Biology Doctor of Philosophy Degree

Admissions to the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology concentration for the Biology PhD program have been suspended effective August 2020.

The general aim of the doctoral program is to prepare qualified students to become productive scholars in the biological sciences. Previous training and the kinds of research a graduate student may undertake vary widely. A creative piece of research is the central theme of doctoral work, and research by its very nature is unpredictable. It is the aim of this graduate program to allow students to guide themselves insofar as possible, consistent with a high standard of effort and achievement, so that they may gain in ability to learn and to act on their own. Ordinarily, the student will spend four or five years beyond the baccalaureate in study and research to earn the Ph.D. Doctoral students are expected to devote full-time study to their graduate education.

Requirements for Admission to the Doctoral Program in Biology

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited University or College. Undergraduate preparation should preferably include (1) 18 credits in biology, (2) 2 courses in mathematics (at least 6 credits); (3) 2 courses in physics with laboratories (at least 6 credits); and (4) 4 courses in chemistry with laboratories of which 2 courses must be in organic chemistry with laboratories (at least 12 credits). In addition, the general University requirements for admission to doctoral study must be satisfied including the University at Albany standard graduate application, 3 letters of recommendation, and all undergraduate and graduate transcripts.

Program of Studies

The graduate training program in the department is divided into two core areas: (1) Molecular, Cellular, Developmental, and Neural Biology (MCDN) and (2) Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB). Students are expected to acquire and demonstrate by means of an examination a comprehensive insight into the current state of knowledge and the current problems in one of these core areas. Each student will choose this area in the first year in consultation with his/her advisor.

Students entering the doctoral program are assigned to a temporary advisor by the Graduate Admissions Committee. During the first year of study students are encouraged to pursue research in the laboratory of one or more faculty members. At the end of the first year or during the second year of studies, it is expected that the student's interest will have sufficiently crystallized so that he/she may select dissertation advisors who will take primary responsibility for supervising his/her education and research. The dissertation advisor with at least three additional faculty members, nominated by the student and approved by the Graduate Examinations Committee, constitute the student's Dissertation Committee. One member of the committee may be an expert in the candidate's field from another department of this University or from another academic institution. Under the guidance of the dissertation committee the student shall present a dissertation proposal to the Dissertation Committee before final approval of the dissertation.

The dissertation committee has the responsibility to supervise the research on which the dissertation is based.

Qualifying Examination, Part 1

The core area examination will constitute Part 1 of the Qualifying Examination and must be passed before proceeding to Part 2. Each student entering the doctoral program will elect to be examined in one of the two core areas at the end of the spring semester of the student's first full academic year in residence. The exam will be administered by a faculty group representing that area, which will provide reading lists and give guidance to the student preparing for the examination. All or a major portion of the examination will be written. An oral component may be required of all or selected individual students being examined in any major area. This determination will be made by the core area faculty. A student who successfully passes this examination and who subsequently changes the area of research specialization will not be required to pass another area examination.

Based on the student's performance in Part 1, appropriate core area faculty will recommend that the student: 1) pass; 2) be allowed to continue in the doctoral program and retake the Qualifying Examination before the beginning of the next academic year; 3) be dropped from the Ph.D. program and be allowed to enroll in the M.S. program; 4) be dropped from the departmental graduate program. Failure of the Qualifying Exam, Part 1 a second time will necessarily result in academic dismissal from the department.

Qualifying Examination, Part 2

This examination consists of an oral defense of a research proposal prepared by the student. The proposal and the student's preparation for this research are evaluated. The research proposal is a detailed document outlining the background and the proposed conduct of a piece of research designed to answer a significant question (or series of significant questions) in modern biology. This examination should be taken by the end of the 4th semester in residence and must be taken before the start of the 5th semester in residence. Based on the student’s performance the Dissertation Committee will recommend that the student: 1) unconditionally pass; 2) conditionally pass with remedial work to be completed within 6 months; 3) fail and be allowed to retake and pass the exam within 6 months; 4) fail and be allowed to apply to the M.S. program; or 5) fail and be dismissed from the departmental graduate program.

In advance of taking this examination, the student will nominate to the Graduate Programs Committee, a chair and at least three additional faculty members to serve as the Dissertation Committee. When appropriate, one member of the committee may be an expert in the student's field from another department of this University or from another academic institution. The examination will be conducted by the student's Dissertation Committee.

The committee will examine critically the construction of the research proposal, will probe into the student's preparation to pursue research along the proposed lines, and will make recommendations as necessary for the modification of the research proposal. The Dissertation Committee will report to the Graduate Programs Committee the results of each examination of a prospective degree candidate and a copy of the research proposal will be made a part of the student's permanent record in the departmental files. The Dissertation Committee will meet at least once every year with the student throughout the course of his/her dissertation research to evaluate progress and offer advice. A majority of the committee must be present at each meeting. The chair of the committee will submit a written report to the Graduate Program Committee summarizing the student's progress and the committee's evaluation after each committee meeting.

Courses and Seminars

Two of the specific aims of the doctoral program are to train students in the basic disciplines of modern biology and to give them a thorough awareness of current problems. To fulfill these aims a range of topically oriented courses is offered.

Most courses consist of lectures with occasional student presentations. In the lecture part of these courses the basic principles are covered. Through active participation in the seminar parts of the courses, the students are brought to the forefront of knowledge and problems in the various fields. Each Core Area will recommend a general program of study for students. Specific courses will also be recommended by the individual student's advisor and Dissertation Committee.

Research Tool Requirement

The Department of Biological Sciences requires demonstration of proficiency in one research tool. The requirement can be fulfilled by competency in computer programming, statistical analysis, advanced mathematics, or electronic theory and design.

Teaching Requirement

All students enrolled in the Ph.D. programs are required to teach at least two semesters during their graduate tenure.

Full Time Study in Residence

Each student in a doctoral program must engage in full-time study beyond the master's degree or equivalent at the University in at least two sessions after admission to the advanced program. This requirement is designed to insure for each doctoral student a sustained period of intensive intellectual growth. For this purpose a student in the Biology PhD program will enroll in full-time study (12 credits) taken in each of two sessions, or in a regular session and a summer session, not necessarily consecutive, which must be completed satisfactorily, except as indicated here:

  • All requests for an exception to this policy must be submitted to the Chair of the Department’s Graduate Programs Committee for consideration by their Executive Committee (Committee Chair and Chairs of the two subcommittees, Admissions and Examinations) on an individual basis.

Admission to Candidacy

A student is admitted to candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy upon the following:

  1. Satisfactory record in course and seminar study;
  2. Completion of the University residence requirements;
  3. Fulfillment of the research tool requirement;
  4. Passing both parts of the qualifying examination;
  5. Demonstration of ability to conduct research;
  6. Completion of the teaching requirement.


The student must complete, under the supervision of the dissertation committee, a dissertation which represents a significant and original contribution to knowledge in the student's field of specialization.

In the event that students elect to pursue dissertation research other than that specified in a successfully defended research proposal, they must nominate to the Graduate Examinations Committee a new dissertation committee and must submit a new research proposal that has been approved by the new committee. A new qualifying examination, part 2, will not be required.

A public oral defense of the dissertation must be given before the Ph.D. degree is awarded to the student. A copy of the dissertation must be placed in the main office for review by interested individuals at least one week prior to the scheduled public defense.