PhD Degrees in Biology & Biomedical Sciences

PhD Degrees

Each program has its own steering committee, which provides students with guidance, addresses their needs, and monitors their progress. The committee also helps each student customize the course of study to match their individual needs. Each of the 13 programs establishes its own degree requirements.

Across all of the programs, the course of study consists of five distinct parts:


This generally requires two to five semesters and usually consists of four to nine courses in areas fundamental to the student's program. Students are expected to maintain a B average in graduate courses.

Laboratory Rotations

Selecting a thesis advisor is the most important decision a student makes in graduate school. To help each student make an informed, thoughtful choice, the Division builds in flexibility to explore options. Students usually participate in three lab rotations during their first year. Additional rotations can be arranged, and rotation lengths are flexible. Students usually begin their thesis research by the end of their first year.

Qualifying Examination

After required courses are completed, each student takes a preliminary or qualifying examination to assess their mastery of the field and their ability to integrate information across fields. Upon successful completion of the qualifying exam, the student concentrates on thesis research.

Thesis Research

Thesis research begins once the student has chosen a laboratory in which to work. With their mentor — the laboratory's principal investigator — the student devises a thesis project and chooses an advisory committee. Typically between the end of their second year and the middle of their third year, students present their thesis proposals to the thesis committee. Upon successful approval of the thesis proposal, the student officially becomes a doctoral candidate. For the rest of the student's program of study, the thesis committee monitors progress and meets at least once a year to provide analysis and advice. It also serves as the thesis defense committee when the thesis is ready for presentation. Most students complete and defend their dissertations by the end of their sixth year.

Scientific Scholarship

Keeping abreast of scientific developments is critical for faculty and students alike. The Division offers many ways to stay current. More than 15 weekly biology seminars provide excellent opportunities to meet outstanding scientists from outside Washington University. Several annual symposia bring internationally recognized speakers to campus. Journal clubs meet weekly for students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty to present and discuss current scientific literature. A number of Interdisciplinary Research Pathways allow students to enhance their PhD program. Program retreats allow for informal interaction among students and faculty. The Division also provides funds for each student for professional development.