Carnegie Mellon University

Curriculum at a Glance

Foundation Courses (38 units)

Programming for Scientists*
Algorithms and Advanced Data Structures*
Applied Cell and Molecular Biology*
Professional Issues in Computational Biology
* one or more of these courses may be replaced by additional depth units if student can prove proficiency

Background Courses (at least 18 units)

Math and Statistics

Breadth Courses (36 units)

Genomics, Biological Modeling, Automation of Biology

Depth Courses (48 units)

48 units of relevant courses

Graduation Requirements

  • You must have a B average (GPA = 3.00) over all courses counted for graduation
  • This includes the Foundation, Background, Breadth, and Depth courses
  • These courses must total at least 140 units
  • 02-602 (Professional Issues in Computational Biology) can count toward the 140 units, but not be factored in for GPA calculation
  • Courses counted for undergraduate degree certification cannot count for M.S. degree

Curriculum Description

The typical semester-long course at CMU consists of 9-12 units. Full-time student status requires enrollment at least 36 units of coursework per semester. The minimum number of units required for the MSCB degree certification for students starting in fall 2017 is 140. These courses are primarily in the Computational Biology Department (course codes beginning with 02-) and the Biological Sciences Department (course codes beginning with 03-) and are divided over the following categories:

Foundation courses (36 units) are taken in your first semester at CMU and provide you with fundamental skills in computation, molecular biology to help you succeed as a computational biologist. They are the following.

  • 02-601: Programming for Scientists
  • 02-613: Algorithms and Advanced Data Structures
  • 03-709: Applied Cell and Molecular Biology

We acknowledge that, depending on your previous studies, you may be able to place out of one of these courses. To help you take the most appropriate courses, we hold short placement exams during the week of MSCB orientation before the first week of classes in August. If you place out of a foundation course, you simply take 12 additional units of depth courses (see below).

Our two-semester Professional Issues in Computational Biology seminar (02-602; 2 units) is distinct among many master’s programs in that we provide dedicated training in a relaxed environment with your peers to help you navigate the difficulties of obtaining internships and employment, from how to write a resume and cover letter to how to give an effective short presentation and what to expect from job interviews. Industry, academic, and alumni panels help you improve your networking skills, and invited speakers give you immediate connections to potential employers.
Background courses (18+ units) are taken in your first year of study and ensure that you have a chance to strengthen your background in mathematics, statistics, and/or biology depending on your existing expertise.

Breadth courses (36 units) give you a “broad” understanding of the key approaches used in computational biology. They consist of three 12-unit courses:

  • 02-710 or 03-711: Genomics
  • 03-712: Computational Methods for Biological Modeling and Simulation
  • 02-750: Automation of Biological Research: Robotics and Machine Learning
Depth courses (48 units) give you the opportunity to dig “deeper” within a particular field of interest. 24 units must be taken from the Biological Sciences Department; 24 additional units must be taken from either the Computational Biology Department or a pre-approved list of related SCS courses.

Additional Curriculum Notes


Each semester, all students are encouraged to register for and attend the weekly Department of Biological Sciences Research Seminar (03-750) and Computational Biology Department Seminar (02-702). Graduate students are strongly urged to meet the speakers to broaden their knowledge of cutting-edge biological science and to make useful contacts; the faculty host can arrange individual or small group meetings for interested students. Additionally, students may register for and attend the weekly Department of Biological Sciences Journal Club (Graduate Research Seminar 03-755) and Computational Biology Department Journal Club (Current Topics in Computational Biology 02-701) during which faculty members and doctoral students give 25-minute presentations. M.S. students taking this course for credit must prepare and submit reports describing the presentations.


Students who are interested in research for credit may take 03-700 or 02-700(M.S. Thesis Research). The number of credits for this course will be determined by the faculty mentor. In order for more than 12 units of research to count toward total units for graduation, the student must write and defend a Masters thesis. Students should contact faculty directly to learn about available research opportunities. It is strongly advised that students wait until their second semester to begin research. M.S. students are not eligible for research assistantships, but students can work or do research for an hourly pay within the limitations of number of hours and pay range. Students can not get course credit and an hourly wage for the same work. (refer to MSCB Student Handbook).


Students who are interested in doing an internship in industry or at a research lab not at CMU can take 03-601R, Computational Biology Internship, for 3 units of credit.

International students who secure paid internships outside of Carnegie Mellon must register for both 03-601R and Curricular Practical Training (CPT). The Office of International Education (OIE) oversees CPT registration. Students will need the offer letter spelling out dates of employment, hours to be worked, and wages or stipend (if any). Note that, during the summer, tuition for 03-601R will not be assessed.

It is advisable to contact the Assistant Director (Internship and Job Placement) and/or the Assistant Department Head for Graduate Affairs during the fall semester to begin seeking and preparing for an internship (i.e. resumes, cover letters and making contacts).