Institute of Molecular Biology

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Molecular Biology and Biophysics Training Program

The training program in Molecular Biology and Biophysics (MBB) brings together scientists from Biology, Chemistry and Physics. In keeping with the innovative origins of the Institute of Molecular Biology, the MBB program provides interdisciplinary training combining quantitative and modern coursework together with a strong research experience. The objective of the training program is to prepare young scientists to work on important problems in molecular biology and biophysics. We achieve this objective through multifaceted research programs in which students, postodoctoral fellows and faculty of various backgrounds work together. This involves not only collaborations, but also exchange of ideas among the larger group of trainees and training faculty in the fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, structural biology and biophysics. These interactions range from an annual Retreat, organized seminar, journal clubs and informal conversations in the laboratory and shared equipment facilities. Student trainees also organize and participate in a Symposium related to the training program in even number years. In 2016 the trainees organized a one-day Symposium entitled Life at the Nanoscale, focused on structural approaches to various areas within molecular biology and biophysics. In 2018, the trainees organized a symposium entitled Engineering Biomolecules, focused on manipulating biomolecules to shed new light on fundamental problems in biology and to solve biomedical challenges. Such interdisciplinary training positions our graduates to become leaders in the fields of molecular biology and biophysics. The vast majority of trainees go on to successful careers in scientific research, and many now lead their own research groups (see below).

The heart of the training program is thesis research. Training faculty are drawn from the departments of Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Physics. The research in the training faculty labs covers a wide range of approaches including molecular genetics, biochemistry, structural biology, biophysics, and evolutionary analysis. The research is focused on fundamental problems in molecular biology and biophysics.

When not in the research lab, trainees follow a strong course of study including a two-course molecular biology sequence, quantitative training, training in the ethical conduct of research, and elective courses that allow students to go deeper into their particular area. In addition to course work, trainees attend seminars, journal clubs, graduate student research presentations, and our Institute Retreat.

The Molecular Biology and Biophysics Training Program seeks to recruit and train diverse students, including students with disabilities and underrepresented minorities. The MBB Training Program and the University of Oregon foster an inclusive environment with the goal of providing the opportunity for all students to excel and to broaden their perspectives and experiences.

Information and links about the resources available to promote a diverse community at the IMB and UO can be found here.


Career Development Activities

Trainees are required to participate in an Individual Development Plan (IDP) process. The purpose of the IDP is to encourage introspection concerning career goals, and concrete action to tailor training to those goals. The IDP procedures are outlined in the IDP Year 2 and IDP Years 3-5 documents.

The CABS (Career Advancement in Biological Sciences) seminar series fosters interactions between trainees and scientists who have chosen non-academic science careers (e.g. biotechnology, government research, science policy, science writing, journal editing, research administration, patent law, etc.). Molecular Biology & Biophysics trainees invite and host a subset of the speakers in the CABS series.

Additionally, the UO Graduate School annually hosts several career development panels of 2-3 professionals in one field. Students have the opportunity to interact with panelists in a casual environment. Planned panel topics include science policy, journal editing, research administration, biotech companies, biotech start-ups, nonprofits and patent law.

The Bioinformatics and Genomics Industrial Internship Program is a new program that supports graduate students to work at biotechnology companies for quarterly or summer internships.

Additional Professional Development and Career Resources can be found here.

Criteria and Application Procedure for Molecular Biology and Biophysics Training Program Support

Training grant appointments are made on an annual basis, starting on July 1. Applications for training grant support are emailed to all eligible students in mid-May, and appointment decisions are made by the MBBTP Executive Committee by ~June 20. Trainees may be reappointed for a maximum of three years of support, assuming satisfactory progress and availability of funds. Initial appointments are, in general, limited to students who are starting their second or third year of graduate study.

Students who are potentially interested in joining the Molecular Biology and Biophysics Training Program are strongly encouraged to take CH662/663 Advanced Biochemistry in the Winter of their first year. Students who have not taken this course at the time of applying for training grant support should address their decision not to take it in their application.

The following criteria are considered in choosing students for MBBTP support:

Criteria for selection of Molecular Biology and Biophysics Training Faculty and application procedure

Faculty join the Molecular Biology and Biophysics Training Program at the invitation of the Program Director and Executive Committee based on two primary criteria: (i) the degree to which their research program matches the mission of this training program, and (ii) current funding and recent productivity.

The objective of the Molecular Biology and Biophysics is to prepare scientists to work on biological and biophysical problems at the molecular level. This means training biology students to think in terms of models based on the structures and properties of macromolecules and, conversely, to train chemistry and physics students to understand the biological context of problems and to couple in vivo approaches with detailed biochemical/biophysical studies.

Faculty who study biological mechanisms at the molecular level are central to our training mission. In addition, the Executive Committee will consider faculty whose primary research area is peripheral to the MBBTP focus, but who accept a student whose thesis topic matches the core goals of our program. It must be clear that such students would benefit from the required coursework and training activities, rather than finding them burdensome. Sufficient laboratory funding must be available to support trainee research and the trainer must have a solid and consistent record of publications.

Procedure: Faculty may apply at any time to join the MBBTP faculty by emailing the MBBTP Director. In addition, the Executive Committee extends invitations to new faculty members whose research programs match our focus.


Brad Nolen (Director)
Institute of Molecular Biology

Alice Barkan (Executive Committee Member)
Institute of Molecular Biology

Diana Libuda (Executive Committee Member)
Institute of Molecular Biology

Ken Prehoda (Executive Committee Member)
Institute of Molecular Biology