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C. elegans embryo after an asymmetric division, with germline RNA-protein liquid droplets marked in red. Image by Willow Gabriel in Bob Goldstein’s lab.
Program Websites:
Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology:
Quantitative Biology:

Director of Graduate Studies: Chris Willett, PhD
Student Services Specialist: Kenlyn Merritt

Program Overview

With over 50 faculty and state-of-the-art facilities, the Department of Biology provides an outstanding opportunity for graduate training. Our students use experimental and theoretical approaches in the laboratory and the field to study a wide range of organisms at all levels of biological organization, from molecules to ecosystems. We currently have two tracks that BBSP students typically enter, the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) program and Quantitative Biology (Qbio) program. See the websites above from more details about the focus of these two tracks and their requirements (outlined below).


Students in the MCDB track must take a total of four (4) courses. Two (2) of these must be lecture courses offered by any of the BBSP departments (and encompass at least two broad areas of biology), and at least one (1) must be a journal club/participation type seminar, of which the biology department offers several per semester. For Qbio, 13 credit hours of coursework must be completed including at least 6 credits in lecture courses and at least one graduate seminar. Required coursework is typically completed in the first two years in the program.

Qualifying Exams

Written Exam: The MCDB and Qbio written exams are taken by students in the spring semester of their second year. Students choose 3 or 4 broad subject areas to focus on for the exam. The format of the exam and materials used to prepare for it will be determined by the students graduate committee. They will receive questions and answer them in a written format with pass/fail determined by the student’s committee. If a student fails an exam once they are allowed to retake it at a later date. In some circumstances, BBSP students who enter the Biology department to study Ecology, Evolution or Organismal Biology (EEOB) will take an equally rigorous qualifying exam with a different format after consultation with their PI and the director of graduate studies.

Committee Meetings and Oral Examination: Students form their committee from members of the faculty and have their first committee meeting during the fall of their second year. During the student’s third year they will take the combined feasibility and oral examination. For the feasibility and oral exam, students write a feasibility proposal on their thesis topic in the format of a grant proposal (typically limited to eight pages). The proposal should have preliminary data that has been generated; however, the report should be primarily focused on the logic and feasibility of the project. This examination must be held before the end of the spring semester of the third year. After passing their oral examination, students will have one committee meeting per year until graduation.

Additional Requirements

TA requirement
Students will be a teaching assistant for a course in the biology department for at least one semester. Serving as a teaching assistant provides an opportunity to develop an ability to teach complicated scientific concepts, a skill that will be useful no matter what career the trainee embarks on in the future.

Publication Requirement
In the MCDB program at least one accepted publication from the student’s thesis is required for graduation. The Qbio track does not have a publication requirement, but it is expected that students will have at least one dissertation chapter suitable for publication prior to graduation.