Program Structure

Overview/Requirements | Curriculum | Core Subjects | Advanced Electives | Selected Course Descriptions


The CSB Ph.D. Program is an institute-wide program that has been jointly developed by the Department of Biology, the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and the Biological Engineering Division. Thus, the program integrates biology, engineering, and computation to address complex biological problems and phenomena. The curriculum has a strong emphasis on foundational material to encourage students to become creators of future tools and technologies, rather than merely practitioners of current approaches. CSB Ph.D. students have opportunities to carry out research with CSBi faculty from across the Institute. Applicants are required to have an undergraduate degree, preferably with dual emphasis in biology (or a related field) and computer science, statistics, math, chemistry, physics, or an engineering discipline.

There are five main components to the training program in CSB:

  1. Core course work. All students pursue a core curriculum that includes classes in biology and computational biology, along with a literature-based class in computational and systems biology.
  2. Advanced elective course work. Advanced electives in science and engineering enhance both the breadth and depth of a CSB education.
  3. Thesis research. Students select laboratories and begin their thesis research by May of their first year.
  4. Teaching experience. CSB Ph.D. students serve as teaching assistants during one semester in their second year to develop communication skills and facilitate interactions across disciplines.
  5. Training in the ethical conduct of research. All students participate in ethical training, with a particular emphasis on the interdisciplinary challenges of spanning different academic cultures and modes of operation.

Students also complete the following requirements:

Four two-month rotations. Rotations are carried out during the first year, leading to the choice of a thesis lab by the end of the spring semester. They are designed to give students a breadth of experience at the frontiers of computational and systems biology, as well as to help them select a thesis research lab.

Qualifying examinations. Both a written and an oral qualifying exam are taken in the second year. The written examination involves preparing a proposal based on the student's thesis research, and presenting the proposal to the examination committee. This process provides a strong foundation for the thesis, incorporating new research ideas and refining the scope of the project. The oral examination is based on coursework and on related published literature. The qualifying exams are designed to develop and demonstrate depth in a selected area (the area of the thesis research) as well as breadth of knowledge across the field of computational and systems biology.