Training Program




Training Program


1. Recruitment and initial selection

2. Orientation of new trainees

3. Laboratory rotations and thesis lab selection

4. Courses in the molecular biosciences

5. Trainee seminar series

6. "Appropriate conduct of science" course

7. "Life Sciences Career Day"

8.  Continuing evaluation


1. Recruitment and initial selection

MBTG trainees are selected from the pool of applicants to campus Ph.D. programs that specialize in the cellular, biochemical, and microbiological sciences. In late January, we solicit nominations for the MBTG program from all Ph.D. programs with MBTG trainers. The applications are distributed to the Steering Committee such that each is read by three faculty and one student member. Each application is ranked by each reader and then we meet to select the top-rated nominees.

The major criteria for trainee ranking are:

1) the strength of the student's academic and research records as evidenced by grades, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation

2) the commitment of the student to a career in the cellular, biochemical, or microbiological sciences as communicated by the statement of purpose.

Traineeships are not distributed among Ph.D. programs by a pre-determined formula, rather selection of the most promising students is the overriding criterion.

The MBTG program plays an active role in recruiting trainee nominees to UW-Madison. Soon after the candidate trainees are selected, each is contacted in person (by phone or email) by a faculty member of the Steering Committee and is encouraged to visit the campus. Each candidate who decides to visit is scheduled to meet with the same faculty member during her/his recruiting trip in February or March. The Steering Committee member describes the MBTG program to the student and explains how it will enhance and integrate with the training that his/her prospective Ph.D. program provides.

Visiting students are sometimes overwhelmed by the variety of graduate programs available in the biological sciences at UW-Madison. This variety is a strength, because it allows the student to choose the Ph.D. program that best matches both their research interests and the level of personal direction they desire. However, some students are concerned that they will pick the wrong degree program. The MBTG program allows students to sample labs from several different Ph.D. programs before making a final decision, and many prospective students find this opportunity very attractive. In essence, the MBTG program allows us to recruit students to the campus as a whole, rather than to any particular Ph.D. program.

We encourage participating Ph.D. programs to assign current MBTG trainees as student hosts for visiting MBTG candidates. At Madison, we find that our students are our best recruiters. They know what concerns are foremost in the minds of prospective students, and they can best describe the benefits of the MBTG program and the UW campus. At the end of the recruiting day, prospective students from all of the participating Ph.D. programs and their student hosts meet together with program faculty at a reception sponsored by the Graduate School. This gives the visiting students a view of the tremendous size and diversity of scientific talent in the biological sciences at UW-Madison and demonstrates the collegiality between and among faculty and students at this campus.

After the trainee candidates have chosen their schools, we fill any remaining open positions in a second ranking held in May or June. Again, we solicit nominations from the participating Ph.D. programs, but now these nominees are students who have already committed to matriculating to UW-Madison. The same selection process and criteria are used as in the earlier ranking, but we only make as many offers as we have positions available. Some of the MBTG candidates may also receive fellowship from the Graduate School, so we are able to accept 5-7 trainees each year to achieve a steady-state level of 21 trainees. Trainees who receive additional fellowship support still participate fully in the MBTG program during their graduate training.

Occasionally, trainees are awarded extramural fellowships from the National Science Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ford Foundation, etc. These students are encouraged to continue to participate in MBTG program activities even though their stipend support from MBTG ends. We consider these students "unfunded trainees." Open positions created by such awards are typically filled by ad hoc nominations of alternate-listed students at a similar stage in their training (to maintain class balance).

2. Orientation of new trainees

2015 Orientation Retreat Presentation MBTG Retreat 2015.ppt

Because most or all of our new trainees are also new to graduate school, the MBTG program plays an important role in the orientation of these students. Decisions made in the first semester or two will influence the student's entire graduate career, so it is crucial that students receive active guidance early on. We have four main mechanisms for providing this guidance to MBTG trainees.

Fall Orientation Retreat To ensure that MBTG trainees take full advantage of the unique opportunities provided by the training program, it is necessary that they learn about these opportunities before choosing their research rotations. We therefore schedule an orientation retreat the Sunday immediately preceding orientation week of the major participating Ph.D. programs (in late August). This retreat is attended by all MBTG trainees, all members of the Steering Committee, and any new trainers that have joined the program in the last year. Ongoing MBTG trainers often also attend at least a portion of the retreat. The retreat is organized and conducted by the program director, with help from the program administrator. It typically runs from about 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, and is held on campus at the student union or a nearby conference facility. The brief duration and central location of the retreat is designed to minimize disruption of the trainees' busy first-week schedules.

