We know prospective students have lots of questions. Anything from coursework to stipends, from program requirements to life in Madison. You should have as much information as possible as you consider your options in your graduate career.
While many of your questions will be answered here and on our program requirements page, please do not hesitate to contact our program office with additional questions or concerns.
Check out the materials below for answers to some commonly asked questions from prospective students.
- How much time as a first-year student is spent on coursework? Typically about 50%, with the remainder being spent on lab rotations and getting started in the lab you select for thesis research. Students usually take two, 2-4-credit hour courses per semester (in addition to MDTP student seminar and Micro 810/811) the first year.
- What courses do most first-year students take? There is significant variability, depending on your background, interests, and future directions. A useful resource to consider is the listing of Bacteriology and Medical Microbiology & Immunology courses counting toward the major. Before you arrive on campus, you will also be guided by the faculty and students who serve on the Advising Committee as well as (formally or informally) by senior graduate students who have taken the courses.
- Do I still have to take these courses if I’ve taken a comparable undergraduate or Master’s degree course? The program would consider a waiver, but it would be unusual for a student to have taken comparable courses as an undergraduate.
- What are the major and minor coursework requirements and what is the nature of the minor? Major: 10 credit hours are required. All students are required to take 2 semesters of the one credit course Current Issues in Microbiology (MMI 810/Micro 811). At least 3 courses must come from the major course list (see Course Requirements). Minor: 10 credit hours, which may be in a single department (Biochemistry, Genetics, etc.). However, the vast majority of students choose a distributed minor option that can be satisfied by choosing courses from one or more other departments. Ultimately, a student’s thesis committee approves the major and minor courses, within programmatic and University guidelines.
- How long do students usually take courses? Most students complete their coursework requirements in the first two years.
- What are laboratory rotations? Laboratory rotations provide you with an opportunity to do research in prospective laboratories prior to selecting the one in which you do your thesis work. They provide first-year students, faculty, and other lab personnel a chance to get to know one another in terms of specific lab projects, scientific approaches and thinking, mentoring style, and lab atmosphere and dynamics. See our rotations page for more info.
- Who is eligible to train Microbiology Ph.D. students? Any of the Microbiology trainers listed on our website are eligible. This includes faculty in the Departments of Bacteriology and Medical Microbiology & Immunology, as well as trainers with appointments in many other departments.
- How many rotations must I do, and how long is each rotation? Three is the minimum number and the number chosen by most students, although some do four, or even more. Typically, rotations are usually 4 weeks in duration.
- How and when do I set up lab rotations? You may set up all rotations at the start of the fall semester, or as the semester proceeds. You may already have one or more labs in mind when you first come to Madison, or you may not. To aid you in making an informed set of choices, there will be brief presentations by many of the Microbiology faculty to the entering students during orientation week.
- When are decisions about joining a lab made, how are students matched with a lab, and do most students get their first choices? Currently, the deadline for finishing rotations and joining a lab is March 1, with a decision to that effect by mid-February. Students with independent fellowship support may choose to do rotations through the first academic year. However, many students choose to make their decision and arrangements by the end of the fall semester. This decision occurs because many other Biological Sciences graduate programs on campus provide support for rotations only during the fall semester. This issue is important because Microbiology faculty may also be trainers in other departments and programs where students typically choose a lab by the end of the fall semester. Students from various programs may rotate in the same lab, and resources (funding support and space) in any particular lab are not infinite. The best strategy for choosing a lab is to maintain an open line of communication between you and the faculty member. Most students are able to join labs that are their first choices. Occasionally, problems do arise, and alternatives should always be considered.
- How are students supported financially? Unless you have an independent fellowship, responsibility for support of a student rests with the director of the lab you join after the rotation period. During the rotation period, it is reasonable for you to inquire if a lab director has funding available or pending for your long-term support. UW-Madison in general and Microbiology faculty specifically have outstanding funding records using a variety of sources, but individual cases vary at particular times. The departments in the Microbiology Program have a long history of providing a safety net in cases of temporary interruptions in funding. In short, students joining our program should never need to worry about funding.
- How will I be supported my first year? Unless you have received an independent fellowship, you will be supported by Program resources until you select a thesis laboratory. After that, the laboratory assumes responsibility for your support. Program resources used to support first-year students without independent fellowships are nearly always Research Assistant (RA) positions funded by the Graduate School or Departmental RA positions. You are guaranteed first year support by the program, but at this time we cannot tell you precisely the source of support, in part because we do not know how many of you will accept our offer of admission, or how many may be awarded independent fellowship funding. The important point is that all students are guaranteed the same stipend regardless of their support.
- What will I be paid? The stipend for 2022-2023 will be $31,750. You are required to pay income taxes. You will have to pay student fees each semester, but you will not pay tuition.
- Is health insurance provided? You have access to the same choices for excellent and comprehensive health care as do faculty and staff. This includes a variety of HMOs and fee-for-service options, and includes vision and dental coverage. The current cost for health insurance is $44.00 for an individual and $105.50 per month for a family plan. If you choose a fee-for-service option, your contribution to the premium will be substantially more. You may find that this situation is substantially more attractive and economical than situations in which health insurance is not wholly or largely covered, or in which you are limited to special student health care.
- What are typical cost-of-living expenses in Madison? A poll of students resulted in the following average costs / month: rent – $800-1100 without roommates, – $500-800 with roommates; food – $250-350. Madison is a relatively affordable place to live.
- What computer and internet resources are available? A free e-mail account and web space is provided free of charge. Discounted software packages as well as free virus protection software is available to all students. There are extensive university, departmental, and investigator computer resources as well as specialized campus or departmental resources, e.g., for computer or molecular graphics. Macintosh computers and/or PCs are available in many laboratories as shared or individual resources.
- What is the average time-to-degree for a Microbiology student, and is it comparable to other programs? Currently about 5-6 years, which is pretty typical in the biosciences. Annual thesis committee meetings provide a way to ensure that you proceed to degree in as timely a fashion as possible. Research is inherently unpredictable, but diligent student and faculty efforts as well as adherence to programmatic guidelines should make achieving a Ph.D. in 5 years a realistic goal.
- What opportunities exist for students after receiving their Ph.D. degrees? Students often pursue postdoctoral training in academic, industry, clinical, or government labs. Student also start careers in industry or government positions not requiring postdoctoral training, or academic positions in liberal arts colleges or Universities. Students graduating from UW-Madison Microbiology trainer labs have an outstanding track record for placement in desired positions. See our alumni directory to see what MDTP graduates have done after graduation.
- Are there resources that will help me with postgraduate opportunities? Your faculty adviser and thesis committee members are excellent primary resources. Attendance and presentations at scientific meetings often give you and future employers or mentors a chance to meet one another. Faculty in the program also help organize a career options symposium for graduate students every other year.
- Are there any resources to help find employment opportunities for spouses? A variety of community resources are available, and all university job openings are listed online.
- What about vacation time for students? Work schedules and vacation times are negotiable with your faculty adviser.