I don't want to kill any more mice, but my advisor insists that I must in order to get my PhD

I read the above post and I realized that I will be sailing in the same boat.

I am planning to get a PhD admission in molecular/cell biology/genetics. I cannot stand the sight of mice. I get scared even looking at pictures of mice.

My questions are:

  1. Is it possible to complete the course without having to work on mice?

  2. Will it be very difficult to do?

  3. How should I go about finding labs that don't work with mice?

  • How can academia.SE users answer your research based question. If mice have to be killed so that you will get a PhD, then it is inevitable. Let them die (if you are selfish). Else, get out of that lab and seek some theoretical work.
    – Coder
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 21:25
  • @coder I think these are answerable questions. In the US there might be PhD level course work that requires students to work with mice. In some cases theses classes might be optional. I think someone familiar with molecular biology programs could answer these questions.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 21:35
  • It seems like the 1st and 3rd questions are very different. It might be better to ask them as separate questions.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 21:36
  • 1
    @Nij I think the question is asking all/none/some programs can be done without animal work. Someone who understands these programs should be able to give an answer.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 22:41
  • 4
    There's a whole world of biological oceanography out there that examines genetics / molecular biology of plankton, bacteria, and viruses! Never have to touch a vertebrate if you don't want to!
    – CephBirk
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 22:48

3 Answers 3


Coursework that uses live animals is exceeding rare (unfortunately, IMO), so you should have very little trouble completing PhD coursework without using live animals

As to your research, this is an entirely different matter, but not all labs do in-vivo work. I suggest looking up faculty in the specific departments you are interested in, and seeing if there are enough labs that don't use mice to offer you a fair opportunity to land in a lab that doesn't.

Also, I recommend giving the animal work a try, possibly through a rotation. Some students really change their minds once they start doing animal work. This goes in both directions. Some students find it to be not so bad as they thought it was going to be, and others who really thought they were to have a career doing animal research just have no taste for it when they actually try it. Try not to let preconceived notions about how you will react dictate your research career. Find a way to expose yourself to it in a small amount, and see if you're right about how you actually will react.


Yes, of course it's possible! I'm not sure why everyone here seem to be pushing you to mouse work...

Anyways, there are many model organisms in molecular/cell biology/genetics other than mice. C. elegans, zebrafish, and bacteria to name a few. All of these are perfectly legitimate systems to work with. In fact, I would argue that most break throughs in basic science are made using non-mammalian models. small RNAs and CRISPR for example. A very large proportion of genetic labs also study plants. Genetic engineering is huge. Even if you want to work on a clinically relevant project, there are always cell lines and in vitro work to do.

I'm not sure where the idea that molecular biology = mouse work comes from, but it's totally inaccurate. There are TONS of labs out there that use other model systems. Even if you flip through any of the top biology journals (cell, nature...), you'll see the diversity of models used. All you have to do is find one of those labs :)

  • Not to mention fungi (a whole kingdom), Drosophila... It's more probable you won't have to kill rats, than the opposite.
    – BioGeo
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 7:38
  • Plants are an excellent answer - and they are even one of the hottest / most rapidly growing topics in biological research. (And could be a particularly good choice if OP would later be seeking a non-academic job).
    – tsttst
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 17:40

Good news. It is possible to overcome your fear and distaste. There is a treatment for specific phobias, called "Exposure and Response Prevention."

Please see the relevant portions of another answer I wrote: https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/78073/32436

I realize I'm not answering the question you asked, but I thought you would want to know -- there is a solution to the underlying problem!

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