Current Students

Courses & Training


All first-year students must take a combination of core graduate courses and elective classes. The IBiS courses described below are graduate-level courses that provide a broad foundation of life science research. All students are required to take at least four and up to six of the core graduate courses. Students are required to earn a B grade or better in each of the courses, and to complete the selected courses by the end of the first academic year. Any variation from these requirements, or others described below, requires the approval of the Graduate Advisory Committee.

IBIS 401 Molecular Biophysics

Protein structure; nucleic acids structure; forces that determine macromolecular structure; transport and diffusion; macromolecular assemblies; molecular machines and single molecule studies; x-ray crystallography; electron microscopy and image reconstruction; nuclear magnetic resonance; spectroscopy

IBIS 402 Eukaryotic Molecular Biology

Genome and gene structure and organization; transcription and its control, aspects of signaling and developmental control of gene expression; RNA processing, translation and their regulation; DNA replication and its control; molecular analysis of disease; applications of molecular biology in biotechnology.

IBIS 403 The Human Proteome: Defining Variation and Modifications of Protein Molecules

The focus of the class is on the Human Genome and mass spectrometry-based proteomics.

IBIS 404 Principles and Methods in Systems Biology

Systems biologists use mathematical-based experimental analysis and modeling to study biological problems. They do this to better understand the nature of systems-based mechanisms that control development, physiology, biochemistry, and behavior. Quantitative techniques and computational tools help investigators analyze heterogeneous complex data about molecular networks to uncover meaningful relationships about key components. These studies inspire a framework for understanding the activity of living states. Related principles about dynamic biological systems are the focus of the 2014 systems biology course.

IBIS 406 Cell Biology

This course is intended to provide IBIS students with detailed knowledge of selected areas of modern eukaryotic cell biology through analysis of scientific literature and in-depth background research. Students will investigate current hot topics in eukaryotic cell biology, including the methods and reagents used in cell biology research, and will critically evaluate primary data from recent scientific publications. Students are expected to think judiciously about cell biology research and confidently present their ideas in both oral and written form.

IBIS 407 Genetics & Epigenetics

Exploration of the classic and contemporary scientific literature on genetic and epigenetic control of phenotype, genetic analysis, genetic interactions, genetic model systems and genetic experiments. The focus of the course will be on learning to think about genetic data and to design genetic experiments and screens to answer biological questions.

IBIS 410 Quantitative Biology

Quantitative approach to molecular and cell biology, focused on developing an understanding of connections between biomolecule structure and
dynamics, and behavior of cells. The course will also include review of topics from statistics of random variables and statistical data analysis relevant to biology and biophysics.

IBIS 432 Statistics for Life Sciences

Statistics course with emphasis on the application of statistical methods and data analysis techniques to the life sciences. Topics include descriptive statistics, normal distribution, random variables, sampling distribution, confidence intervals, hypothesis tests, p-values and multiple correction, linear regression, model selection, diagnostics, logistic regression, contingency tables, resampling, clustering, dimension reduction, and genomics data analysis.

*IBIS 409 Biophysical Methods for Macromolecular Analysis

Principles and practical applications of biophysical methods in contemporary biological research, with an emphasis on understanding macromolecular structure and function. The techniques that will be covered include fluorescence spectroscopy (FRET and anisotropy), circular dichroism, analytical ultracentrifugation, surface plasmon resonance, single molecule techniques (optical tweezers and AFM), electron microscopy and mass spectrometry.

*This course is appropriate only for advanced graduate students in their second year or later.

Elective Courses

Students can tailor their curriculum to their specific interests by substituting up to two of the IBiS graduate courses with electives from Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, or other departments. These courses should be 300-level or 400-level courses.

Graduate Advisory Committee approval of the student’s selections is required. Each student will be assigned a Graduate Advisor, and must meet with his/her assigned advisor prior to registration for each quarter to select appropriate elective courses. 

