Academic Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree

Credits and Basic Requirements:

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) requires the completion of no less than 72 hours of graduate credit. 24 hours must be completed as topical (i.e., graded) credit hours. The remaining 48 credit hours usually consist of non-topical research credits (BIOL 9999). The 24 topical credit hours include First Year Courses (BIMS 7100, BIOL 8250, and BIOL 8270), laboratory rotations (FALL Semester: BIOL 9910 and SPRING SEMESTER: BIOL 9920), five graded lecture and/or laboratory courses, and one colloquia or journal club course.

The graded lecture/lab courses must be at the graduate level (5000-level courses or above) and fulfill a minimum of 3 credit hours. Special cases include the BIMS 6000 core course at 10 credit hours, which will count as 2 graded courses and the 6-week, BIMS modular courses (2-credits), which count the equivalent of 0.5 graded lecture course; other courses (i.e. 2-credit courses) may fulfill the requirement by vote of the Graduate Committee. Enrollment in BIOL 9995, Topical Research in Biology is limited to a maximum of 6 credit hours.

The Department expects that the 24 topical credit hours will be completed by the end of the student’s 3rd semester (i.e., Fall of the 2nd year). Students must register for no less than 12 credit hours per semester to be considered a full-time student. Requests to enroll in more than 12 credit hours must be approved by the Assistant Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Students must submit this request by filling out the standard course action form here and the DGS must also secure approval from the Assistant Dean via email.

After formal coursework is completed, students usually register for 12 credit hours of non-topical (i.e. dissertation) research. Almost all graduate level topical courses are offered on a graded basis. The following set of grade symbols is used by the Graduate School: A+ (4.0), A (4.0), A- (3.7); B+ (3.3), B (3.0), B- (2.7), C (0.0). According to Graduate School regulations, a grade of B- is the lowest satisfactory grade for graduate credit. Furthermore, students must maintain a grade point average of at least 3.0 each academic year in order to be considered by the Graduate School as making satisfactory progress toward a degree.

All students should be aware that although the grade of B- is adequate for general academic credit, it is considered a marginal grade for pre-doctoral students in the Department of Biology. Thus, the grade of B- (or lower) in one or more courses, especially in the first year, will be viewed as an indicator of less than satisfactory progress in the doctoral program.

The Biology Graduate Committee reviews student grades at the end of each semester. Any student receiving a grade of B- or lower in any graduate course will be placed on academic probation and provided recommendations for improvement. If academic progress does not improve within the next academic semester, the Graduate Committee may recommend expulsion from the program to the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.


First Year Students:

Typical Course Schedule for Cell, Molecular, Development & Neurobiology Students

Typical Course Schedule for EEBio Students

First Year Laboratory Rotations:

All first year Ph.D. candidates must complete two laboratory rotations, generally during the fall and spring semesters. These lab rotations are to be taken as the graded, 3-credit courses BIOLOGY 9910 and 9920, “Introduction to Laboratory Research”. Students entering the Ph.D. program with a Master’s degree in a biological science must complete one rotation during their first semester in the program.

At the completion of each rotation, students will make a short presentation to the department as part of a Rotation Research Mini-Symposium. Students receive a letter grade and a written rotation evaluation for the rotation research project. A student has the option to complete a third rotation during the summer of their first year. Summer research courses are taken on an ungraded basis. However, students will receive a letter grade from their rotation advisor as part of the written rotation evaluation.

Students who transfer to the Ph.D. program from the University of Virginia’s M.S. program in Biology after their first year, or who enter the Ph.D. program after completing the M.S. degree in this department, will not be required to complete the rotations. Students who have completed an M.S. degree at another institution are required to complete one rotation during their first semester in the Department.

Formal Course Work:

Of the 24 credit hours exclusive of Non-Topical Research required by the Graduate School, a minimum of five relevant, graded graduate level (5000-level or above) lecture or laboratory courses must be taken to fulfill departmental requirements. Eligible courses must be at least 3.00 credit hours with the exception of mandatory Biology courses such as BIOL 8081/2 and BIOL 8083/4 Credit for up to 8 hours of graduate level course work taken after completion of the undergraduate degree at this or other institutions may be granted upon successful petition to the Graduate Committee. Regardless of the area of research interest and specialization, each graduate student is urged to seek a broad background in the biological sciences by a selection of diverse courses.

Colloquia and Seminar Courses:

Students are required to take at least one graduate level colloquia or journal club course during their first three semesters.

Other Courses or Training (including MLBS courses):

Besides the formal course work listed above, additional courses or training may be recommended or required by the student's Major Professor or Dissertation Committee. In particular, proficiency in computer science, in statistics, or in other specialized areas, may be set as additional requirements by the Dissertation Committee.

The Major Professor or Dissertation Committee may also recommend or require that a student participate in course work or independent study at a field station or at another institution. In special situations, for example, when a student holds a traineeship in an interdepartmental training program, additional course requirements may be imposed as stipulated by the training grant.

Students may complete courses at the Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS) during the summer for credit with prior permission from the MLBS Director and the Director of Graduate Studies. To do so, students must register for BIOL 7994, Independent Study in Biology (MLBS) for the number of credits equal to the credits of the MLBS course. In order for the course to be eligible for credit, the MLBS course instructor must send a written evaluation that includes a letter grade to the Director of Graduate Studies or to the Graduate Program Coordinator after completion of the course.

Students may elect to take courses offered by other institutions if those courses are relevant to their course of study. The Department of Biology may provide supplemental funding toward the costs of such external courses. Students must submit a formal request for supplemental funding, including the following information, via email to the Director of Graduate Studies.

1. Description of the course and planned dates of attendance.
2. Total costs of attending the course.
3. Proposed budget for the funds requested from Biology.
4. Does the course offer fellowship funding to enrollees and have you applied for this funding?

The amount of funding awarded will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the Chair of Biology.

Non-Topical Research:

After completion of the 24 credit hours required by GSAS, students register for 12 credits of Non-Topical Research (BIOL 9999) under their faculty advisor every semester until they graduate.

The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. The Graduate Record represents the official repository for academic program requirements. This publication may be found at