Carnegie Mellon University


Regular meetings with the Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC) before both the fall and spring terms ensure selection of appropriate courses for each student. All first-year students are required to take at least three lecture courses for credit in each of the first two semesters. Students are required to maintain a minimum quality point average (QPA) of 3.0.

All graduate students attend the Departmental Research Seminar and participate in the weekly Graduate Research Seminar (Journal Club). These series comprise a variety of presentations by outside scientists, Carnegie Mellon faculty and students, permitting a penetrating look at varied scientific disciplines and contemporary investigative approaches. Students also attend various informal seminars whose topics range from scientific integrity and ethics to professional development.

Laboratory Rotations

During their first year, students rotate through the laboratories of three faculty members of their choice. By carrying out a small research project in each lab, the students gain an in-depth look at the ongoing research projects being performed, the different techniques being used and the culture of each lab group. Each rotation experience is intended to enable the students to determine which lab and mentor best match their interests, and to allow the faculty to ascertain whether the student would make a positive contribution to their research program. In keeping with the Carnegie Mellon tradition of interdisciplinary scholarship, most rotations offer the opportunity to explore multiple disciplines within a single project.

Selection of a Research Advisor

Near the end of the first year, students choose a research area in which to conduct their thesis work. Every effort is made to give students their first choice of a faculty Research Advisor; this match involves mutual agreement between the student and the faculty member, and requires approval by the Department Head. Faculty who are currently training students may hold positions in other Carnegie Mellon departments.

Qualifying Examination – The Thesis Proposal Defense

The Thesis Proposal Defense is intended to evaluate the ability of students to (1) identify important unanswered questions in various disciplines, (2) formulate scientific hypotheses or develop methods to solve these problems, (3) design and interpret scientific experiments, and (4) write clearly and persuasively. This exam serves as an educational vehicle to enhance the training of students, and to allow the faculty to whether the students may proceed to the next phase of the graduate program.

The Thesis Proposal Defense, which consists of the preparation and oral defense of a doctoral thesis proposal, is carried out by February 1 of the second year (approximately nine months after the beginning of a student’s thesis research).

Doctoral Dissertation

Students select a Research Advisor by the last day of spring semester of the first year. Each student, together with the Research Advisor, selects and invites a Research Advisory Committee (RAC), which consists of at least three faculty members. This committee administers the Thesis Proposal Defense and then meets with the student at least once a year to provide guidance and to monitor the overall progress of the research project. As the final step in completing the requirements for the Ph.D. degree, each student must write and publicly defend a Doctoral Dissertation, which should make a significant contribution to science and contain material worthy of publication.

Teaching Requirement

Consistent with the Departmental mission of training excellent and independent researchers and educators, each student is required to work as a grader and teaching assistant (TA). Additional training for students who wish to sharpen their teaching skills is provided by the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence.

The Elizabeth Jones Annual Retreat

During the fall semester, the Department of Biological Sciences gathers for an offsite retreat. Students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty discuss their research and enjoy recreational activities in a relaxed setting. During this retreat, new graduate students have an opportunity to become well-acquainted with the department and learn in detail about the research interests of each laboratory. Faculty members and senior graduate students present informal talks, while others present posters.