Special Topics Courses

Special topics seminar courses are offered regularly for small groups of graduate students. Completion of two such courses is required before the end of the spring quarter of the third academic year. The teaching faculty and topics change each quarter. Examples of recent special topics courses include:

Control of Cell Division
Stem Cells & Regeneration
Decoding ENCODE
Specification & Differentiation of Mammalian Germ   Cells
Current Topics in Synthetic Biology
Current Topics in Biophysics
Scientific Writing & Speaking

Research Rotations

In addition to formal course work, first-year students complete three rotations in different laboratories to define their research interests. Many research areas are represented among our faculty including biochemistry, biophysics, cell biology, developmental biology, environmental biology, remediation, evolutionary genetics, genetics, immunology, microbial evolution, microbiology, molecular biology, neurobiology, reproductive biology tissue engineering, and virology.

At the end of the three rotations, students choose a laboratory and a faculty advisor and initiate a research project that will form the basis of their Ph.D. dissertation. Throughout the doctoral training, informal laboratory meetings allow students to present their research results and gain insight into current research problems.


The noncredit seminar series IBIS 462 Program Seminar is an important part of the program of study. Students register for the seminar series each quarter prior to formal admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. and are expected to continue participation in individual departmental seminars following the admission to candidacy.

Seminars are held on both Northwestern campuses, giving students the opportunity to interact with graduate students in many other life sciences programs. Departments participating in IBiS and the federal training grants sponsor weekly seminars in which prominent national and international scientists discuss their research. An inter-campus shuttle bus service is available for transport between the Chicago and Evanston campuses.

In addition, seminars sponsored by the training programs in cell and molecular biology, molecular biophysics, and reproductive biology are held with the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Brown Bag Luncheon Seminars with Faculty - for First-Year Students

During the first academic year, students meet weekly with one or two of the IBiS program faculty for an informal research seminar during the lunch hour. These meetings expose students to the scientific interests of the faculty.

Career Development

To foster the career development of graduate students training in the life sciences at Northwestern University, the IBiS Graduate Program co-sponsors BioProfessionals which includes BioSurvival SkillsBioOpportunities, and Pathway to the Professoriate. The events take place quarterly, on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses.

BioSurvival Skills are a series of workshops on topics such as presentation skills, grant and CV writing, and job hunting.

The BioOpportunities program regularly invites alumni and other professionals to talk about the diversity of careers available to the PhD student.

Pathway to the Professoriate touches on issues important for successful academic careers including lab management, startup package negotiations, and the tenure-track process.

IBiS students also have access to Northwestern University’s Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching which is a valuable resource for students interested in improving their teaching skills in preparation for an academic career, and professional development resources through Northwestern University’s Graduate School.

Additional Resources:

Seminars, Symposia and Journal Clubs

The University also offers numerous other formal and informal seminar programs which are an important part of the graduate training in the IBiS program. These include special department seminars, symposia, laboratory group meetings, various journal clubs, and meetings of special interest groups such as the Molecular Biology Club and the Biophysics Club.

Teaching Opportunities

Teaching Assistant - Since many doctoral students aim to pursue academic careers, experience as a teacher is a valuable part of a graduate training program. Beginning in the second year, students participate in teaching undergraduate courses for a total of two quarters. 

Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching - IBiS students also have the opportunity to improve their teaching skills through Northwestern University’s Searle Center in preparation for an academic career. 

IBiS/PBS/Searle Teaching Certificate Program - IBiS will again support teaching development opportunities for advanced graduate students in collaboration with the Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching and the Program in Biological Sciences (PBS) by opening course sections for students to co-teach, such as a biology-related Freshman Seminar or BIOL SCI 164 Genetics and Evolution. Since the IBiS Program is only able to guarantee a few teaching spots each year, students will need to apply to IBiS for these opportunities. Students are required to obtain consent from their laboratory PI prior to applying for this program.  The deadline to apply is May 5, 2017. 

For additional information please see the announcement and application forms: