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Program Requirements

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Ph.D. requirements

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

    • The candidacy examination, a written and oral examination taken during the second or third semester that tests fundamental concepts of biology. After the candidacy 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 it consists of a minimum of four graduate faculty members, including at least two in the Biology Department.
    • 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 advisor, students may also take one or more lecture courses.

Masters degree requirements

Students working toward an M.S. degree in Biology 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, including at least two in the Biology Department. 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 an 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.