PhD in Biology

The goal of the Biology Department is to train students at the highest level in one of three broad sub-fields within modern biology: cell and molecular biology, neurobiology, and marine biology and ecology. Upon completion of the PhD, students should be prepared for postgraduate training and to eventually assume teaching and/or research positions in academia, industry, government, or nonprofit agencies. The PhD is a research degree and normally necessitates at least four to five years of academic study, including summer work.

Applicants to the MA or PhD programs must have completed a bachelor’s degree in biology or a closely related field. We favor applicants with both strong academic records and a demonstrated aptitude for research.

Course Requirements

Post-Bachelor’s Requirements

Students admitted with a bachelor’s degree must complete sixteen 500-level or above courses (64 credits) with a minimum grade point average of 3.0; at least eight of these courses must be lecture, laboratory, or seminar courses. Courses will vary depending on program discipline.

Course requirements by track:

Cell and Molecular Biology

  • CAS BI 552: Molecular Biology I
  • GRS BI 753: Advanced Molecular Biology
  • GRS MB 721: Graduate Biochemistry
  • GRS BI 735: Advanced Cell Biology
  • CAS BI 583: Progress in Cell and Molecular Biology
  • CAS BI 584: Progress in Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Three electives
  • Research courses


  • GRS BI 755: Cellular and Systems Neuroscience
  • GRS BI 756: Systems and Behavioral Neuroscience
  • GRS NE 500: Frontiers of Neuroscience
  • GRS NE 501: Frontiers of Neuroscience
  • Five electives
  • Research courses

Marine Biology and Ecology

Marine Biology and Ecology PhD candidate coursework is highly variable. Students, in consultation with advisors, develop a plan of coursework and research. Students are required to take a minimum of 32 credits of coursework. The remainder of the credits should be research for credit.

Please refer to the Graduate Student Handbook for further details.

Post-Master’s Requirements

Students admitted with a master’s degree are required to take eight semester courses (32 credits), of which four must be lecture, laboratory, or seminar courses. Course requirements are the same as the post-bachelor’s program, except fewer research and elective credits are required. A minimum of 16 coursework credits is required for the Marine Biology and Ecology track.

Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for this degree.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination must be completed no later than six semesters after matriculation. In most graduate curricula in the department, this consists of a research proposal—often in the form of a grant application—which the student submits to his/her committee and subsequently defends in an oral presentation. In the cell and molecular biology and neurobiology curricula, this is preceded by a comprehensive written examination testing the student’s general background from coursework. PhD candidates in the post-bachelor’s program may apply for an MA upon successfully completing the qualifying examination and 32 lecture or seminar credits.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their field of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree. The results of the dissertation must be presented at a department colloquium.

Teaching Requirement

The department requires a minimum of two semesters of teaching during a student’s graduate career as part of the Doctor of Philosophy program. During the first semester of teaching, students are required to enroll in our first-year seminar course, GRS BI 697: A Bridge to Knowledge. The course provides guidance and training on pedagogy and other aspects of graduate school.