How to Apply to the Graduate Program

Your application for admission to the Biology Graduate Program at Wesleyan University will be initiated with this online admissions application. In order for your application to be complete, we must also receive the following additional supporting information:

  1. Transcripts for Undergraduate and any Graduate Studies
  2. Three recommendation letters
  3. An Essay/Statement of Purpose divided into the following subsections:
    • Research experience and preparation for grad school
    • Research interests (in this section, please also comment on which research groups at Wesleyan align with your interests)
    • Long term goals
  4. For only international applicants: TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo scores

    Unofficial transcripts uploaded by the applicant are used during the application process. Official transcripts are only required if an applicant receives and accepts an offer of admission.

    During the application process, applicants may enter their unofficial scores or the date of a scheduled future test. Official electronic scores should be sent to Wesleyan University using Institution Code 3959.
    If English is the language of your higher education institution(s), you will be able to indicate this during your application and the testing requirement will not be added to your application. If you are an international applicant and fluent in English, you may request a waiver for our requirement of English testing scores (email after you have begun your application).

There is no application fee.

GRE (Graduate Record Exam) scores are NOT required. 

Apply online: Graduate Program Application.

Applicants will receive an account and checklist where they can see whether or not their materials have been received. Applicants are responsible for ensuring that all materials are properly uploaded.

Applications open on September 1.
Applications will be reviewed from January 1.
Application deadline is January 10.

Further inquiries can be sent to Copies of your transcript, resume, reference letters, or other application documents should only be submitted via your online application. This email address is not monitored by the program admission committee and, as such, cannot indicate whether your background, GPA, or other information qualifies you for our PhD program.

Or instead contact:
Office of Graduate Student Services
Wesleyan University
Cheryl Hagner, Director of Graduate Student Services
Tel: (860) 685-2223

Application Management

The graduate application opens on September 1st and closes on January 10th

Application to the program

The online application is on the Graduate Student Services website: Graduate Program Application


Applicants to the PhD program who are starting a new application must select the incoming year from the first drop down and the year + GRADUATE from the second drop down.

Returning users may log in to continue an existing application or start a new application.

First-time users must create an account to start a new application.

Graduate and undergraduate applicants may view their status page here.


The PhD is a research degree demanding rigorous scholarly training and creativity; the result is an original contribution to the candidate’s field. The student and a faculty committee will work out a program of study for the first two years at the time of matriculation. This program will take into account the student’s proposed field of interest and prior background in biology and related sciences. No specific courses are required, but, rather, a subject-matter requirement is used to ensure a broad background. Before taking the qualifying examination, all students must have at least one substantive course above the introductory level (at Wesleyan or elsewhere) in each of five subject areas: genetics/genomics/bioinformatics, evolution/ecology, physiology/neurobiology/behavior, cell biology/developmental biology and biochemistry/molecular biology. The adequacy of courses that have been taken at other institutions will be evaluated by the faculty committee through its meeting with the student. Students whose focus is bioinformatics may substitute two upper-level courses in computer science for one of these five areas. 

All PhD students must take a minimum of two 1 credit advanced (300 or 500) lecture, lab, or seminar course approved by the Pre-Candidacy Committee. At least one of these should be taken during the student’s first year. Departmental and interdepartmental seminars and journal clubs are included in the program, and additional individual reading in particular areas may also be required. First-year students are exposed to research in the department through usually two, occasionally three, one-semester lab rotations or research practica. Toward the end of each semester of the first year, each student will meet with an evaluation committee of the faculty to review progress and to discuss any modification of the proposed program.

Working with the Pre-Candidacy Committee, graduate students design their own program of courses to complement and strengthen their previous background knowledge. All students are required to participate in one of the journal clubs, during which recent journal articles are presented and discussed. Four journal clubs meet weekly over lunch:

  • Ecology/Evolution
  • Cell/Development/Genetics
  • Neuroscience/Behavior
  • Environmental Biology


All PhD graduate students candidates in good academic standing receive a full stipend ($40,932 in 2023-2024 for 12 months), tuition remission, basic health insurance, and a dependency allowance, when applicable. All graduate students are teaching assistants (about 12 hours/week) for three semesters. They are supported as research or teaching assistants for the remainder of their stay in the program. See Financial Support from the Office of Graduate Studies for more details.


A PhD student’s career in the Department of Biology at Wesleyan University is divided into three phases:  

1.  Preparation, rotations, and Qualifier exam

Students are required to spend a one-semester rotation in two research laboratories during their first year. A third rotation is occasionally appropriate. After settling into a lab, a qualifying examination will be taken at the end of the second year. The examination is designed to test the student’s knowledge of biology and ability to think critically. It includes a written research proposal, followed by an oral examination to discuss the proposal and evaluate the student’s breadth in biology. The examination will be administered by four faculty members of the department (or associated departments and including the advisor), chosen by the student and his or her research advisor. The examining committee will include the research advisor and one member whose research field is clearly outside the student’s area of special interest.

2.  Active PhD thesis research

Within a year of passing the Qualifier exam the student should meet with a thesis committee selected in consultation with his/her advisor to discuss research progress and proposed research. The student should submit to the committee an updated thesis proposal.  The thesis committee will include the thesis advisor and three additional members; at least two of the latter three must be a member of the Biology Department Faculty. The 3rd member may be from another Wesleyan Department or another institution if appropriate. The committee will meet with the student twice a year thereafter, or more frequently if it is appropriate.

3.  Preparation of the PhD thesis and defense 

The thesis committee determines when sufficient experimental work has been completed and must approve the final written document. After the committees determination, a public thesis defense will be scheduled. 


A minimum of three semesters as a teaching assistant is required, with at least two semesters being from the introductory lecture and lab series.  


PhD students start their research experience with two or more semester-long practica in laboratories. These are designed to provide complementing experiences to prepare students for their thesis research. Current research in our department includes:

  • Aaron Lab—epilepsy, the hippocampus, and the cortex
  • Chernoff Lab—conservation, evolution, and genetics of fish
  • Cohan Lab—evolutionary genetics and speciation of bacteria
  • Coolon Lab—ecological and evolutionary functional genomics
  • Feng Lab—behavioral neurobiology of hibernation, with thirteen-lined ground squirrels as a model
  • Johnson Lab—regulation of cell movement during development
  • Melón Lab—Neurobiological mechanism that drive sex differences in the development of disorders associated with alcohol exposure
  • Mitchel Lab—emergent phenomena in biological systems, mechanobiology, epithelial cell biology
  • O'Neil Lab(Biology Dept. Affiliate)protein aggregation in neurodegenerative disease
  • Singer Lab—evolution and ecology of plant-animal interactions
  • Sultan Lab—evolutionary ecology of phenotypic plasticity in plants
  • Weir Lab—molecular genetics; bioinformatics

All PhD students present their research during a meeting of the BIOL 557 seminar attended by all members of the department to encourage students to become fluent and comfortable with their presentation skills. 


The most important requirement is a PhD thesis, an original contribution to biology that merits publication. The candidate will receive advice and guidance from the thesis director but must demonstrate both originality and scientific competence. Normally, the candidate will choose a thesis topic during the second year of graduate work in consultation with appropriate faculty.  The thesis committee determines when sufficient experimental work has been completed and must approve the final written document.  At this point a public defense will be scheduled after which the documents will be signed if the candidate has fulfilled all the requirements. 


The Biology Department may grant the degree of Master of Arts to students in the PhD program who do not complete the PhD.