Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology graduate program handbook


1. Program description

The mission of the CMPP graduate program is to prepare students for careers in basic biological and biomedical research, industry, and teaching. The program emphasizes training in molecular and cell biology, physiology and pharmacology to enable the students to tackle complex problems and mechanisms taking place at the cellular, tissue, organ and systemic levels.

Student Learning Objectives

  • To enhance your knowledge in molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, cell biology, physiology and pharmacology
  • To learn a broad array of techniques to tackle multidisciplinary research questions
  • To familiarize the student with ethics in science
  • To develop a critical mind
  • To work independently with minimal supervision in a collaborative environment
  • To develop manuscript and grant writing skills, as well as the ability to communicate orally

Note: This handbook lists graduate program academic policies and procedures. It includes information on graduate school policies, degree requirements, timeline for degree completion, committee selection guidelines and comprehensive exam/thesis requirements. Every effort has been made to make this handbook accurate as of the date of publication; however, this handbook does not constitute a contractual commitment. Graduate programs may not offer all of the courses as described, and policies are subject to yearly review and changes with the program director and Graduate Council approval. In addition, all descriptions defined below are superseded by requirements set forth by the Graduate School.


Program Director
Robert Renden
Robert Renden, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Director, Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology (CMPP) Graduate Program
(775) 784-4352
AHS 105F, Laboratory: 110

2. Degree requirements


The minimum requirements for the Ph.D. program are 71 total graduate units including at least 41 units in 600 and 700-level courses, not including Dissertation Research units, and no more than 30 units from Dissertation Research. The Graduate School requires a minimum of 18 units to be taken at the 700 level.

A maximum of 24 units of coursework (with grades of "B" or better) from a completed master's degree program may be allocated toward the doctoral degree. (A Credit Transfer Evaluation Request Form available online from the Graduate School must be approved by the student's advisory committee, the Graduate Program Director and, the Dean of the Graduate School.)

The minimum CMPP Graduate Program requires:

  • CMPP Core Curriculum: 32 required course units (see below)
  • Electives: 9 course units (see below)
  • Dissertation: 30 units
  • Total units required: 71 units

The specific program of study will be determined by the student and his or her Advisory / Examination Committee (see below).

The following courses (32 units) are required by the CMPP Graduate Program unless waived by the student’s Advisory / Examination Committee and the Executive Committee.

Required courses
Course Units Semester offered
BCH 705 Molecular Genetics 3 Every fall
PCB 711 Systems Physiology 5 Every other fall
PHAR 710 Molecular Pharmacology 3 Every other spring
PHAR 725 Ethics and Scientific Research 2 Every fall
CMPP 770 Research Rotation* 6 N/A
CMPP 790 Seminar 6 Upon request/approval
CMPP 794 Journal Club/Colloquium 6 Upon request/approval
CMPP 795 Comprehensive Exam 1 Upon request/approval

*Research rotations should be taken in the first year and must be performed in two different laboratories.

In addition to these courses, a CMPP Ph.D. student can take electives selected by the student and the Advisory Committee. See the University Course Catalog for a full listing of potential courses.

Recommended electives for CMPP, although any elective may be chosen:

Recommended electives
Course Units Semester offered
CMPP 740 Neuroeffector Pharmacology 3 Every third fall
CMPP 798 Translational Bioinformatics for Precision Medicine 3 Every fall
CSH 780 Biostatistics in Public Health 3 Every fall
CMB 710 Molecular Cell Biology 3 Every spring
BCH 613 Molecular Biophysics 3 Every spring
PHAR 750 Molecular Mechanisms of Excitability 3 Every third fall
PHAR 730 Intro to Imaging & Optics 3 Every third fall
PHAR 770 Reproductive Pharmacology 3 Every second spring, odd years
CMPP 793 Independent Study 3 Upon request

Other electives:

  • BCH 703 Grant Writing for Molecular Biosciences: 2 units
  • BCH 704 Biochemistry: 3 units
  • BCH 705 Molecular Genetics: 3 units
  • BCH 706 Functional Genomics: 3 units
  • BCH 707 Protein Structure & Function: 3 units
  • BCH 709 Introduction to Bioinformatics: 3 units
  • BCH 740 Enzymology: 3 units
  • BME 730 Introduction to Imaging & Optics: 3 units
  • MICR 700 Biotechnology Today & Tomorrow: 3 units
  • MICR 780 Intro Cellular Immunology: 3 units
  • MICR 784 Molecular Mech Virus: 3 units

A full listing of all courses can be found in the CMPP Course Catalog.

