The Biochemistry, Structural Biology, Cell Biology, Developmental Biology and Molecular Biology graduate programs at Weill Cornell Graduate School are collectively known as the BCMB Allied program. Students may affiliate with any of the three programs, however they are initially admitted to, and remain members of, the BCMB Allied program overall.
The Biochemistry, Structural Biology program offers opportunities for advanced training in the application of biochemical, structural, biophysical and imaging methods, to addressing questions relating to biological processes and mechanisms. Program members pursue vigorous research programs in the areas of membrane-protein structure and function, membrane trafficking and synaptic transmission, protein folding, intracellular and cell-surface signaling pathways, protein modification, membrane biochemistry and biophysics, DNA replication and repair, and RNA silencing and processing.
Many of the faculty conduct collaborative research bringing together knowledge and talent from different areas to focus on human diseases, such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. In this respect, research is focused on: understanding the roles of various signaling pathways in cancer, atherosclerosis and inflammation; the role of defective DNA repair in cancer-predisposition; and the link between defective protein folding and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The Cell and Developmental Biology program comprises over 80 affiliated faculty members whose research focuses on a wide range of topics related to the control of normal and malignant cell growth, differentiation, tissue development and stem cell biology. Purified proteins, isolated cells and tissues, and whole organisms are all being exploited as model systems, assisted by computational methods, genomics and RNA profiling.
Common themes throughout many of the research activities include the control of gene expression, signal transduction, cell growth and apoptosis, cell polarity and migration, stem cell biology and cell-cell interactions. Four common research focuses highlight the breadth of the field and the current research of the program’s faculty:
- Cell biologists in the program study the dynamic regulation of intracellular trafficking, protein secretion, cell polarity, cell shape, oncogene function and cell-matrix interactions.
- Developmental biologists investigate germ cell differentiation, transcriptional repression in pattern formation, gene regulatory networks and morphogenesis of organ systems.
- Vascular biologists study molecular pathways that control cardiac development, blood vessel formation in embryonic and adult model systems, stem cell contributions to vascular development, and vascular cell signaling.
- The program’s neurobiologists focus on the formation of the notochord, patterning events in the developing cerebral cortex and neuronal precursor cells.
Lastly, the Molecular Biology program offers opportunities to develop research training in the molecular pathways involved in control of cell growth, replication and responses to environmental changes. These pathways are remarkably intricate, tying together nearly all the fundamental processes of cellular metabolism. For example, the products of oncogenes, including both tumor-suppressing and tumor-enhancing genes, have been discovered to participate in pathways as seemingly diverse as signal transduction, repair of damaged DNA, regulation of gene expression and control of the cell cycle.
The programs’ internationally recognized faculty is comprised of nearly 40 members, whose diverse research interests can be grouped under three broad topics: (1) mechanisms of differentiation, growth control and development; (2) mechanisms of DNA replication, DNA repair and chromosome maintenance; and (3) transcriptional control of gene expression and mRNA biosynthesis.
Becoming a Doctoral Candidate
In their first year, BCMB Allied students take the program's core curriculum courses in molecular genetics, biochemistry and structural biology, cell biology and gene structure/function, and logic and critical analysis. They also participate in a graduate research seminar. A course list and course descriptions are available at: Courses.
Lab rotations are an important component of the students' first year as well. Each student completes three laboratory rotations, which help him/her decide on a research focus and select a thesis mentor by the end of the first year.
The choice of a mentor determines the student's program assignment: Biochemistry & Structural Biology, Cell & Developmental Biology, or Molecular Biology. The mentor helps the student select his/her Special Committee, consisting of the mentor and two other faculty members knowledgeable in the student's research field. The committee evaluates the student's research and progress through the rest of his/her WCGS career. Selection of the mentor and the committee typically occurs before the student starts the second year of study.
In spring of the second year, the student takes the Admission to Doctoral Candidacy Examination (ACE), which includes a written component (a research proposal) and an oral examination, in which the student defends the proposal and demonstrates general knowledge. Committees made up of program faculty members administer the written and oral ACE. When a student passes the ACE, she/he is a candidate for the PhD degree.
PhD Research and Degree
Within six months of passing the ACE, the student must submit a five-page thesis project description to the Special Committee and meet with the committee for its approval. Thereafter, the student and the committee meet together regularly - at least annually - from year two until the student's graduation.
During the second through fourth years, while working in the laboratory, the student must also complete one elective course (two quarters) and participate in in-depth focus groups, which examine topics relevant to the fields of biochemistry, cell biology and molecular biology.
The culmination of the student's successful progression through the program is the final examination (the "defense") and certification by the Special Committee that the thesis represents an official piece of research that satisfies the requirements of the WCGS for the PhD degree.