress in the research project, and devotes full-time to his/her graduate studies. It is expected that the student's stipend support and fees when the student is a Ph.D. candidate, will be provided by research or training funds from the Research Advisor's laboratory. All Ph.D. applicants, independent of funding source, will be reviewed by the Admissions committee, which will then make recommendations to the Graduate M&I Faculty.  Those selected by faculty will be offered admission following Chair’s approval.

Specific course prerequisites for all applicants to the Ph.D. Degree Program include:

  • one year of biology
  • one year of organic chemistry
  • one semester (or equivalent ) of introductory calculus
  • one semester of biochemistry

Apply Online Now

Please have universities mail your official transcripts to:
University of Louisville
Graduate Admissions Office
2211 S Brook St, Houchens Bldg, Rm 105
Louisville, Kentucky 40292
United States of America
Email Address: Phone Number: (502) 852-3101, (800) 334-8635
Fax Number: (502) 852-3111

Graduate Program Address

(transcripts are sent to Graduate Admissions, University of Louisville, NOT the address below)

Department of Microbiology & Immunology
School of Medicine
505 South Hancock, CTRB, Rm. 602A Louisville, KY, 40202
Graduate Program Office
Fax: (502) 852-7531