See Appendix A and B for a Course Yearly Breakdown and an Example Plan of Study

Continuous Enrollment

Continuous enrollment is no less than three (3) units per semester, including summer semester. All graduate students must be continually enrolled every semester until they graduate.

All students holding assistantships (whether teaching or research assistantships) are required to enroll in a minimum of six (6) graduate credits each semester they hold the assistantship.

A full-time graduate student may not register for more than sixteen (16) graduate units in any semester, or more than six (6) graduate units in any six-week summer session. Graduate Teaching assistants may not register for more than twelve (12) graduate units per semester. More than 12 credits requires an overload memo from the director.

Students who register for nine (9) graduate units or more in a semester are considered full-time. To be considered full-time for financial aid purposes, all graduate students, including those on assistantships, must be enrolled in at least nine (9) graduate units.


3. Program completion requirements

Graduate School academic requirements

All graduate students must maintain a cumulative graduate GPA of 3.0. If their GPA drops below 3.0, they are placed on probation. Undergraduate courses will not count towards graduate GPA.

Probation: Students whose cumulative graduate GPA falls between 2.31 and 2.99 are automatically placed on academic probation for one semester. If they fail to raise their cumulative GPA to 3.0 by the end of one semester, they are dismissed from their graduate program. Thesis, dissertation, S/U graded credits, and transfer credits have no impact on a student’s GPA. Please review the Graduate School’s full Academic Standing and Dismissal Policy on their website.

Termination: termination of graduate assistantships with active appointments now requires review by the department chair and graduate program director and approval by the relevant college team for the graduate school team as described in the termination policy below. Students whose cumulative graduate GPA is 2.30 or lower are dismissed. Dismissed students are no longer enrolled in their graduate program but may take graduate-level courses as a Grad Special. Dismissed students wishing to complete their degree must obtain approval to take graduate-level courses, raise their graduate GPA to at least 3.0, and then re-apply to their graduate program. Any courses taken in an effort to raise their GPA will be included in the graduate special/ transfer credit limitation (9 credits for master’s degrees).

View the termination policy in the university administrative manual.

  1. If a graduate assistant fails to meet pertinent work standards, the Recommendation for Termination of Graduate Assistantship Form must be used to terminate a graduate assistantship appointment in the attendance stipend prior to the end of the GA’s appointed term of service.
  2. The authority recommending termination, usually the GA’s immediate supervisor, must complete the termination of graduate assistant form in its entirety; supporting documentation must be attached and submitted with the form. The form must be reviewed and signed by the recommending department chair and the graduate program director in a period not to exceed fifteen (15) calendar days.
  3. in the case of interdisciplinary graduate programs, the form must then be submitted to the Dean of the graduate school for review and approval/ disapproval within fifteen (15) calendar days from the date of approval by the Department Chair and Graduate Program Director.
  4. in the case of Department-based graduate programs, the form must be reviewed and approved/ disapproved within fifteen (15) calendar days by the Dean of the relevant College/School before being submitted to the graduate school.
  5. Official notice will then be sent to the GA’s immediate supervisor and the impacted GA.
  6. Once the recommendation for Termination of Graduate Assistantship Form has been signed by all parties, including the Graduate Dean, the termination date will be recorded as the next available future date. The termination date cannot be a date in the past or prior to the completion of the signature process. If signatures are completed after payroll has run, the earliest available date for termination will be the first of the following month.

4. Transfer credits

These are credits transferred from another institution. Credits completed at the University in another program or as a graduate special do not need to be transferred. Transfer credit is requested on the Graduate Credit Transfer Evaluation Request form available on the Graduate School website (Graduate Credit Transfer Eval Request form) and must be signed by the student, major advisor, and graduate director. Transfer credits applied to a master’s program must comply with the time limitation on master’s work (6 years). Thus, if a student took a course five years prior to admission, they would have to complete the degree within one year for the course to apply to the degree. Credits from a completed master’s degree will be exempt from the 8-year time limitation for those students earning a doctoral degree.


5. Timeline for degree completion

Appendix A: Course recommendations by year

Below are class guidelines for each year of the CMPP program. Depending upon when a student starts or the amount of starting transfer credit, some of the guidelines might change. (For example, Biotechnology Masters students will have most of the first year of classes completed and will have schedules closer to second years.) Remember that a student’s committee has final say over all classes and can substitute or recommend classes as needed.

