Jul 24, 2024  
2023-2024 Graduate Bulletin 
2023-2024 Graduate Bulletin [ARCHIVED BULLETIN]

Biological Science, Ph.D.

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The faculty of biological science offers a program of study leading to the Ph.D. in biological science. This degree program focuses on research, obtaining an in-depth understanding of a particular field within the biological science, and writing scientific reports. It is designed to give students the background and experience to work as independent scientists.

Those wishing to pursue this degree program must apply through the Graduate School. Applicants should have significant training in biology (e.g., biology, biochemistry, biophysics, etc.) either at the undergraduate or Master of Science level, general chemistry and at least one semester of organic chemistry, basic physics, and math through calculus. Admittance is also contingent upon acceptance into a faculty member’s lab, so applicants should contact faculty involved in the research areas of interest.

Learning Outcomes

The focus of the program is to offer quality graduate level courses in advanced topics in biology and to graduate Ph.D. students prepared for leadership roles in both academia and industry. Graduating students will:

     1. obtain an in-depth understanding of a particular set of sub-fields within the biological sciences, which involves both knowledge of the literature and analytical ability to relate existing studies to alternative theories.

     2. conduct original research, with a leadership role in the experimental design. The research will be of a magnitude that it could lead to several publications.

     3. develop communication skills to function successfully in the scientific community.

     4. develop research skills to the degree needed to work as independent scientists.

Program Goals

The goal of the Ph.D. program is designed to give students the background and experience to work as independent scientists, and to graduate Ph.D. students prepared for leadership roles in academia, industry, and government. 


Requirements for admission to the Graduate School, including English proficiency, may be found in the Admission  section of this Bulletin. In addition, applicants to the graduate program in biological science must submit evidence of the following:

  • an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale;
  • results from the General Test of the Graduate Record Exam;
  • a statement of purpose describing the applicant’s background, specific interests in biology, and long-term professional objectives; and
  • reference letters (evaluations) from two individuals familiar with the applicant’s academic and/or technical background

Students not meeting the specific course requirements at the time of application may be admitted on conditional grounds. In such cases, coursework required to make up deficiencies will be determined by the departmental Graduate Committee and should be undertaken during the first year of graduate work. Credit for courses required to correct deficiencies cannot be applied to the graduate degree requirements.

Curriculum Requirements


The Ph.D. in biological science requires 72 hours of coursework with no more than 40 percent at the 6000-level.

For students already holding a M.S. degree, some of the M.S. coursework hours may be applied toward the Ph.D. degree. The departmental Graduate Committee will determine what M.S. coursework can applied to the Ph.D. degree. Applied coursework must also be approved by the Graduate School.

Graduate Seminar 12-18 hours  
Coursework 18-24 hours in area of specialization  
Research/Dissertation Courses 36 hours  
Total 72 hours  


Students must spend at least two consecutive academic years in full-time residency.

Qualifying Exams

Following successful completion of class work, and not later than 30 months after entering the program, a student must qualify for Ph.D. candidacy by passing a set of qualifying exams. Students entering the program with a M.S. degree will take these exams within 20 months of entering the program. The exam will include both written and oral segments. Should the student fail the exam, the student has the option to be examined a second and final time. Failure of the second exam will result in dismissal from the Ph.D. track. The written exam consists of questions submitted by the graduate faculty and will be evaluated by the departmental Graduate Committee. After the written exam is passed, an oral exam based on the student’s dissertation research proposal will be administered by the student’s advisory committee, which will then recommend or deny Ph.D. candidacy, subject to approval by the Dean of the Graduate School. The committee must be formed prior to the qualifying exams, and must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School.


Each Ph.D. candidate must complete a dissertation based on the results of their research, thus demonstrating the student’s ability to conduct independent investigation in the selected areas of specialization. The research should be of adequate originality and quality to be recognized by the faculty as meeting criteria applied for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The dissertation must follow the general procedures and format approved by the Graduate School. The dissertation must also be presented to the student’s full committee for review and examination.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense consists of a departmental seminar that details the results of the research, followed by an oral examination before the advisory committee. The examination will include a defense of the dissertation and questioning in areas related to the research. Upon approval of the dissertation and successful completion of the oral examination, the advisory committee will recommend the candidate to the Dean of the Graduate School for the Ph.D. degree.


An advisory committee chaired by the faculty member supervising the research should be formed at the end of the third semester. It should have three members of the graduate faculty and one member from outside of the department.

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