Skip to main content
Department of Biology

Graduate Program

Ph.D. Requirements

Students working toward a Ph.D. must complete three examinations:

  • The qualifying examination (formerly known as candidacy), a written and oral examination taken during the second or third semester that tests fundamental concepts of biology. After the qualifying examination is passed, the student and his/her doctoral thesis committee plan a research program. The committee is selected by the student and his/her advisor and consists of a minimum of four graduate faculty members, including at least two in the Department of Biology.
  • The comprehensive examination, an oral examination taken in the second or third year that evaluates the candidate's proposed research and basic knowledge in his/her chosen subject area.
  • The final thesis defense includes an oral presentation of the thesis research and an oral examination on that research. The Ph.D. thesis must represent a significant original contribution and usually requires at least two or three years of laboratory or field research.

Students are expected to complete a Ph.D. within five years. Depending on the program option agreed upon by their faculty advisors, students also may take one or more lecture courses.


Master's Degree Requirements

Students working toward a M.S. degree must complete course work. In addition, a research thesis is usually required and must be defended before a faculty committee consisting of a minimum of three graduate faculty members, including at least two in the Department of Biology The research must represent an original contribution, and the time allotted to it is about one year. All students are encouraged to begin their research during the first year. Students who elect to complete a M.S. degree are expected to finish in two years.


Further information

For further information about Penn State graduate degree program requirements, see the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin.