Biophysics Courses & Curriculum

A PhD in molecular and cellular biophysics requires 90 quarter credit hours and a dissertation. The interdisciplinary nature of this degree program requires tailored advising from the time of acceptance. 

Steering Committee and Program Advisors

Current steering committee members are Todd Blankenship, Kingshuk GhoshMichelle Knowles, Schuyler van Engelenburg, Martin Margittai and Dinah Loerke.

First-year students enter biophysics from a variety of undergraduate degree programs, therefore, students will have very different strengths as well as areas in which they need more instruction. During the student's first year, the steering committee will serve as the advisory committee. This ensures input from faculty in all disciplines.

Advisory Committee

The committee will work with the student to identify areas of focus and to determine the best elective courses. By the the spring quarter in the first year, the student will identify a major thesis advisor and work in that lab to conduct his/her/their dissertation research. At this time, the student will work with their new advisor to form a thesis committee. 

Thesis Committee

Each student's thesis committee will have at least four members including the student's advisor and representation from at least two of the three participating departments. 

Program Structure

Coursework credit is supplemented with significant credit earned from independent research. A typical degree plan follows a general path of taking required core courses and elective courses during the first year as well as required lab rotations and exams, taking required seminar courses and exams during the second year, and thesis research starting in the second year and continuing until the student is ready for their dissertation defense.

First-Year Curriculum

Electives can be chosen from existing 3000 or 4000 level courses in the Division and must be chosen with consultation and the approval of the steering committee. The objective of electives during the first year is to provide students opportunity to build foundations necessary for biophysics that were areas not emphasized in their prior undergraduate or graduate degrees.

Rotation labs will be decided based on mutual interest of the student and the faculty member as approved by the steering committee. It is expected that students will finish two lab rotation projects before the end of January in order to have a clear idea about their future research goals as well as what lab may provide the best fit for them. Thus rotation projects are designed to decide labs of their interest and the best chance for long term research funding (preferably funding starting the month of June of their first year).

First-Year Qualifying Exam

Students must finish the first part of their qualifying exam before the beginning of the fall quarter of their second year. The first part of the qualifying exam is intended to test the research and independent thinking abilities of students as described below.

Students will be given a broad set of topics related to their research interest by their thesis committee to thoroughly investigate and study for four weeks. At the end of this four-week period, they will be given a specific set of questions based on these topics that they are expected to answer by submitting a written document within a week. They will be given another week to prepare and revisit answers before appearing for an oral defense. This constitutes a total of six weeks preparation between the time research topics are given and the final oral defense. A minimum grade point average of 3.0/4.0 is required along with passing the first part of qualifying exam to advance to their second year.

Second-Year Curriculum

In each term (fall, winter, spring) each student is required to:

  1. take a 2-quarter-hour course in biophysics (BIOP 4210, BIOP 4210, BIOP 4210);
  2. take part in independent research (BIOP 5995);
  3. and take an additional elective courses with the recommendation of the student’s advisory committee and major thesis advisor.

Final Qualifying Exam

Students must pass the second phase of their qualifying exam before the beginning of the fall quarter of their third year. Exams are specifically on their research topic and would include a NIH (F31) or other funding agency equivalent fellowship proposal (limited to six pages) along with a proposal defense to the committee. A second attempt to pass this will be to the discretion of the committee and the respective faculty advisor of the student.