Most members of the Steering Committee, including the student representatives, speak to the collected trainees during the before-lunch session. This introduces the trainees to the members of the committee, and gives them an idea of whom to go to with any questions they might have. During these talks, the variety of program benefits available to the trainees are described, and the rotation and thesis lab selection policies are explained. Lunch provides an opportunity for the trainees and trainers to socialize and get to know one another at a more personal level. New trainees are all assigned a senior trainee "buddy" with whom they can connect during lunch. After lunch, one or two senior trainees give research talks to showcase the research projects and presentation skills of senior trainees and model successful graduate careers. Finally, we hold a poster session in which all third and fourth year trainees (and any second year trainees that wish to) present posters on their thesis research. This helps the new trainees get an idea of the range of research opportunities available on campus and the progress of MBTG trainees.

For information about this year's retreat please visit the MBTG Retreat page.

MBTG faculty advisors Each new trainee is assigned a MBTG faculty advisor who is a member of the Steering Committee and is affiliated with the trainee's Ph.D. program. At the orientation retreat, the trainees meet their advisors and make an appointment for an office visit with the advisor later that week. The faculty advisor assists the new trainee in integrating the MBTG training program with her/his Ph.D. program, with respect to both course work and lab rotations.

Resource materials Because not all new trainees find it easy to assimilate all of the MBTG information at the retreat, we also provide printed materials to which the trainees can refer. At the orientation retreat the trainees receive three important books. The first is a notebook with all relevant training material as well as a compilation of one-page research descriptions of all the MBTG labs that are accepting rotation students that year. The lab descriptions are solicited from the trainers each summer, so they are always up to date. The book also includes a description of the research rotation and thesis lab selection policies, as well as a directory of all MBTG trainers and trainees.

The second book distributed to new trainees at the orientation retreat is purchased from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, and is titled, "At the Bench: A Laboratory Navigator" by Dr. Kathy Marker (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press). This is a wonderful "how to" book for people new to the laboratory environment. Although most new MBTG trainees have some previous laboratory experience, it may have been in an environment quite different from the labs they will rotate through at UW-Madison. Even second and third year trainees have said that they find this book very useful. We think that providing this resource to trainees before they start their first research rotation increases their chances of having successful and rewarding laboratory experiences in the busy first semester.

The third book distributed to new trainees at the orientation retreat is,"The Presentations Kit" by Claudyne Wilder (John Wiley & Sons Inc.). This book on presenting and communicating one's ideas provides a basic introduction to presentation skills and strategies. Teaching trainees to have outstanding communication skills is a hallmark of the MBTG program, and this book puts trainees on the right track to becoming successful scientific communicators.

MBTG trainee seminar series Every semester that a trainee is enrolled in the MBTG program, he/she participates in the MBTG student seminar series. This series is described in detail below, but here we note that this series provides an opportunity for new trainees to interact with each other and with more senior trainees throughout the (sometimes tumultuous) first year. The seminar meets one afternoon a week and refreshments are provided, so the atmosphere is relatively casual and conducive to conversation. Before or after the scheduled talk by a second- or third-year trainee, the new trainees can discuss their rotation experiences and get suggestions for additional rotation lab selections. At least one trainer is always present and is available to answer any questions new trainees may have. Attendance is taken each meeting (via a sign-in sheet) and is monitored by Dr. Hull and/or Dr. Voss. Trainees that are absent without an excuse are contacted to ensure that all is going well. If trainees are encountering difficulties, appropriate guidance is provided.

3. Laboratory rotations and thesis lab selection

The goals of laboratory research rotations are to: familiarize trainees with the broad range of experimental approaches used in the cellular, biochemical, and microbiological sciences, ii) provide an opportunity for trainees to evaluate potential thesis labs, and iii) provide an opportunity for trainers to evaluate potential thesis students. 

Each MBTG trainee participates in at least one full semester of laboratory rotations and rotates through at least three different labs. All of the participating Ph.D. programs have one-semester rotation programs, which include orientation activities that assist students in selecting rotation labs. However, MBTG trainees have the additional freedom to continue their rotations throughout the first two semesters and to select rotation labs with any MBTG trainer, even if those trainers are outside of the trainee’s home Ph.D. program. These benefits allow MBTG trainees to experience more labs, or to increase the duration of each rotation, as they choose. The net result is that MBTG trainees have a greater opportunity to find a good match with a thesis mentor, which enhances trainee satisfaction and retention. The trainee’s MBTG faculty advisor helps to facilitate this process and coordinate it with the trainee’s Ph.D. program.

