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 Molecular Biology of Human Disease

Topics include the genetic and molecular basis of human diseases focusing on age-associated degenerative diseases including cystic fibrosis, cancers, metabolic diseases and neurodegenerative diseases.  We will examine mechanisms of protein quality control and the functional properties of the proteostasis network essential for the functional health of proteins and the events associated with protein aggregation and the formation of amyloids. The course is hypothesis based from the primary literature with oral presentations and short writing assignments.


IBIS 404 Principles and Methods in Systems Biology

Systems biologists use mathematical-based experimental analysis and modeling to study biological problems. 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 systems biology course.

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 411 Fundamentals in Biological Sciences: Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Genetics

Fundamental concepts in the areas of biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetics will be discussed. We will use both foundational discoveries and current advances to introduce concepts relevant to these fields. In addition, we will discuss the historical and modern approaches and logic used to address fundamental biological questions regarding these concepts. For each concept, we will end with a discussion of what outstanding questions remain and how to critically and rigorously address these questions using a variety of approaches.

IBIS 412 Fundamentals in Biological Sciences: Genomics, Cell Biology, and Developmental Biology

Fundamental concepts in the areas of genomics, cell biology, and developmental biology will be discussed. We will use both foundational discoveries and current advances to introduce concepts relevant to these fields. In addition, we will discuss the historical and modern approaches and logic used to address fundamental biological questions regarding these concepts. For each concept, we will end with a discussion of what outstanding questions remain and how to critically and rigorously address these questions using a variety of approaches.

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

The course will explore the principles and practical applications of biophysical methods in contemporary research, with an emphasis on understanding macromolecular structure and function. A broad range of techniques including various forms of spectroscopy and microscopy will be covered. Students will learn practical aspects of design and conduct of experiments and review scientific literature demonstrating the value of these methods.

*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:

  • Conversations about Teaching
  • Epigenetic Regulation of Gene Expression
  • Structural Biology of COVID-19
  • Scientific Communication
  • Design Principles of Membrane Proteins
  • Facts & Fiction: Exploration of Science Denialism and Anti-Science Arguments
  • Frontiers of Transcription Regulation
  • Practical Training in Chemical Biology Methods & Experimental Design

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, genetics, immunology, microbial evolution, microbiology, molecular biology, molecular evolution, neurobiology, and reproductive biology.

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 Seminar in Biological Sciences 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 BioOpportunities, BioSurvival Skills, and Pathway to the Professoriate. The events take place on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses.

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

BioSurvival Skills is a series of workshops on topics such as presentation skills, grant and CV writing, and the job search.

Pathway to the Professoriate touches on issues important for successful academic careers including applying for faculty positions, startup package negotiations, and lab management.

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.

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 intend 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 Reflective and Effective Teaching 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 April 24, 2023. 

For additional information please see the announcement and application forms: