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How Does BBSP Work?

BBSP is an umbrella admissions and first-year training program for 15 PhD programs in the life sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill. If you are interested in one or more of these programs, you simply need to complete one application to BBSP. Admitted students are not formally committed to any specific PhD program during their first year. This structure maximizes flexibility and choice in the first-year experience: students can sample various labs and courses across scientific disciplines, or they can choose to focus right away. Read our Apply page for more information about how to apply to BBSP. Our program is also part of the Office of Graduate Education, which continues to provide programming, community activities, and professional development resources after the first year.

For more information about the life of our graduate students, you can find videos and virtual tours on this page.

First Year Community

During your first year you will join one of several small First Year Groups (FYGs) comprised of other first-year PhD students, more advanced PhD student mentors, and faculty mentors. This FYG will be your home until you join a lab and a PhD program at the end of the Spring semester. Your FYG will meet regularly to discuss rotations, courses, and adjusting to graduate school. There will also be opportunities to develop scientific communication skills for different audiences. And, of course, there will be socials throughout the year.


The faculty and more advanced PhD students leading your FYG will also serve as your advisors during your first year. Your advisors and the PhD program directors will help you select the appropriate lab rotations and courses driven by your interests and your goals.


BBSP students must complete three lab rotations, each lasting about eleven weeks, during the first year. You can choose from over 300 laboratories in any of the 15 participating PhD programs. At the end of the first year, students choose their thesis lab from one of their lab rotations and typically matriculate into a PhD program with which their dissertation advisor is affiliated. Students may work with one faculty mentor or two faculty co-mentors during a rotation and when selecting dissertation labs. Summer rotations before BBSP officially begins are also an option for interested students.


BBSP does not require students to complete particular science courses. You have the freedom to explore courses from different departments if you choose, but nothing prevents you from focusing on one specific program’s requirements right away. Many first-year courses satisfy degree requirements for multiple programs until they’re ready to decide. A list of courses appropriate for first-year graduate students and links to course requirements for each of the participating programs are available here. Once you join a particular PhD program you may need to complete additional coursework in your second year, but most students finish all required coursework by the end of the second year.

After the First Year

Once you choose a dissertation lab, you will join a PhD program. You will then be required to complete the coursework and degree requirements for that particular department or curriculum. The specifics may vary, but the basic degree requirements are usually the same: a written qualifying exam, a thesis proposal, yearly committee meetings, and a written dissertation and oral dissertation defense.