MBTG trainees have the option of extending their laboratory rotations through the second semester, an option not normally available to students in the participating Ph.D. programs. Each year several MBTG trainees take advantage of this option, although the majority of trainees choose thesis labs at the same times as their fellow Ph.D. classmates.

MBTG trainees select a thesis laboratory no sooner than the end of their first semester, and no later than the end of their second semester. Most trainees chose a lab within their own Ph.D.program. However, trainees have the option of choosing any MBTG trainer's lab, even if the professor is not a trainer in the trainee's Ph.D. program. In this case, one of two things must happen: i) the trainer successfully petitions to join the trainee's Ph.D. program, or ii) the trainee changes Ph.D. programs. All of the major participating Ph.D. programs except IPiB, accept outside trainers, so the first option is often feasible. There are generally no barriers to the second option because MBTG trainees' credentials are excellent. When deciding on a lab in which to rotate, new trainees are encouraged to speak with senior trainees and their student "buddies" about their rotation experiences within the program. Senior students often provide valuable insight into the process. 

If an MBTG trainee chooses the lab of a non-MBTG trainer for his/her thesis work, one of two things must happen: i) the professor successfully petitions to join the MBTG program as a trainer, or ii) the student withdraws from the MBTG program. This situation rarely arises.

4. Courses in the molecular biosciences

MBTG trainees must fulfill the major and minor course requirements of their respective Ph.D. programs. To ensure that trainees experience adequate breadth in their didactic training, the MBTG program requires completion of course work in two major disciplines: molecular/cell biology and macromolecular biochemistry. Most trainees satisfy these general requirements without increasing their credit loads. Below we list a variety of "pre-approved" courses that satisfy the cross-disciplinary breadth requirements. Trainees may request approval of alternative courses to meet these requirements. In particular, trainees with an exceptionally strong academic foundation in a given area are encouraged to substitute higher-level courses for those listed.

Trainees must take a total of four courses: two from the Molecular and Cell Biology category, one from the Macromolecular Biochemistry category, and one additional course from either of these. MBTG trainees are also encouraged to substitute a course in quantitative biology (e.g., Biostatistics 571 or other) for their fourth course.

Molecular and Cell Biology

Title Typically Offered  
Cellular and Molecular Biology/Pathology (Pathology 750) varies  
Carcinogenesis and Tumor Cell Biology (Oncology 703) varies  
Plant Cell Biology (Botany 860) varies  
Regulation of Microbial Gene Expression (Microbiology/Biochemistry 726) varies  
Eukaryotic Molecular Biology (Biochemistry/Pharmacology 620) Spring  
Topics in Eukaryotic Regulation (Biochemistry/Genetics 703) varies  
Prokaryotic Molecular Biology (Microbiology/Biochemistry/Genetics 612) Fall  
General Virology - Multiplication of Viruses (Oncology 640) Fall  
Cytoskeletal Dynamics (Anatomy 700) varies  
Advanced Microbial Genetics (Microbiology/Genetics 607) Fall  
Immunology of Infectious Disease (Microbiology 790) varies  


Macromolecular Biochemistry

Title Typically Offered  
Biophysical Chemistry (Chemistry/Biochemistry 665) Fall  
Protein and Enzyme Structure and Function (Biochemistry 601) Fall  
Chemical Biology (Biochemistry 704) varies  
Mechanisms of Enzyme Action (Biochemistry 624) Fall  
Coenzymes and Cofactors in Enzymology (Biochemistry 625) Spring  
Microbiology at Atomic Resolution (Microbiology/Biomolecular Chemistry 668) Every Other Spring  
Physiology of Microorganisms (Microbiology 625) varies  

Occasionally, a course at UW Madison not "pre-approved" above could satisfy the MBTG course requirements, particularly in the Molecular and Cell Biology category. Some courses that have been approved previously to meet the Molecular and Cell Biology requirement are: Intermediary Metabolism of Micronutrients (Biochemistry 619) and Genetic and Proteomic Analysis (Genetics 875). Students that wish to substitute these or other graduate level courses to satisfy their MBTG course requirements should contact Dr. Hull to explore this option. 