Year 1:

Take the core courses listed below as an incoming first year. Fill the rest of your 9 credits per semester (Fall and Spring) with the second column of classes. Do not worry if you do not take all the second column of classes as you can complete these in a later year.

Core Courses Classes to Complete Schedule
BCH 705: Molecular Genetics (3 credits) PHAR 725: Ethics and Scientific Research (2 credits)
PCB 711: Systems Physiology (5 credits) CMPP 790: Seminar (1 credit)
CMPP 770: Research Rotation (3 credits) [x2-3] CMPP 794: Colloquium/Journal club (1 credit)
Electives Elective credit as necessary (ex. BCH 613, PHAR 750, PHAR 730, PHAR 770…)


To maintain student status for tax purposes, US students need to take at least 1 credit of CMPP 799: Dissertation per summer. You can take more dissertation credits if you wish but remember you must pay for each credit. International students do not need to take summer credits to maintain student status.

Year 2/3:

Year 2 and 3 require several courses only offered every two years or three years. Depending upon the start year, the availability of classes may vary. Therefore, students should endeavor to take the core courses when available in the second or third year. Again, use the second column of courses to fill the remainder of the available 9 credits per semester.

Core Courses: Classes to Complete Schedule:
PHAR 710: Molecular Pharmacology (3 credits) CMPP 799: Dissertation (1-9 credits)
CMPP 795: Comprehensive Exam (1 credit) CMPP 790: Seminar (1 credit)
Electives CMPP 794: Colloquium/Journal club (1 credit)
Elective credits as necessary (ex. PHAR 750, PHAR 730, PHAR 770…)

Year 4+:

Most students should complete all required courses by year 4. A majority of credits in year 4 onwards will be dissertation credits. Make sure to complete all the remaining classes that were not completed in previous years. Check the Degree Requirements section to confirm an adequate number of credits for repetitive classes (ex. Seminar and Colloquium) has been met.

Doctoral degrees: All course work must be completed within eight years preceding the awarding of the degree. Credits transferred into doctoral degree from a completed master’s degree are exempt from this eight-year limit.

Committee selection guideline

First Year of Study - The Co-Directors of the Molecular Biosciences Program will advise students during their first year of graduate study. First year students will enroll in CMPP 770 (Research Rotation) in the fall and spring of their first year. These rotations are intended to expose students to the range of research in the Molecular Biosciences Program and to aid in the selection of an advisor. Students must rotate in at least two different laboratories. In the first two weeks of the first semester, students will attend presentations by CMPP faculty interested in recruiting students into their laboratory to become familiar with faculty research and available research opportunities.

Selection of the Advisory Committee – Upon completion of the second rotation, each student will select a Dissertation Advisor who will serve as chair of their Advisory Committee. The Dissertation Advisor must agree and will be responsible for supporting the student’s research and providing a stipend consistent with CMPP guidelines. Students who are unable to identify a willing Dissertation Advisor after completion of the second rotation will be advised by the members of the CMPP Program Executive Committee over the summer following the first year of study. If a Dissertation Advisor cannot be found, the Executive Committee will provide the Program Director with a written summary of the student’s performance in course and research work and may recommend that the student be dismissed from the Ph.D. program. Once a Dissertation Advisor is chosen, the student should complete the declaration of mentor form and submit to the Graduate school: Declaration of Advisor Form.

The Advisory Committee will consist of at least five members of the Graduate Faculty: the Committee Chair/Permanent Advisor, at least two members of the CMPP Graduate Program, at least one faculty member from a department in a field related to the student's major, and at least one graduate faculty member from outside the student’s major department or program who is the Graduate School Representative (For doctoral students, the Dissertation Advisor may be a different faculty member than the permanent chair.) In case of interdisciplinary graduate programs, the Graduate School Representative cannot have a primary appointment in the same department as the student's committee chair. Students may request the appointment of a qualified faculty member from another university or from a relevant discipline or profession. Formal approval of the student's Advisory Committee is made by the Graduate Dean. The Advisory Committee will hold an initial meeting prior to or early in the fall semester of the second year of study. The Advisory Committee will approve the Qualifying Exam, the program of study, and the dissertation. The Advisory Committee will also conduct the formal oral part of the doctoral dissertation defense and serve in an advisory capacity to the student during his or her tenure in the CMPP program. The student and Committee will meet annually to prepare a written progress report consisting of a list of the courses the student has taken, the courses proposed for the next year, and the tentative date for the Qualifying Exam. These annual meetings will include a confidential discussion between student and committee members, sans advisor, and between committee members, sans student, to track progression and address any conflicts or issues. The Committee should review the student program of study which should be initially submitted to the Graduate School no later than the day of the qualification day: Program of Study Form.

