2019-2020 Graduate Course Catalog 
    Oct 02, 2023  
2019-2020 Graduate Course Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Biology, PhD

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Graduate Education Committee Co-Chairs:

Eleanor Maine
346 Life Sciences Complex

Heather Coleman
Associate Professor
460 Life Sciences Complex


Lynn Fall
Graduate Program Administrator
114 Life Sciences Complex


David Althoff, Katie Becklin, Carlos Castañeda, Heather Coleman, Steve Dorus, Douglas Frank, Jason Fridley, Anthony Garza, Paul Gold, Sarah Hall, Heidi Hehnly, James Hewett, Sandra Hewett, Donna Korol, George Langford, Katharine (Kate) Lewis, Zhanjiang (John) Liu, Jessica MacDonald, Eleanor Maine, Susan Parks, Melissa Pepling, Scott Pitnick, Ramesh Raina, Mark Ritchie, Kari Segraves, Robert Silver, Roy Welch, Jason Wiles

The Department of Biology is committed to research-oriented graduate training of the highest quality.  A wide variety of disciplines are offered within the areas of biochemistry, developmental biology, genetics, molecular and cellular biology, neuroscience, ecosystem ecology, behavioral ecology, and evolution.  Many students pursue research questions that span two or more of these traditional subdisciplines.  Each student's program is individually structured to provide the maximum flexibility in the choice of coursework consistent with high quality graduate scholarship.

The Department currently averages 50 full-time graduate students (Ph.D. and M.S.).  About 75 percent of the students enroll directly following their undergraduate work; others come with a master's degree earned elsewhere.

Program graduates are encouraged to pursue a variety of career paths after obtaining their degrees.  Our recent graduates have found employment in universities and colleges as postdoctoral researchers, eventually going on to faculty positions in a variety of institutions.  Other recent graduates have found employment in industry, in medical settings, and in environmental education, among other fields.


Successful applicants generally have a minimum undergraduate average (GPA) of B (3.0) and high scores on the verbal, quantitative and analytical writing tests of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).

Applicants must also have earned a B.S. or a B.A. degree, and should have at least a minimal background in both physical and biological sciences, including the following:  two years of biology, one year each of introductory chemistry, organic chemistry with laboratory, physics, and college-level calculus.  Although not required, a year of biochemistry is desirable for students interested in cell and molecular biology, and training in statistical analysis is desirable for all students.

Special consideration is given to students who have conducted undergraduate research and whose recommendations attest to their skills in the laboratory or field and promise in research.  Applicants whose scholarly interests are confluent with those of our Graduate Faculty will also receive priority consideration.

Student Learning Outcomes

1. Demonstrate ability in scientific method/research; ability to independently approach the design and execution of experiments addressing a research problem in a robust way.

2. Possess knowledge of their subfield sufficient to formulate and address contemporary research questions.

3. Gain the ability to explain and analyze concepts from additional subfields of biological sciences related to their own.

4. Develop communication and synthetic skills for presentation in oral, poster and written formats.

5. Demonstrate an awareness of matters associated with ethics and the responsible conduct of research.

Ph.D. in Biology

The Biology Ph.D. program requires a minimum of 48 credits of formal coursework and Dissertation credits (BIO 999).  Students entering the program with a B.A. or B.S. degree will complete a minimum of 24 credits of formal coursework (at least 18 credits at the 600-level or above).  Students entering the program with an M.S. degree will complete a minimum of 18 credits of formal coursework (at least 14 credits at the 600-level or above).  The distribution of formal coursework and dissertation credits will vary among students and will be based on recommendations by the student’s Research Committee.

All Biology Ph.D. students are required to take BIO 705 (Graduate Research Seminars, 1 or 0 credits) during each Fall and Spring semester in which they are actively enrolled in the Ph.D. program.  New Ph.D. students will take BIO 700 (Scientific Writing, 3 credits) upon entering the program.  They are also required to take at least three graduate seminar courses.

Biology Ph.D. students must also pass a two-part (oral and written) qualifying examination by the end of their fourth semester, submit at least one manuscript for publication to a peer-reviewed journal (prior to their defense), and attend and present their research findings at a scientific conference.

A dissertation based on original research must be developed and successfully defended in accordance with the rules and regulations  of the Syracuse University Graduate School.  The maximum expected time in residence is five years.

Graduate Awards

The current minimum level of support for the 2019-2020 academic year is $27,000, with additional summer support available, currently at the level of $2,500.  Biology graduate students are guaranteed support for a specific number of years (i.e., 4 years for Ph.D., and 2 years for M.S.) as long as they maintain good standing in the program.  Students have the option of petitioning for an additional year of support, if necessary.

During the academic year, most students are supported by a teaching assistantship for at least some semesters, and in many instances, for all semesters during their time in the program.  Students may also be supported by their faculty research advisor’s external grants or by Syracuse University fellowships.  Applying to local and national programs for graduate fellowships is also strongly encouraged.  Tuition costs are typically covered by tuition reduction credits, which are awarded as part of a teaching assistantship, research assistantship, or S.U. fellowship.

Research Facilities

Shared research facilities currently include AAALAC-accredited animal facilities, a research greenhouse and growth chambers, a confocal microscope facility, extensive computing facilities, and local field experiment sites.  Extensive facilities and instrumentation for carrying out modern biological research at the molecular, cellular, organismal, and population levels are available.  Library holdings and computing facilities are readily accessible for student and faculty use.  The Biology Department is housed in the Life Sciences Complex, a 210,000-square-foot building with dedicated and outstanding research and teaching space for the life sciences.

Ph.D. in Biology - Neuroscience Concentration (optional)

Students admitted into the Biology Ph.D. program may opt to complete the requirements (including coursework) for the Interdisciplinary Graduate Neuroscience Concentration (I-GNC).  If all requirements are completed, the Ph.D. degree will be awarded from the Biology Department with the “Neuroscience Concentration” listed on the diploma as an area of specialization, along with the Biology Ph.D. degree.

Affiliated Ph.D. Programs:

The following Ph.D. programs also offer the I-GNC option:

Core Requirements:

The Neuroscience Concentration by nature is a small set of core courses that all students in each Ph.D. discipline will take.  Apart from their academic aspects, these courses are meant to create an opportunity for students and faculty from the different neuroscience disciplines to interact.

  • BIO 607 Advanced Neuroscience (3 credits; cross-listed with NEU 607)
  • PSY 777 Cognitive and Applied Neuroscience (3 credits; cross-listed with NEU 777)
  • BIO 624 Readings in Neuroscience (3 credits; cross-listed with BEN 613, CSD 753, NEU 613, and PSY 778)
  • BIO 625 Interdisciplinary Methods of Neuroscience (3 credits; cross-listed with BEN 614, CSD 754, NEU 614, and PSY 779)

In addition, I-GNC students are expected to:

  • Present at least one special seminar and participate in other research activities organized or sponsored by the I-GNC during their tenure as a student.
  • Attend I-GNC-sponsored seminars given by outside speakers, other I-GNC graduate students, postdocs, and faculty.

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