PhD in Biology

The goal of the Biology Department is to train students at the highest level in one of three broad subfields within modern biology: Cell & Molecular Biology, Neurobiology, and Ecology, Behavior, Evolution & Marine Biology. 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 five years of academic study, including summer work.

Applicants to the PhD program 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.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate academic mastery in one of three areas of Biology: Ecology, Behavior & Evolution; Neurobiology; or Cellular & Molecular Biology.
  • Attain research expertise, including grant writing experience, and complete original research that advances a specific field of study within one of three broad subject areas represented in the department: Ecology, Behavior & Evolution; Neurobiology; or Cellular & Molecular Biology.
  • Attain teaching experience and expertise in one of three broad areas of Biology: Ecology, Behavior & Evolution; Neurobiology; or Cellular & Molecular Biology.
  • Attain the skills and qualifications needed for employment in an academic, government, or private sector position related to the life sciences.

Course Requirements

Students must complete 64 credits with a minimum grade point average of 3.0; at least 32 of these credits must be accrued from lecture, laboratory, or seminar courses. Students with prior graduate work may be able to transfer course credits. See the GRS Transfer of Credits policy for more details.

Course Requirements

  • 2 semesters of Progress in Research Seminars (1–2 credits each, select from CAS BI 583, BI 584, BI 579, BI 580, GRS NE 500, NE 501)
  • 1 semester grant-writing course (2 credits, usually GRS BI 671 or CAS BI 581)
  • 1 semester pedagogy course (1 credit, BI 697)
  • 1 quantitative course (3–4 credits, selected from a list of courses)
  • Additional courses vary by specific track and student interests

Specific Course Requirements by 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 their committee and subsequently defends in an oral presentation. In the Cell & Molecular Biology and Ecology, Behavior, Evolution & Marine Biology curricula, this is preceded by a comprehensive written examination testing the student’s general background from coursework.

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 Biology Department Chair. 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 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.

MS for PhD Students (Two Options)

Option one: A PhD student who has advanced to candidacy (as demonstrated by passing the PhD qualifying exam) and has completed 32 credits of graduate-level coursework (not including research) may apply to the graduate school for a Master of Science (MS) degree in Biology. This must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies within the Biology Department. The student’s major professor will receive notification of this application process.

Option two: A PhD student who has taken, but has not advanced to candidacy based on, the PhD qualifying examination may still receive a master’s degree. This student may receive a Coursework MS degree provided they have completed 32 credits of coursework (not including research credits). Alternatively, this student may receive a Scholarly Paper or Research Thesis MS degree if the written portion of the qualifying examination is adapted to ensure it is of sufficiently high quality for an MS degree and approved by a majority of the qualifying exam committee and the Director of Graduate Studies.