Comprehensive exams

Students must pass a Comprehensive Exam consisting of a written research proposal and oral examination by the Advisory Committee in order to be a candidate for a Ph.D. degree. Students are required to enroll in CMPP 795 in the semester in which they plan to take the Comprehensive Exam. Students are allowed 2 semesters to complete the Comprehensive Exam – sign up for the class in one semester and finish in the 2nd semester, then a grade change form is submitted. Failure to complete the Qualifying Exam will result in an Incomplete in this course.

The written proposal of the Comprehensive Exam must be in the standard NIH format for a multi-year R21 grant as described in PHS form 398 (Public Health Service Grant Website)

The written proposal must include (suggested page limits):

  • Abstract (1 page)
  • Specific Aims (1 page)
  • Research Strategy (6 pages)
    • Background
    • Significance
    • Innovation
    • Preliminary Studies (optional)
    • Approach
  • Literature Cited
  • Human Subjects or Vertebrate Animals (as appropriate) (3 pages)

The written proposal should not include personnel, budget or facilities pages. Standard English grammar and spelling and accurate citation to work by others are required.

The topic must be approved by the Advisory Committee before the student begins writing. The written proposal can be an extension of the student's current research problem if it represents a significant advance or novel approach to the problem. It cannot be the same as a research project described in any grant submitted by the advisor or collaborators. Resources that may be consulted include the library, PubMed, the Advisory Committee, other researchers, and other students. The finished document must be the student’s own work. The proposal should be sent out to the examining committee at least two weeks prior to the date of the comprehensive examination to allow time for the committee to evaluate the proposal.

The student's Advisory Committee will formally examine the student orally on the written proposal. If the proposal is not considered acceptable, a revised proposal will be due two months from the date of the first examination. If the student fails the second examination they will be recommended to be dismissed from the program. This exercise is viewed as an important component of the student's training and education. To pass the exercise, students will need to be well‑versed in the current literature in their field and able to formulate and defend their research plan and methodology. Students will also be expected to answer questions about the principles and factual basis of the research proposed as well as any principles and facts of biomedical science that the committee feels the student should know to advance to candidacy. This exam will introduce the student to the style, complexities and nuances of the grant proposal process and will begin to develop skills necessary for obtaining extramural research grants and defending their ideas before other scientists.

For a student to pass the Qualifying Exam, the Advisory/Examining Committee must reach a consensus that the student has written an acceptable proposal and performed satisfactorily in the oral examination. This consensus will be provided to the Program Director. If the Committee cannot reach such a consensus, they may offer the student the opportunity to revise the written proposal, to repeat the oral examination, or both within a period determined by the Committee, not to exceed two months after the Qualifying Exam. Alternatively, the Committee will provide the Program Director with a written summary of the student’s performance in the Qualifying Exam, course and research work and a recommendation that the student be dismissed from the Ph.D. program. The Program Director and Advisory Committee will decide if the student’s work merits awarding a master’s degree or if the student should be dismissed from the CMPP Graduate Program. The final decision will be forwarded to the Graduate School. Students cannot continue in the CMPP Ph.D. program without passing the Qualifying Exam.

Dissertation requirements

Dissertation and final examination requirements - Prior to choosing a date for the final oral examination, graduate students must submit a copy of their final dissertation for review by their examining committee. The dissertation does not have to be in its final form but must contain sufficient information to allow their committee to make an informed decision about the state of completion of their studies. The purpose of the review is to discern whether a student has sufficiently completed their studies to schedule the public seminar and final examination.

To ensure the value of doctoral degrees from the University, publication of high-quality research is required by the doctoral student. This minimum requirement is one first-author publication in a peer-reviewed forum. The work can be either primary research or a published literature review article. It is the responsibility of the thesis advisor, student, and committee to determine the scope and publication strategy. Submissions to a preprint server do not count towards fulfillment for portions of the thesis under this requirement. Defense of the dissertation may proceed once the manuscript is submitted and “in review” by the journal or publication outlet, subject to approval by the student’s advisor and Advisory Committee. Deviations from this policy will be mediated by the thesis committee, pending approval by the CMPP Executive Committee.

The format of the dissertation must meet the requirements of the Graduate School. If a student has first author publications accepted in refereed journals, the student may solicit the Advisory Committee to use these publications together with an appropriate introductory chapter in lieu of the standard dissertation format. The Advisory Committee may determine that additional chapters are required along with the published papers. The dissertation should be sent out to the Advisory Committee at least four weeks prior to the date of the thesis defense.

