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Bioinformatics & Computational Biology

Program Website
Director of Graduate Studies: Will Valdar, PhD
Student Services Specialist: John Cornett

Program Overview

Modern biology is being greatly enriched by an infusion of ideas from computational and mathematical fields, including computer science, information science, mathematics, operations research and statistics. In turn, biological problems are motivating innovations in these computational sciences. There is a high demand for scientists who can bridge these disciplines. The goal of the Curriculum in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology is to train such scientists through a rigorous and balanced curriculum that transcends traditional departmental boundaries.


The required coursework is designed with three tiers of formal training: foundational (introductory) courses, core modules, and electives. Since incoming students come from a broad range of disciplines (e.g., math, computer science, biology, genetics, statistics), it is important to ensure that all students have a common foundation on which to build their BCB training. The first year is dedicated to establishing this foundation and training all students with a common set of core BCB courses.


Written Exam:

The written component is taken at the end of the first year (May).  The exam may be postponed until the end of the second year if necessary with the approval of the BCB Director.  Students are assigned a reading list of about 10 research papers focusing on key analytical skills that should have been acquired from completion of core coursework during the first year.  These papers are released to during a study period two weeks prior to the exam date.  The exam itself is administered as a take-home exam over the course of four days.  Exams are graded as either pass or fail.  Students who do not pass have the option to take the exam again the following year. Students who do not pass on a second attempt do not proceed to Ph.D. candidacy.


Oral Exam:

The oral component of the exam must be taken before the end of the third academic year.  Students are expected to submit a 6 page written proposal in the form of a fellowship application (e.g. NIH or NSF) to their thesis committee describing their dissertation research project.  Details regarding the content of the proposal should be discussed no later than the annual thesis committee meeting at the beginning of the third year.  Detailed guidelines for conducting the exam may be found here.  Once the proposal is submitted to the thesis committee, students are required to defend their proposals during an oral exam given by their thesis committee.  Students are expected to demonstrate sufficient knowledge in their chosen research area and feasibility in completing their research plan by the end of the fifth year.  The specific content of these oral exams is dictated by the thesis committee and moderated by the committee chair.  Students who fail the exam have the option to take the exam again at a later date under terms and conditions set by their committee.  Students who fail a second time will be dismissed from the program.