Ph.D. Requirements

The goal of the biology doctoral program is to train scientists to:

  • Excel at research and teaching in their own subdisciplines;
  • Demonstrate competence in fields allied to their subdisciplines; and
  • Display a breadth of knowledge of biology as a whole.


  • Preparatory courses as defined by your initial advisory committee (typically 1 to 3 courses, sometimes more);
  • Up to 3 graduate tutorials with different faculty in the Department of Biology;
  • Two graduate seminars in any areas of biology, with at least one seminar outside your chosen area of specialization;
  • Establish a minor, to be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Affairs Committee;
  • Serve as a teaching assistant for 2 semesters;
  • Demonstrate annual progress towards degree, as required;
  • Preliminary Exam (oral);
  • Dissertation & defense.

Graduate Tutorials

Tutorials may involve laboratory work, directed reading in the primary literature, greenhouse or field studies, mathematical or computer modeling, or any other activity that would assist the student in identifying a suitable dissertation topic. Other goals of the tutorials are to expose students to the diversity of faculty research interests in their specialty and to help them to identify an appropriate advisor and dissertation committee. The tutorial requirement is waived as soon as the student declares an advisor.

The Minor

The goal of the minor is to ensure that you acquire a breadth of knowledge beyond your immediate specialty ("outside your comfort zone"), either in a different area of biology or in an allied field. The minor may be entirely outside of biology (e.g. statistics, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, engineering, atmospheric sciences, etc.), may require you to acquire knowledge about a group of organisms that differs from the subject of your dissertation research, or may represent a biological subdiscipline that is distinct from your own subdiscipline. At least one member of your dissertation committee must represent your minor field, and will be charged with assessing your knowledge in the minor during the preliminary exam and final defense.

Annual Progress Towards Degree

For students in their 4th year of study, and all students in their 5th or later years who are not planning to complete the dissertation in the current academic year:

  • prior to November 15: Present to their committees a written report on the progress made over the previous year, and on any difficulties encountered.
  • Before the end of the final exam period in December: The student's advisor will convene a meeting of the committee to discuss the progress report with the student.
  • By January 31: the advisor must send a letter to the DGS summarizing the discussion in the meeting, providing the committee's evaluation of the student's progress, and recommending whether the student should receive continued support from the department. All faculty members not on the student's committee will also be able to submit to the DGS any written comments on the student's performance (e.g., as a student or teaching assistant in a course taught by that faculty member).
  • After January 31: the DGS, in consultation with the Graduate Affairs Committee as needed, will review the written materials to determine whether the student shall be granted departmental support for the following academic year. Students will receive letters from the DGS if any remedial measures need to be taken. The student's written progress report, the advisor's letter to the DGS, any letters from faculty not on the student's committee, and any letters from the DGS will be placed in the student's folder as a record of the student's annual progress and evaluation.