Graduate Program in Biology

Application to the program

The online application is on the Graduate Student Services website: http://www.wesleyan.edu/grad/apply.html

Student stipends

All PhD graduate students candidates in good academic standing receive a full stipend ($34,386 in 2019-2020 for 12-mo.), 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.

 

COURSES

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

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 First Year Advisory 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 First-Year Advisory 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. Three journal clubs meet weekly over lunch:

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

MASTER OF ARTS 

The MA will require a minimum of 6 credits in addition to the 32 necessary for the Wesleyan BA.  Four credits will be earned through Journal Club I & II (BIOL 509, BIOL 510; 0.25 credits x 2 = 0.50), Research Seminar (BIOL549, BIOL550;1.0 credit x 2 = 2.0) and BIOL557 (0.50 credits). The remaining credits will be 1 credit advanced (200, 300, or 500) lecture, lab, or seminar courses determined by the student and mentor. MA credit will only be awarded for academic work in which grades of B minus or higher have been earned. A student in the BA/MA program who earns more than 32 credits during the BA may apply any excess credits toward the MA, providing that they are relevant to the research area and they have not been used to fulfill an undergraduate major requirement.  


 

PROGRESS AND QUALIFYING EXAMS

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. 

MASTER OF ARTS

A 3-member committee of the faculty will be established upon acceptance into the BA/MA program. The candidate will be in contact with their committee in early stages of research and meet with them in the second semester of their MA year.   This committee determines when sufficient experimental work has been completed and must approve the final written document. Students in this program will be expected to submit a MA thesis describing the research which they have carried out in partial fulfillment of the degree requirements.


 

TEACHING

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

A minimum of three semesters as a teaching assistant is required.

MASTER OF ARTS

There are no requirements for BA/MA candidates to teach although the opportunity may arise.   

RESEARCH

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

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. Research projects are available in the following areas:

  • Aaron Lab—epilepsy, the hippocampus, and the cortex
  • Burke Lab—development and evolution
  • Chernoff Lab—conservation, evolution, and genetics of fish
  • Cohan Lab—evolutionary genetics and speciation of bacteria
  • Coolon Lab—ecological and evolutionary functional genomics
  • Devoto Lab—muscle development in zebrafish
  • Johnson Lab—regulation of cell movement during development
  • Kirn Lab—developmental neurobiology of vocal learning in songbirds
  • Naegele Lab—development of GABAergic interneurons and neural stem cell therapy
  • Melón LabNeurobiological mechanism that drive sex differences in the development of disorders associated with alcohol exposure
  • 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 in bi-monthly seminars attended by all members of the department, to encourage students to become fluent and comfortable with their presentation skills.

MASTER OF ARTS

All MA students present their research in bi-monthly seminars attended by all members of the department, to encourage students to become fluent and comfortable with their presentation skills.

THESIS / DISSERTATION / DEFENSE

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

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. 

MASTER OF ARTS

Students in this program will submit a MA thesis describing their research and give a public presentation during the BIOL557 seminar describing the research they have carried out as partial fulfillment of the degree requirements. 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION 

BA/MA PROGRAM 

This program provides an attractive option for life science majors to substantially enrich their research and course background and to earn an advanced degree while at Wesleyan. Students are encouraged to begin research by their sophomore year if they intend to pursue the BA/MA in biology. Admission is competitive and based on GPA, faculty recommendations, and research experience. For information about the BA/MA Program: wesleyan.edu/grad/degree-programs/bama.html]

For additional information, please visit wesleyan.edu/bio/graduate.