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Systems, Synthetic, and Quantitative Biology

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Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 

The First Two Years


Students are required to take SB212: Communication of Science, SB300: Introduction to Systems Biology, MedSci300: Conduct of Science, and four science courses chosen in consultation with their faculty advisors. These courses must be passed with a B average or better.


Students in the Systems, Synthetic, and Quantitative Biology Program are expected to take 2-4 laboratory rotations before selecting a Dissertation Advisor. The program does not set time limits on rotations, but most rotations are expected to be 4-12 weeks long. Rotations with non-training program faculty are permitted but require approval of the program. Students should inform the program coordinator when they begin and complete their rotations.

Rotations allow students to explore different research areas, identify potential collaborators, and experience the environment in different research groups. The purpose of the rotation is to facilitate the choice of the dissertation laboratory, not to accomplish a research project.

First year students must choose their dissertation laboratory no later than June 30th.

Teaching Requirement

All students are required to teach one term. It is recommended that students complete this requirement by the end of their second year.

Qualifying Examination

The purpose of the examination is to ensure that the student is prepared to embark on dissertation research. The examination is given in two phases. The first phase must be completed by June 1 of the student’s first year, and is intended to evaluate the student’s progress in acquiring competence in mathematical and/or computational approaches. Students will formulate a question related to any problem in biology and devise a mathematical or computational approach to addressing it. Results of the project will be presented in a short written summary and orally. Phase two must be completed by the end of March of the student’s second year. Students will prepare and defend an original research proposal related to the student’s proposed dissertation research.


Academic Advisors

On arrival, each class of students is assigned two faculty advisors to guide them in their choices of courses and rotations. The class advisors will also lead a week-long orientation for incoming students at the end of August.

Dissertation Advisory Committee

After passing the qualifying exam, a Dissertation Advising Committee (DAC) of at least three faculty members and the student’s Dissertation Advisor(s) must be appointed.

The role of the DAC is to assist the student in defining the dissertation project, review scientific progress, offer critical evaluation, suggesting extension or modification of objectives, arbitrate differences of opinion between the student and the advisor if they arise, and decide when the work accomplished constitutes a dissertation. 

The first meeting must occur within six months of the student’s qualifying exam. The DAC must meet with the student at least once a year through G5 and every six months thereafter, until PhD dissertation writing is underway.


The DAC, in consultation with the dissertation advisor, determines when it is time for a student to stop laboratory work and begin to write their dissertation.

The FAS registrar specifies deadlines by which the dissertation must be submitted and the dissertation examination passed to receive the PhD diploma in November, March, or May of each academic year. A dissertation information packet is available in the program office and specifies the steps to be taken when the student is ready to apply for the PhD degree and the various forms that need to be submitted. The information packet will be thoroughly reviewed with the student by the program coordinator.

The student is expected to give a seminar of approximately one hour as part of the examination, on the day of the examination, prior to a defense of the dissertation with the examination committee.

Contact Info

Systems, Synthetic, and Quantitative Biology Website

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