Skip to main content

Admission to CDB Graduate Program

Graduate Program



Course Requirements

Qualifying Exam

Guidelines and Procedures

Student Travel Guidelines


Generally, students in the Cell and Developmental Biology Graduate Program enter through one of three umbrella pathways:  the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program, the Quantitative and Chemical Biology Program, or the Medical Scientist Training Program. Prospective students are advised to follow the links to apply to these programs.  Fewer than 10% of CDB graduate students are admitted directly to CDB to work with a specific faculty member.  The purpose of direct admission into the CDB graduate program is to provide a route for PhD training to strong candidates who may not secure admission into the VU umbrella graduate programs (IGP, QCB, MSTP). CDB recognizes that direct admissions helps to fulfill the departmental mission of training and inclusiveness.

I. The application process

Note: It is expected that applicants wishing to pursue a direct-admit path to the CDB graduate program will have worked in the proposed mentor’s lab in CDB for several months or more before applying for direct admission to that lab.  Because it usually takes about 5-6 years to earn a PhD, working in the lab is the best way to determine if the mentor, lab, and applicant are well-matched.  If the applicant has not been able to work in the proposed mentor’s lab, the reason for this exception must be explained during the application and interview process.

For the student:

  1. Applicants applying directly to the CDB Graduate Program will apply to either the IGP or QCB graduate program at Vanderbilt, observing those program deadlines (usually Dec. 15).  In addition, the applicant will contact both the proposed mentor and the CDB Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) to indicate their interest in being directly admitted to CDB.  The DGS will send the applicant written information about the direct-admit pathway and how it compares to umbrella admission routes.
  2. If the applicant is invited to interview at Vanderbilt through the IGP/QCB program, the applicant will request to meet with the CDB DGS as part of the interview process, and they will contact the DGS to inform them of the interview date. If the applicant is not invited for an interview by the IGP/QCB program by March 1, they should contact the DGS to request an interview with the CDB Graduate Education Committee (either in person or remotely by Skype or Zoom).
  3. CDB will communicate its admissions decision to the applicant and mentor by April 15.

For the mentor:

  1. The mentor will contact the DGS to express interest in having the applicant directly admitted into the mentor’s lab.
  2. The mentor and Graduate Education Committee will review the application file and interview records to make a decision about admission.
  3. The mentor will obtain permission and financial backing from the chair of their primary department. For direct-admit as with other graduate students, all financial responsibility for the student rests with the mentor until the student’s thesis committee determines that they have completed their dissertation.  Should the mentor lack funds at any time, the financial responsibility shifts to the chair of the department where the mentor has their primary appointment.  Unlike students entering through IGP/QCB/MSTP, the mentor is responsible for the first year of tuition and stipend.
  4. The mentor must send the applicant a copy of their Mentoring Compact before an offer letter can be extended.


II. The pre-candidacy phase

Pre-candidacy committee.  In the first week of the direct-admit student’s graduate career, the student will be assigned a pre-candidacy committee composed of the mentor, two members of the GEC, and one faculty member suggested by the mentor who may serve on the student’s eventual thesis committee.  The pre-candidacy committee is expected to meet with the student at least twice a year.  The committee is charged with overseeing the student’s intellectual growth, class performance, lab productivity, and social adjustment to graduate school.  If conflicts or other problems are observed, the committee may recommend various remedies, including a review of the mentoring compact, mediation by the Graduate Life Coach or in extreme cases, offering the student the opportunity to identify a new mentor.  If recommended by the pre-candidacy committee, CDB will support the student for 12 weeks, providing time for two lab rotations of 6 weeks each as the student attempts to identify a new mentor.  However, there is no guarantee that a second mentor will be identified.

Student advisory group. On arrival to campus, the student will be assigned a student advisory group, composed of three students: one second year student, one student who has a common interest (possibly country of origin), and one more senior direct-admit student.  This group will meet at least three times in the first two months in casual settings, to provide a social network for the student.

Coursework and qualifying exam. Direct-admit students will take the usual first-year IGP or QCB coursework, including BioRegulation, FOCUS, and IMPACT. In the middle of their second year, the direct-admit student will request a qualifying exam committee in the same manner as all other CDB graduate students, and from that time forward, their career is indistinguishable from CDB students entering from the umbrella programs.