The undergraduate program in molecular, cellular and developmental biology is directed toward understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that provide the basis for biological structure, growth, evolution, embryonic development and genetic inheritance.

Undergraduate majors learn about and gain hands-on experience in scientific methods and groundbreaking discoveries that have made modern molecular and cellular biology such an important force in medicine, agriculture and the biotechnology industry.

My molecular, cellular and developmental biology degree from CU Boulder has enabled me to pursue a challenging, inspiring and meaningful career in science writing, and the education, guidance and encouragement I received during my graduate experience provided me with the confidence to embark on an atypical career path."

Roni Dengler, PhD '17

Have you ever been sick or know someone who's been terminally ill? Have you ever wondered how genetics can influence health? What about the accuracy of those genetic tests?

Molecular, cellular and developmental biology is one of three life sciences departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. By understanding how cells develop and function in healthy and diseased states, these biologists work to develop new vaccines, more effective medicines, plants with improved qualities and — through increased knowledge — a better understanding of how all living things live.

The Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at CU Boulder is also one of the best in the nation, ranking #33 in the nation by the most recent U.S. News & World Report.

In addition, the department has excellent and award-winning faculty, including a a Nobel Prize winner, a CU Distinguished Professor, a Professor of Distinction, a National Medal of Science winner, multiple current and former Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, two Guggenheim fellowship recipients, an American Heart Association Distinguished Scientist, numerous Pew, Beckman and Searle Scholar recipients, and fellows for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, American Academy of Microbiology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Cancer Society and the National Academy of Sciences. As well, the department's faculty are incredibly innovative, producing over 200 patents, ranging from new medical diagnoses and treatments to pioneering research techniques.

The Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology is nationally recognized in several areas of research, including bacterial and eukaryotic molecular genetics, mechanisms controlling cellular growth, survival, and differentiation, animal and plant development, neurobiology, genomic analysis and molecular phylogeny.

Their diverse faculty also include several who have joint affiliations with institutes and centers like BioFrontiers Institute and the Institute for Behavioral Genetics, other departments like Psychology and Neuroscience and Computer Science, and outside CU Boulder at institutions like Anschutz Medical Campus and the CU School of Medicine and CU Cancer Center, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Dozens of undergraduates do research projects in the molecular, cellular and developmental biology faculty laboratories each year. Students seeking to do research are advised to complete the required sequence of molecular, cellular and developmental biology courses as early as possible in order to be better prepared academically for research, to meet more faculty, and to have enough time left later for full involvement in a research project. Undergraduate research experience greatly improves the likelihood of admission to a high quality Ph.D. program as the next step toward a career in research.

For the undergraduate students pursuing a degree in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, there are a number of research opportunities beyond just class work:

  • The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) offers students a chance to work alongside a faculty sponsor on original research. Learn to write proposals, conduct research, pursue creative work, analyze data, and present the results. For more information, call UROP at 303-492-2596 or visit the UROP website.

  • The Biological Sciences Initiative supports undergraduate students interested in scientific research through numerous courses and programs.

  • Majors with successful research projects and strong academic records are eligible to graduate with honors in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. A candidate for honors must prepare a thesis based on the research project, present the work to an honors committee, and pass an oral examination on the work. It is important to identify a faculty mentor and initiate the research sufficiently early so that results suitable for an honors thesis can be achieved prior to graduation.

  • The university offers more than 100 programs study abroad programs around the world, and students may spend from a few weeks to a full academic year abroad, depending on the program selected. Advanced molecular, cellular and developmental biology courses are difficult to match with those offered in foreign universities, so molecular, cellular and developmental biology students should plan to take non-major courses during study abroad. Further information about study abroad is available from Education Abroad, 303-492-7741 or on the education abroad website.

There are many opportunities open to molecular, cellular and developmental biology majors, including laboratory work in research, clinical, and diagnostic laboratories, as well as both research and manufacturing positions in biotechnology. Other possibilities include sales and service representatives for pharmaceutical, medical or laboratory products, positions in governmental agencies, technical editing and publishing, scientific illustration and a variety of management training programs. Students who earn Colorado teacher licensure will be qualified to apply for high school teaching positions in the state.

The molecular, cellular and developmental biology major provides a strong foundation for graduate and professional training. Graduate study in areas related to molecular, cellular and developmental biology can lead to academic faculty appointments, or to academic, governmental or industrial research positions. Professional degree programs include clinical or veterinary medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and other health-related professions, as well as forensic science and law. Other highly specialized fields that attract molecular, cellular and developmental biology graduates include genetic counseling, biomedical engineering, marine biology, biopsychology, and business.

Career Services offers free services for all CU Boulder degree-seeking students, and alumni up to one year after graduation, to help students discover who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. They are the bridge between academics and the world of work by discussing major and career exploration, internship or job searching, and graduate school preparation. 

According to the 2019-20 College Salary Report by PayScale Human Capital:

  • The median salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology and 0-5 years of experience is $78,000; and
  • The median salary for 10-plus years of experience, $78,800.

MCDB Payscale

The estimated median salaries, as reported on Tableau, for Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology graduates for 1 to 5, 6 to 10, and over 11 years out from school.

At CU Boulder, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology graduates earn more than the nationwide average of comparable majors as reported by PayScale. CU Boulder alumni in this discipline earn an estimated annual salary of $90,404, based on a pool of 1215 alumni who graduated between 1989 and 2018. This amount, however, is roughly the same as the average for all CU Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree, according to a survey by Esmi Alumni Insight of 25,000 alumni who graduated during the same stretch.

According to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for microbiologists are expected to grow by 8 percent from 2016-2026, the same as the average for all jobs.

The Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology has an extensive alumni network working in a variety of industries across the globe. Some alumni of the program include:

  • Allison Cleary (BA '06) is an MD/PhD graduate of Penn State University’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. She won the 2015 Science/SciLifeLab Grand Prize for her essay “Teamwork: The Tumor Cell Edition.”

  • Roni Dengler (PhD '17) is a science writer for Science magazine. She was a 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellow.

  • Dominique Bergman (PhD '00) is a professor of biology at Stanford University and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She was a 2017 National Academy of Sciences inductee.

  • Joe Kernen (BS '78) is co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box.

  • Tom Maniatis (BS '65) is the Isidore S. Edelman Professor and chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University and scientific director and chief executive officer of the New York Genome Center.