Jul 22, 2018  
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog 
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog

Biology, PhD (Molecular, Cellular, and Organismal track)

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PhD Requirements

To receive the PhD in Biology/Molecular, Cellular, and Organismal Biology, the student must complete 60 credits, distributed as follows:

  • Required (core) course (12 credits) and elective credits (12 credits)
  • Current literature courses (4 credits)
  • Research credit (32 credits)

Required and elective courses:

Students take three required core courses (9 credits) and

  (3 credits) (total 12 credits). Each student takes at least 12 additional elective credits subject to the approval of the student’s dissertation committee.

Students must complete these courses for the core requirement:


Directed Readings (BIOL 672 ) can constitute up to 3 credits of the electives.

Current literature courses:

In addition to the 12 elective credits, students take a minimum of 4 credits of journal reading, in the form of current literature courses (BIOL 653 ). These courses, which focus on subfields within biology, are designed to help students stay abreast of recent developments through readings in the current literature, and to provide opportunities for public speaking.


Students take a minimum of 32 dissertation credits (BIOL 899 ).

Other Requirements

The requirements listed below apply to both PhD tracks.


Students are required to participate in the teaching program as teaching assistants for at least two semesters. The teaching responsibility is intended to enhance the experience and skills of the PhD candidate.


To continue in the PhD program, the student must maintain a GPA of 3.0 and may not receive a grade of C in more than one course.

Written Comprehensive and Oral Qualifying Examinations

Students must pass two examinations administered by the academic advisory committee (AAC), composed of the advisor and three other members acceptable to the graduate program director (GPD) and the biology graduate committee, before they undertake research at the doctoral level: 1) a written comprehensive examination to test the student’s command and knowledge of four specific areas of biology, and 2) a subsequent oral qualifying examination based on a) the oral description and defense of the student’s dissertation proposal, and b) comprehensive questioning focused on the four areas covered in the written exam.

The written comprehensive examination may be taken at the end of the student’s first year, or after the completion of at least 18 credits of coursework; it should generally be taken by the end of four semesters or 36 credits of course work. The student will defend four areas, drawn from the array of graduate courses offered in the department or from other areas acceptable to the AAC and approved by the biology graduate committee.

A student who fails the written examination may, at the discretion of the AAC, be permitted a second and final written examination after six months. A student failing the examination a second time may either 1) withdraw from the program or 2) formally petition the AAC for permission to work toward a master’s degree in biology, in biotechnology and biomedical science, or in environmental sciences. A student may not continue in the PhD program after a second failure of the comprehensive examination.

Generally, within one month of the written exam, the student should submit his or her dissertation proposal (suitable for submission to external funding agencies) to the AAC and the GPD. Before taking the oral examination, the student should confer with members of the AAC on the soundness of the proposal. The student should also discuss any deficiencies in the written exam with the individual members of the AAC. Generally, the oral qualifying exam should be scheduled within one month after the submission of the dissertation proposal.

On successfully completing the qualifying examination, the student becomes a candidate for the PhD degree.

Departmental Presentation

Within approximately two semesters after the student’s advance to candidacy, the student will present a seminar, based on his/her work in progress, to the entire department.

Dissertation Committee

After becoming a candidate for the PhD, the student must choose a dissertation advisor and committee. The dissertation committee will generally, but not necessarily, comprise three members of the AAC and one member from outside the department. With the approval of the GPD, the graduate committee, and the dean of graduate studies, faculty from outside the Biology Department or non-UMass Boston faculty will be permitted to co-sponsor a student’s dissertation work.

Dissertation Defense

A final public dissertation defense will be administered by a dissertation panel comprising at least five members, typically made up of the dissertation advisor, the dissertation committee, and an external member from outside of the program. The student’s dissertation advisor will chair the defense; it will be scheduled after the student has submitted an advance draft of the manuscript to the dissertation committee and after the committee has agreed that the student is ready to defend it.

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