Biological Sciences

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The graduate program in the Department of Biological Sciences is designed to prepare students for careers in teaching and research. Critical thinking skills and technical expertise are achieved primarily through dissertation research beginning with a firm foundation of course work and seminars.
There are two pathways to enter the Department of Biological Sciences. Students may be admitted directly to the department, or admitted through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP). During the first year students are engaged in course work, but also gain valuable experience in research and identify their area of interest by completing research rotations. Students will typically finalize their selection of a mentor and begin research in the lab of their choice by May of their first year. Specific requirements for completion of the Ph.D. degree in Biological Sciences continue in ensuing years, as detailed in the Program and Requirements section.
Since the field of biology is broad, ranging from molecules and cells to organisms and ecosystems, the research interests of the faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences and the course offerings within the department are extremely diverse. Flexibility is the key, allowing students to pursue individual interests and complete the requirements for graduation by taking specialized courses in the Department of Biological Sciences or other departments at Vanderbilt. In addition, the Department of Biological Sciences offers training in teaching, since graduate students serve as teaching assistants for two or more semesters in the course of their graduate training.

Biological Sciences Graduate Courses

  • *2201 Introduction to Cell Biology
  • *2205 Evolution
  • *2210 Principles of Genetics
  • *2520 Biochemistry I
  • *2238 Ecology
  • 3230 Biological Clocks
  • 3234 Microbiology
  • 3247 Molecular Evolution
  • 3252 Cellular Neurobiology
  • 4265 DNA Transactions
  • 4266 Advanced Molecular Genetics
  • 3270 Statistical Methods in Biology
  • 3272 Principles and Practice of Genome
  • 6320 Graduate Seminar in Biological Sciences
  • 6332 Seminar Biological Rhythms
  • 6336 Seminar in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • 8312 Developmental Biology
  • 8999 Non-candidate Dissertation Research
  • 6385 Advanced Reading in Biological Sciences
  • 7390 Special Topics and Advanced Techniques in Biological Sciences
  • 9999 Ph.D. Dissertation Research 

Our doctoral program encourages applications from all highly qualified students, including international applicants. Presently, our program has about 65 graduate students, about 1/3 of which are international students.  The number of international students we admit varies each year depending on the applicant pool and the specific needs of the faculty.

Students holding degrees in the physical or biological sciences are especially encouraged to apply to the Graduate Program, but applicants from other fields will be considered. In appropriate cases, background deficiencies may be made up in the first year of the program or in the summer prior to entry. Students are advised to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) as early as possible. Any applications completed prior to December 1 will be considered.  Please encourage referees to submit letters as soon as possible since applications cannot be considered complete until the letters of recommendation are received. You should apply to our graduate program online. There is no application fee for an online application.

Applicants to our graduate program are evaluated on the totality of their scholarly achievements, including previous research experience as well as GPA and test scores. The general GRE and TOEFL are required and original scores from ETS as well as letters of recommendation must be received to complete the application before the January 15 deadline. Subject GRE tests are not required. Graduate School minimums for GPA and TOEFL scores are 3.0 overall undergraduate GPA and GPA in major, TOEFL scores of 570 for paper-version, 230 for computerized and 88 for internet-based tests. There are no Graduate School minimums for GRE scores. For perspective, typical mean test score ranges for students entering the Biological  Sciences graduate program in the past few years have been verbal GREs in the 550-600 range, quantitative GREs in the 650-750 range and GPAs in the 3.2-3.7 range. However, many other factors, including demonstrated research abilities and recommendations are important in the admissions process.


All of our doctoral students receive financial support in the form of a stipend as well as waiver of tuition. The stipend level for 2015-2016 will be $28,996 per year, and the costs of tuition, health insurance, and some fees are covered. Funding for the first three years (direct admits) or years two and three (entry from IGP) is typically provided by the College of Arts and Science or through various training grants. The final years of support typically are provided from grant funds of the mentor. Students are encouraged to and often do obtain individual fellowships from the NIH or the NSF. The Graduate School guarantees funding of students in good standing for 5 years.

University Tuition Scholarships are service-free awards that pay all or part of tuition costs. The following graduate awards are normally supplemented by a full University Tuition Scholarship, which usually includes student health insurance coverage: University Fellowships, Graduate Teaching Assistantships, Graduate Research Assistantships, Traineeships, and Teacher Training Awards

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