GBS Program Overview


The Graduate Biomedical Sciences (GBS) program comprises eight interdisciplinary themes: Biochemistry, Structural & Stem Cell Biology; Cancer Biology; Cell, Molecular & Developmental Biology; Genetics, Genomics & Bioinformatics; Immunology; Microbiology; Neuroscience; and Pathobiology & Molecular Medicine.

The GBS approach enables an entering student with undecided or very broad interests to explore varied courses and sample the expertise of more than 350 productive GBS faculty before they commit to a thesis research direction. Alternately, students with defined interests can immediately begin to focus in-depth on the research area they wish to pursue. 

Applicants select a theme for entry into the GBS program and then are reviewed and approved for offer of admission by the GBS Admissions Committee, comprising faculty and student representatives of all GBS themes. Although students enter a selected theme on admission, they may explore research and course options provided by any theme and can change theme affiliations if their interests evolve in new directions.

A GBS program overview is offered below:

GBS Basic Biosciences Core Courses (August-November) – First year students in all GBS themes participate in an accelerated 15-week, three-block core course that provides a common foundation in essential principles of biochemistry, metabolism, molecular biology, genetics, and biological organization, upon which theme-specific courses are based.

GBS Theme Modules (November-April) – The remainder of the first-year curriculum is presented in multiple modules of approximately one month each. These modules focus on training and research areas tailored to specific interests of individual themes or theme groups. Theme students select five of the 34 one-month modules to complete the first and second semester curriculum. Each theme offers a recommended modular training pathway or a pathway can be tailored to student interests.

GBS Biostatistics and GBS Bioethics Core Courses (spring and fall sessions) – This GBS Biostatistics course is designed specifically for GBS theme students. It may be completed in the spring of the first or second year, upon advice of the theme director and faculty mentor. The GBS Bioethics course covers training in the responsible conduct of research, as required by the National Institutes of Health and by the UAB Graduate School for all students in the biomedical sciences; it is offered in the fall semester.

Individual themes offer additional enrichment courses, such as Methods and Scientific Logic and Neuroscience Summer Seminar Series, during the first year to provide experience in reading and presenting primary research literature.

Research Rotations (3 rotations, 10 weeks each) – Students select three laboratory research rotations from an array of GBS faculty-sponsored research opportunities (see Faculty Profiles for examples) with the guidance of theme directors or rotation advisors. These also include opportunities with scientists at the Southern Research Institute and HudsonAlpha Biotechnology Institute. Each rotation period concludes with a GBS-wide Rotation Poster Session during which students present their rotation projects. Students who enter a theme early, during the summer session, can begin their rotations at that time, and students who feel they need a fourth rotation at the end of the first year can arrange for that opportunity.

Thesis Mentor Selection – It is expected that students will select their thesis research mentor and confirm their theme affiliation typically by May of their first year of training. Students who enter a theme early, during the summer semester, may select their mentor and begin their thesis research by late February.

The first year of training typically begins with several GBS orientation events, including faculty poster sessions that present potential research rotation projects, and concludes with a GBS-wide BBQ event.

See the GBS First-Year Curriculum and Laboratory Rotation Overview.

Electives/Advanced Courses – Typically three courses are required, in accord with theme policies, and are determined by student and thesis mentor. An extensive menu of advanced courses provided by all themes is available, which enables students to expand their knowledge base and extend their research network. A listing of elective and advanced courses and journal clubs is found here. See theme websites for course descriptions and details. Specific curricula are also designed for completion of additional certificate programs.

Journal Club and/or Seminar – Students select a Journal Club, organized by a theme, a department or a university research center, for participation each term during the remainder of their PhD training. They also may participate in selected seminars directly related to their primary research or to provide exposure to new scientific areas.

Additional enrichment and professional development courses, including grantsmanship and scientific writing skills, also are provided during the second and subsequent years.

Thesis Research – In the second year, students typically spend a significant proportion of their time in the lab on preliminary research to lay the foundation for their qualifying exam and their thesis project.

Thesis Committee – After selecting a research mentor, a thesis committee is formed in consultation between student and advisor to provide guidance in selecting appropriate advanced courses, journal clubs, research project and to administer the qualifying exam. The committee is established in the second year of training.

Qualifying Exam – The qualifying exam consists of two components, a written NIH-style research proposal on the topic of the student's intended thesis research project and an oral defense of the approved proposal. The qualifying exam typically occurs by the beginning of the third year of training. Students also often submit their qualifying exam research proposals to NIH and other funding organizations for consideration for independent fellowship awards.

PhD Degree – Upon successful completion of the qualifying exams, a student is eligible for admission to candidacy for the PhD degree. The typical time to degree is approximately 5.5 years (range 4-6 years), during which GBS students spend the majority of time in laboratory research. They also attend one or more national scientific meetings annually and publish an average of four or more first-author and co-authored publications in the peer-reviewed press.

Completion of the training requirements in the above interdisciplinary themes provides eligibility for conferral of  a doctoral degrees in these areas: Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Cell Biology, Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Microbiology, Neurobiology, Pathology, and Pharmacology and Toxicology.