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Program Overview & Features
Our PhD program is a comprehensive, research-oriented program involving foundational coursework and an original dissertation research project mentored by one of our faculty. By working closely with this research advisor and members of a dissertation committee, students become independent scientists positioned to assume leadership roles in their chosen profession.

  • Application to the Ph.D. Program in Biological Sciences is found here

PhD Program and Requirements:
Course Requirements
As a foundation for advanced research, Ph.D candidates complete 22 credit hours of coursework in their first two years in the program. Courses cover advanced topics in the biological sciences and teach critical thinking, analysis of primary scientific literature, and experimental design.

To develop oral presentation skills, Ph.D candidates enroll in a seminar course each semester of their first two years.  Each student presents two seminars, one on the topic selected for the candidacy exam and the other on the topic of the thesis project.  Ph.D candidates also attend the departmental seminar series, featuring distinguished scientists from inside and outside the university.

In the first year, Ph.D candidates perform two or three 10-week research rotations prior to joining a laboratory and embarking on a thesis project. Rotations consist of small research projects that are designed to introduce the student to research opportunities available in that laboratory.

Candidacy Exam
At the end of the second year, Ph.D candidates take a candidacy exam consisting of two parts.  For the written exam, each student prepares an original research proposal on a topic of his/her choosing. The purpose of the written exam is to evaluate the student’s ability to design a line of inquiry into a specific scientific topic.  For the oral examination, the dissertation committee questions the student about the research proposal and about foundational knowledge in the sub-discipline the student has chosen for his or her dissertation research.

Research Experience
After successful completion of the candidacy exam, the student focuses on an original research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor.  Regular meetings with the Ph.D Advisory Committee provide additional guidance and support.

Upon the completion of the research project, generally in the fourth or fifth year of the program, the student prepares a dissertation describing the results of the project.  This dissertation is read and evaluated by the Ph.D Advisory Committee.  The student also presents the research results publically in an hour-long seminar.