Skip to main content


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 Website
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.


Students in the biology department must take a total of four (4) courses. Two (2) of these must be didactic courses offered by any of the BBSP departments, and at least one (1) must be a journal club/participation type seminar, of which the biology department offers several per semester. Coursework must encompass at least two broad areas of biology. Coursework is usually finished in the first year and must be finished by the end of the second year.

Qualifying Exams

Written Exam:  The Biology Department written exam is typically taken by students beginning of the fall semester of the second year.  Students choose 3 broad subject areas (of 4 offered) to focus on for the exam. For each subject area, they are given a group of up to 10 papers approximately one month before the exam. They receive questions and answer them in a written format. The exams are graded by the Biology MCDB Written Exam Committee (this is a separate committee from the student’s own thesis committee). Students who do not pass may be asked to retake all or part of the exam the following year. 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 by the end of their second year. The feasibility and oral examination are combined into one comprehensive oral examination that is accompanied by a written proposal. This examination must be held before the end of the spring semester of the third year. For the feasibility and oral exam, students write a feasibility proposal on their thesis topic in the NIH NRSA style. 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. 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.