Following acceptance of the dissertation by the Advisory Committee, all doctoral candidates in the CMPP program will schedule and present a public research seminar on their dissertation research. This seminar will constitute part of the final examination and must be presented while the candidate is still in residence. Following the public seminar, the Advisory Committee will conduct a final oral examination in closed session. This oral examination will be conducted in accordance with the examination requirements of the Graduate School. Doctoral candidates must register for one credit of Independent Study during the semester in which this seminar is presented.

Thesis Filing Guidelines

For the following forms, please visit the Graduate School's forms page.

  • Thesis Final Review Approval Form
  • Dissertation Filing Guidelines
  • Doctoral Dissertation Final Review Approval Form
  • Dissertation Title Form

6. Graduate Assistantships

All graduate students holding an assistantship (teaching GTA or research GRA) are considered Nevada residents for tuition purposes. Non-resident tuition is only waived for the duration of the assistantship. To be eligible for an assistantship, students must be admitted to a degree-granting program and be in good academic standing. The student must have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 and must be continuously enrolled in at least 6 graduate-level credits (600-700) throughout the duration of the assistantship. In addition to GTA or GRA, a new category of graduate assistant is now available: the graduate project assistant or GPA. GPAs are graduate students who work on campus, primarily in non-academic departments, such as the Graduate School, Graduate Student Association, Career Studio, Writing and Speaking Center, Honors Program, etc. Graduate assistants in this category should gain professional skills while contributing to student services, serving in leadership roles, or otherwise contributing to the University. Work expectations and schedules of GPAs may differ substantially from those of semester-based graduate teaching assistantships. Supervisors need to discuss these expectations with graduate students in advance of hiring so that supervisor/graduate assistant expectations are closely aligned. State-funded assistantships (GTA/GRA/GPA) may be held for a maximum of three (3) years for master’s degree students and five (5) years for doctoral degree students.

Updated information on graduate assistantships is available from the Graduate School:

Graduate assistantships Graduate program handbook


7. Health insurance

All domestic degree seeking graduate students, who are enrolled in six or more credits (regardless of the course level) in a semester, will be automatically enrolled and billed for the University sponsored health insurance for each term they are eligible (fall/spring/summer). If a student has other comparable coverage and would like to waive student health insurance, it is the student’s responsibility to complete the Student Health Insurance Waiver Form prior to the deadline. If approved, a health insurance waiver is good for the current academic year only. A new waiver must be submitted each academic year. All international graduate students are required to carry student health insurance, and the cost will be automatically added to your student account. Any international graduate students with insurance questions must contact the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) Website directly.

Graduate Health Insurance Website


8. Leave of Absence

Continuous Enrollment: To maintain in “good standing all graduate students are required to enroll in a minimum of three (3) graduate credits each fall and spring semester until they graduate. International students may be required to enroll in nine graduate credits each fall and spring semester depending on the requirements of their visa. All students holding assistantships (whether teaching or research assistantships) are required to enroll in a minimum of six (6) graduate credits each semester they hold the assistantship.

Leave of Absence: Students in good standing may request a leave of absence by completing a leave of absence form available on the Graduate School website (Leave of Absence Form), during which time they are not required to maintain continuous registration. Usually, a leave of absence is approved for one or two semesters. The leave of absence request may be extended by the student filing an additional leave of absence form. Students applying for a leave of absence should not have any incomplete grades which could be changed to “F” and have a detrimental impact on their cumulative GPA. Requests for leave of absences must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the leave is to begin.

Reinstatement: When a student has been absent for one semester or more without an approved leave of absence, he or she may request reinstatement via the Reinstatement Form (available on the Graduate School website Reinstatement of Graduate Status Form). This form allows the program the option to recommend the student be re-admitted to their graduate program based on their previous admission OR require the student to re-apply for admission which will require the student to submit a new application for admission and pay the application fee. The Notice of Reinstatement to Gradate Standing must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the reinstatement is to begin.


9. Graduate Student Association

The Graduate Student Association (GSA) Website promotes the welfare and interests of the graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno. The GSA works closely with appropriate university administrative offices, including the Graduate School and Student Services. The GSA government functions through the Council of Representatives, Executive Council and established committees.


10. The Graduate School

The Graduate School Website is a great resource for students. You may be able to access necessary forms on the Graduate Forms and Deadlines Website, in which you can access the Graduation Application form and other materials.