Department of Physiology and Biophysics

Departmental Requirements

General Information

Students who successfully complete the Ph.D. degree in the Dept. of Physiology & Biophysics shall:

  • have the ability to design and conduct high quality, independent research and
  • possess a broad-based knowledge of the field of Physiology & Biophysics.


Students are expected to progressively demonstrate their acquisition of these skills principally in their thesis research and additionally through course performance, student journal club participation, seminar attendance, performance on the Departmental qualifying examination, and publication in the peer-reviewed literature.


Research Requirement

It must be emphasized that the Ph.D. degree in Physiology & Biophysics is primarily a research degree. Research training begins with Laboratory Research Rotations in the first year of the graduate program. It continues with the selection of a thesis research advisor and development of an original research project.

Students who elect to join the Department of Physiology & Biophysics during the first year of graduate training will normally be expected to rotate in two or more laboratories. Laboratory rotations are also encouraged for students who have selected a Physiology & Biophysics faculty member as Ph.D. thesis advisor on admission to the Graduate School. Students with advanced standing (M.S. or equivalent research experience) may request exemption from laboratory rotations through their Student Advisory Committee and the Departmental Graduate Student Committee.

Research progress is monitored closely by Student Advisory Committees. Ph.D. thesis research involves meaningful, critical thinking and the execution of ideas in the laboratory through the use of the scientific method. Ph.D. thesis research programs operate on a twelve month basis. The summer months in the first and second years provide a particularly good opportunity to make progress on thesis research because those months are normally free of course work or other academic requirements. The research conducted by a Physiology & Biophysics Ph.D. candidate should be an original contribution to scientific knowledge. The quality of the candidate's research is expected to be equivalent to that found in reputable, refereed scientific journals.

Research progress is documented by the reports of Student Advisory Committee meetings and by the student's progress reports submitted before these meetings. Filing these reports with the Chairman of Physiology & Biophysics and the Chairperson of Departmental Graduate Student Committee is part of the Departmental requirements for the Ph.D. degree. Reports of Student Advisory Committees should discuss research progress and research plans, assess the ability of the student to conduct independent research, and evaluate the student's broad-based knowledge of Physiology & Biophysics.


Course Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree

The Department of Physiology & Biophysics requires an academic program of specific and elective courses, the latter selected in consultation with the Student Advisory Committee. A broad foundation in chemistry and modern biology is required to carry out scholarly studies in Physiology & Biophysics. The required courses are intended to provide breadth and fundamental information as well as specialized education in one's chosen area of research.

A description of the courses taught by the Department of Physiology & Biophysics in the Graduate School can be found in the List of Courses. In addition to Physiology & Biophysics courses, graduate students may fulfill Departmental course requirements with other approved graduate courses. The Departmental course requirements are listed below.

Specific course requirements: Two courses

  1. Biochemistry (5 credits). All students must take this course or receive an exemption from the course directors. This is a one semester course given annually in the fall, introducing basic principles of biochemistry
  2. Either Physiology (6 credits) or Biophysical Chemistry of Macromolecules (3 credits, only offered if sufficient registration). These are introductory courses in general physiology or biophysical chemistry, respectively. The Physiology course has three sections, Membrane Physiology & Transport, Cardiovascular, and Renal/Respiratory/Acid-Base.


Elective course requirements: Sufficient courses to complete the 21 credit requirement.

The choice of these elective courses should be made by the student in consultation with their thesis mentor and Student Advisory Committee. Students should chose a range of graduate courses that will broaden their knowledge of Physiology, Biophysics, Biochemistry and other appropriate areas of Biology as well as give them detailed knowledge of areas related to their research. This should include Quantitative Skills for the Biomedical Researcher.

A typical Block 1 first trimester curriculum would include Biochemistry and either Membrane Physiology & Transport or an elective course. Biophysical Chemistry of Macromolecules is usually given in either Blocks 2 or 3. The students would be free to take electives in Blocks 2 and 3. Students are required to obtain passing grades in all required courses. Students not meeting these requirements are placed on academic probation and will meet with their Student Advisory Committee for a review of their academic and research performance. A written report of the Advisory Committee recommendation for remedial or other action must be filed with the Departmental Graduate Student Committee. Students may not graduate with an I (incomplete) on their academic record. If an F (Fail) is received in a course, it must be retaken and a passing grade must be obtained in order to graduate.

Students who wish to have academic credits from another school applied to Departmental course requirements must first receive approval from their Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee's recommendation and a detailed description of the course is reviewed by Departmental Graduate Student Committee.


Course Requirements for the M.D.-Ph.D. Degree

Students enrolled in the MSTP dual-degree MD-PhD program in Physiology & Biophysics are required to complete the same requirements as Ph.D. students, except they are only required to complete a total of 18 Graduate Division course credits.


Journal Club

The Departmental Journal Club is scheduled by the Department of Physiology & Biophysics. The participating students select a Physiology & Biophysics faculty member as a consultant in selection and critical reading of the journal article and in the preparation for the Journal Club presentation. The subject of the article must be well outside the student's area of thesis research. The Journal Club requirement is met by (i) presentation of literature seminars in consultation with the assigned faculty member; and (ii) participation in the discussion during and following seminar presentations.

Students are required to attend the Physiology & Biophysics Journal Club during each semester they are enrolled in the Physiology & Biophysics Graduate Program. Rotational students are also required to attend but not required to present. Physiology & Biophysics graduate students begin regular presentation in the Journal Club at the beginning of their second year of residence in the Ph.D. program.

Journal Club performance is graded pass or fail by the faculty member assigned as a consultant. A written record of the grade for each journal club performance is filed with the Departmental Graduate Student Committee. A form for evaluation of the Student Journal Club performance can be found in the Appendices. Students who have successfully passed 2 Journal Club presentations will not be graded in future presentations, but will continue to attend the Journal Club.


Research Seminars

Students enrolled in the Graduate program are required to attend the research seminars presented in the Seminar programs of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics. In addition, students are expected to attend other appropriate seminars at the College. Notices are posted on the Departmental bulletin board near the Departmental Office, and listed in the Calendar of Events.


Qualifying Examination

Admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree in Physiology & Biophysics is conditional on successful completion of the Qualifying Examination. Students successfully completing the Qualifying Examination are entitled to be awarded a Master of Science degree.


Expected Duration

Most students will complete all requirements for the Ph.D. degree within 4 or 5 years from the date of entry into the graduate school. The explicit permission of the thesis advisor, the Departmental Graduate Student Committee, and the Chairman of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics is required for study to continue beyond 6 calendar years. The Graduate School requires that students admitted to doctoral programs must register each semester, unless a leave of absence has been applied for and granted. This requirement also applies to students engaged in thesis research who are not enrolled in any courses.

A typical timetable for completion of departmental requirements is listed below.

First Year  

  • Courses: Graduate Biochemistry, Biophysical Chemistry of Macromolecules and electives.
  • Attendance at Physiology & Biophysics Department seminars and Student Journal Club
  • Choice of thesis research advisor by the end of the academic year
  • Meet with Faculty Advisory Committee each semester


Second Year  

  • Courses: Electives specific for thesis research topic
  • Two Student Journal Club presentations
  • Attendance at Department seminars
  • Meet with Faculty Advisory Committee each semester
  • Physiology & Biophysics Qualifying Examination (defense of thesis proposal) by end of the year


Third - Fourth - Fifth Year  

  • Attend Student Journal Club
  • Attend Department of Physiology & Biophysics Seminars
  • Meet with Faculty Advisory Committee each semester
  • Thesis Examination (defense of thesis research)


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