How much time do students spend on coursework?

First-year students spend about 50% of their time on coursework and the rest of their week in their research rotation lab. Students usually take two or three 3-credit courses plus a 1-credit seminar class during their first two semesters and one or two 3-credit courses plus a 1-credit seminar class during their next two semesters. In semesters when students serve as teaching assistants, they often have a slightly lighter course load. Students generally complete their coursework in the first two years. The later years are spent entirely on research, with maybe a special-interest course to serve a particular interest of a student.

Are there courses that most first-year students take?

Many students take advanced courses in Microbial Genetics, Microbial Physiology, and Biochemistry, as well as another course or two in an area the specifically interests them. A listing of relevant courses can be found under the Program Overview on this web site. If students have already taken equivalent courses, then they can ask to take alternative courses.

Do all students have to serve as teaching assistants?

All students must serve as a teaching assistant for at least one semester. Occasionally a student can be excused from this requirement if they have significant prior teaching experience. In some cases students may serve as teaching assistants for multiple semesters if this is required by their lab/department for their financial support.

When will I be a teaching assistant and what will I teach?

Students are never teaching assistants in their first semester, but some may do so in their second semester. Most students complete this requirement before they finish their second year. The teaching assignment will vary depending on the department the student enters following their research rotations. Many students serve as teaching assistants for freshman biology labs and sophomore-level general microbiology labs, while some will teach in upper level microbiology or immunology labs

What are research rotations?

Research rotations allow you to spend four weeks in each of three different labs before you have to choose in which lab you will spend the next several years completing your dissertation research. This allows the students and faculty to get to know each another. Students can experience the lab atmosphere and learn about specific research opportunities.

In what labs can I do research rotations?

Potentially in any of the >35 labs listed on the research topics page. Each year the faculty members are asked whether they have space in their lab to accept a new student. Inevitably, in some years certain labs will not be accepting new students and therefore will not be open for rotations.

How do I arrange a research rotation schedule?

If you are admitted to the program, then in July or August, prior to your arrival in Blacksburg, the Program chair will send you a list of the laboratories that are accepting rotation students for the next semester. After reviewing the research areas of those labs, you will reply with your top four choices of labs. A rotation schedule will be devised with the goal of getting every new student into a rotation in three of their top four choices. The rotations will begin during the second week of the fall semester.

Following research rotations, how do I enter a lab to begin my dissertation research?

Students and faculty members are asked not to discuss the lab placement decisions until all three rotation periods are finished. They are certainly welcome to discuss what the future would be like if a student entered a particular lab. For instance, a student might ask what specific research projects would be available, how long an average student takes to complete a Ph.D. in this lab, or what sources of funding are available in the lab. In the week following the final rotation, students are to contact the faculty member of their first choice to indicate their interest in joining the lab. The faculty members must wait until the end of the week before responding in order to allow all students to indicate their wishes. If a student does not reach a mutual agreement with a faculty member in that week, then they repeat the process in the following week. In the past, most students have found spots in labs within their first two choices.

How are students supported?

First-year students are supported on research assistantships by the Microbiology program for the first semester while they perform research rotations. Once a student has formally entered a lab during their second semester, their support is the responsibility of their faculty mentor and their department. At that point, the source of the support varies. Most of our faculty mentors have outside grant support that will pay student stipends and tuition in the form of a research assistantship. In some circumstances students will be supported on a teaching assistantship for multiple semesters. Students are also encouraged to apply for a variety of fellowship and scholarship opportunities. The goal of this program is to insure that all students are fully financially supported (stipend and tuition) every semester they are in the program, and thus far we have been successful in all cases.

How much are students paid?

The stipend for students entering in fall 2013 will be at least $1680 per month. For students on research or teaching assistantships, tuition plus certain fees are fully paid by the assistantship, an additional total of over $11,000 or $21,000 per year for in-state and out-of-state students, respectively. Students have to pay student fees of approximately $835 per semester.

Do students receive health insurance benefits?

The Virginia Tech Graduate School has obtained a health insurance plan for graduate students and their dependents. For students on research or teaching assistantships, 90% of the cost of this plan is paid by the research assistantship (This is essentially the same as for faculty and staff of the university, we all pay a certain percentage of our health care costs). Dental benefits are available as an option within this insurance program.

How much does it cost to live in Blacksburg?

We polled 20 of our current students and got the following figures: Rent if living with roommates- $300-600 per month Rent if living without roommates- $450-700 per month Food - $150-250 per month Car insurance - $30-40 per month Student fees - $125 per month (Including Health insurance) Students estimated that on average they were spending $900-1000 per month on essentials, which left them with funds to have fun (when they weren’t working in the research lab).

Does this program offer a Masters degree?

No. The Interdepartmental Microbiology program only admits Ph.D. students. Applicants can apply to a master’s program in several different departmental graduate programs at Virginia Tech.

Is there an application deadline?

Applications that are complete by December 1 get the greatest consideration for fellowships, for invitations for paid interview trips, and for admissions. Applications that are complete by January 1 will also get strong consideration. International applicants are especially encouraged to apply early to allow time for processing of visa applications.

Do we offer admission at any time during the year?

We only accept students for admission in August.

Can I apply directly to work with an individual faculty member?

No. All students must enter the program and do three research rotations prior to entering a lab for their dissertation research.

How should I submit letters of recommendation?

You are strongly encouraged to use the on-line letter submission process that is part of the on line application site within the graduate school. If you must use hard copy letters, then there is a paper form to download from the Graduate school application site. The letters should then be mailed to the address indicated on the application page in this web site.

Is the GRE Exam required?

Yes. We require the GRE General Exam.

Is the GRE Subject Test required for admission?

No, no subject test is required.

Is there a minimum GRE score required for admission?

There is no minimum score required, however, most students that gain admission have combined Quantitative plus Verbal scores of 305 or greater.

What are the GRE reporting codes?

GRE and TOEFL scores should be sent to the Virginia Tech Graduate School, institution code 5859. There is no department code.

Is the TOEFL required for international students?

Yes, the TOEFL examination is required for applicants whose native language is not English, except those applicants who have graduated from an accredited university where English is the language of instruction. Virginia Tech will accept IELTS scores of 6.5 or higher in lieu of the TOEFL.

Is there a minimum TOEFL score?

The university-wide minimum requirement is 80 on the Internet-based test, 213 on the computer-based test, or 550 on the paper-based test. However, most students that gain admission have significantly higher scores.

What are the codes for reporting TOEFL scores?

GRE and TOEFL scores should be sent to the Virginia Tech Graduate School, institution code 5859. There is no department code.

Is the TSE required for international students to be accepted into the program?

No, the TSE is not required. However, you will have to pass a test of spoken English at Virginia Tech prior to serving as a Teaching assistant, which is a requirement for completing the Ph.D.

Do international applicants receive financial assistance?

Yes, all students admitted into the program, both Domestic and International, receive the same stipend and their tuition is paid.