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Program Requirements

Research Adviser Selection and Laboratory Rotations

Trainees enrolled in the various departmental PhD programs generally follow the schedule established by their departments and programs for laboratory rotations and thesis adviser selection during their first year. To be eligible for an National Institutes of Health-funded Traineeship, students are required to pursue at least two research rotations in labs from any of the participating departments before selecting a thesis adviser (rotations are encouraged by not required for students within IBiS or DGP or those planning to apply as Cluster Members).  This requirement is often met by completing two four-week rotations during or before the first fall quarter. Additional laboratory rotations, even after the choice of a thesis adviser, are highly encouraged in order to expose students to additional research environments.

Download the Training Program Rotation Form

Course Requirements

The following courses are required for all trainees (both NIH-funded Trainees and Biotechnology Cluster Members):

  • Biology Fundamentals: trainees are required to take two (2) courses that provide broad coverage of fundamental biological principles, such as cell biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, systems biology, synthetic biology and quantitative biology. Trainees should select courses that build upon or complement their prior training—student having completed prior coursework in biological fundamentals (e.g., the equivalent of Biol_Sci 315 or 390 at Northwestern) should take graduate-level courses when possible, and students without this background may satisfy this requirement with advanced undergraduate coursework that provides exposure to biological fundamentals. To guarantee a solid quantitative foundation, all IBiS students are required to take Quantitative Biology (IBiS 410) as one of the courses that satisfies this requirement
  • Biology Electives: trainees are required to complete three (3) biotechnology electives. These courses may be drawn from the broad slate of courses offered across Northwestern. Electives may be selected to build additional knowledge in biological fundamentals, or they may focus on developing enabling technical skills. This requirement is intended to offer flexibility in order for trainees to develop technical strengths that align with their research and professional development goals. View suggested electives 
  • Responsible Conduct of Research (Any one of the following): IBiS 423 (Ethics in Biological Research), GEN ENG 519 (Responsible Conduct of Research), or CHEM 519 (Responsible Conduct of Research Training)
  • Rigor and Reproducibility in Research (IBiS 421):  students should enroll in this course the summer after their first year of appointment to BTP.
  • Advances in Biotechnology (ChBE 478)

Total: 8 core courses

Note: Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) students will automatically receive credit for having completed one Biology Fundamental course and one Biotechnology Elective in recognition of courses taken during the first two years of medical school.


NIH-funded Trainees are required to complete an internship before graduating from Northwestern. Biotechnology Cluster members are encouraged, but not required, to complete an internship. Learn more about internships.

PhD Requirements

Each trainee must meet the PhD degree requirements of their chosen department or unit, in addition to the requirements of this Training program. NIH-funded Trainees must be enrolled full time within (or admitted to) one of the participating departments in the training program. These include the Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences Program (IBiS), the Biomedical Engineering Department (BME), the Department of Chemistry, the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department (ChBE), the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences (DGP), or the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE).

Cluster members may be enrolled in any Northwestern University PhD program.

Individual Development Plan

An individual development plan (IDP) helps you explore career possibilities and set goals to follow the career path that fits you best. Students are required to discuss their IDP with their primary research adviser at least once per year, and there will be an additional opportunity to discuss their IDP and associated career goals with BTP leadership annually during year(s) of support by BTP. IBiS students may use the IBiS IDP form, and other trainees should use the BTP Individual Development Plan form.

Additional Opportunities 

Biotechnology Certificate

Completing the BTP course requirements qualifies students to receive a Biotechnology Certificate from The Graduate School (TGS). In order to obtain this certificate, you must visit this TGS site to fill out the Application for Graduate Certificate upon completion of the relevant requirements.

Additional opportunities for biotechnology training include various BTP Program Offerings, some of which are organized and run by trainees.

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