5. Trainee seminar series

The weekly MBTG trainee seminar series is held during Fall and Spring semesters at 3:30 pm on Friday afternoons. Attendance is mandatory for all first-, second-, and third-year trainees, and compliance is monitored with a sign-in sheet, which is used to construct a tracking record. Trainees are excused for illness and for professional duties (exams, scientific conferences, etc.), but are expected to inform the Director or Program Administrator of absences. The seminar is conducted by the Director or one of the program's faculty trainers.

In the Fall semester, second-year trainees present a literature seminar in the area of their thesis research. This is an opportunity for the trainees to prepare for presenting their thesis proposals, which will take place during the following semester or two. In the Spring semester, trainees in their third or later years present a research seminar that includes some of their own research results. For all trainee seminars, trainees in the audience fill out an evaluation form to give the speaker feedback on the presentation. The faculty trainer in charge meets with each presenter immediately following the presentation to provide feedback.

Trainees receive academic credit for the seminar course, which is cross-listed with all the major participating departments so that it can be applied to the major credit requirement. Students who are not MBTG trainees are also welcome to enroll in the course, although they give a seminar only if there are openings available in the schedule.

The trainee seminar series also provides a venue for special talks. We regularly invite past MBTG trainees back to campus to speak to the current trainees and ask people involved in alternative careers to highlight nontraditional career paths. For example, in 2013 Dr. Alan Dove, a freelance science journalist and blogger based in Massachusetts presented a seminar and led a discussion of his experiences. Invited speakers or topics of interest are chosen at the Winter Business Meeting and the Director coordinates speaker invitations. These talks provide insights into how science is practiced beyond the bench and into careers in which several MBTG trainees have an interest.

6. "Appropriate conduct of science" course

All trainees are required to take a one-credit course on appropriate conduct of science. MBTG trainees satisfy this requirement by taking Oncology 750, Microbiology 901, or Biochemistry 701. Alternative courses (Medical History 545, Medical History 999, or Surgical Science 812) can also satisfy the requirement; trainees should consult with their MBTG advisor prior to taking one of these courses. The objective of these courses is to expose graduate students to ethical issues in the practice of science and to provide guidance in how such issues might be resolved. Discussions of specific case histories in which issues commonly faced by scientists are covered. Topics in the courses include: appropriate recording and treatment of data, scientific misconduct, assignment of credit, privileged communications, conflicts of interest, use of animals in research, use of human embryos in research, and gender/minority equity issues. Faculty provide introductory lectures on each issue and in some cases, experts on a particular subject present guest lectures and contribute to discussions. Student-led roundtable discussions are designed to allow each group to develop a well-reasoned solution to the ethical dilemma being discussed.

7. "Life Sciences Career Day "

The MBTG Program cooperates with other graduate programs on campus to support a biannual “Life Sciences Career Day” symposium. The goal of this symposium is to provide graduate students and postdocs access to individuals who have chosen careers of interest to the students. Life Sciences Career Day features presentations by individuals from campus, small private and public colleges, small and large industrial research companies, government laboratories and agencies, law firms that specialize in science, science writers, journal editors, and scientists doing outreach. The program consists of ~13 speakers and break-out sessions. Each speaker has a Ph.D. in the biological sciences and is asked to give a 15-minute presentation describing his/her career path and the advantages and drawbacks of their current positions, i.e., what her/his job is and how she/he got there. Lunch and afternoon sessions consist of small group discussions in which students have opportunities to converse directly with the guest speakers about their career paths. Without exception, past speakers have really enjoyed this opportunity to share their experiences with students, and students have benefited from this opportunity to acquire new perspectives about careers in an informal setting. MBTG trainees almost always serve on the organizing committee. MBTG is one of several training grants on campus that provides funds to support the program.

8. Continuing evaluation of trainees

Trainees establish a student advisory committee by the end of their second semester in graduate school. This committee consists of five faculty members, including the thesis advisor. At least three of the advisory committee members must be active trainers of the Molecular Biosciences Training Grant. When the student's Ph.D. program also requires such a committee, that committee serves to meet the Training Program requirement, as long as it is composed as described above. On an annual basis, the trainee's advisory committee meets with the trainee and evaluates the student's progress. The student is also asked to report on his/her progress as well as develop a career development plan (IDP). Trainees in the third year and beyond submit these progress reports to MBTG on an annual basis in conjunction with an individual meeting with an MBTG Steering Committee member. (Students entering their 6th year of training and beyond meet with the MBTG Director.) Any student who is judged, after a meeting of the Steering Committee with both the student and his or her advisor, to be making inadequate progress will have a specific plan developed to address his/her difficulties. If the situation cannot be resolved, the trainee may be removed from the training grant.

Progress Report Forms