PhD in Biology

Polina Freitas, PhD’18, earning her doctorate in biology, cleans tanks with axolotl, known as the Mexican salamander, in James Monaghan’s lab. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

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The PhD program provides both a broad background knowledge base and an in-depth study of a specialized area of biology. You can choose to pursue a concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology or Molecular Microbiology. The program emphasizes close interaction between graduate students and faculty in developing the intellectual and experimental skills required for creative independent research.

Research Opportunities

Graduate study in the Department of Biology provides a tailored experience for each student, including independent research in our major areas of strength: molecular microbiology, cell and molecular biology, aging and regenerative biology, and biomechanics, neurobiology and behavior. In addition to individualized mentoring, Biology PhD students are supported by a committee with unique expertise to guide their academic and career development.

Research Clusters

The NU Advantage

Situated between Symphony Hall and the Museum of Fine Arts, NU students enjoy a lively cultural scene featuring many restaurants, Fenway Park and popular historical sites. Just a short trolley ride (or walk) to Harvard, Tufts and BU Medical Schools, or bike ride to MIT, our students make valuable research connections within the thriving academic community of Greater Boston.


To be considered for admission to the doctoral program, a student must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, preferably in a biological science. Individuals with degrees in other natural sciences may be considered, depending on their interests and background. Our priority deadline is December 15 with rolling admissions until March 15, based on space available. We only admit degree program students for fall semesters. The general Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are required, and international applicants must demonstrate English proficiency. For more information about the application process, visit the admissions section of the College of Science website.

PhD Student Support & Training

PhD students typically receive a tuition waiver and an annual living stipend (TA or RA). The Biology PhD Curriculum combines a broad knowledge base with flexible, in-depth study in a research area of interest. See the Graduate Guidebook (p. 3) for core course offerings. Biology faculty participating in PhD training are listed in the current Graduate Guidebook which you should consult before applying. Please note that Marine Science faculty offer a PhD in Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology.

Academic Requirements

PhD students entering with a bachelor’s degree are required to complete 30 semester hours of graduate level coursework, 20 of which must be taken for a letter grade. A minimum GPA of 3.000 for all graduate work is required for the award of the PhD degree. All regulations of the Graduate School regarding maintenance of academic standing apply. Requirements for students entering with a master’s degree depend on the recommendations of the doctoral dissertation adviser and examination committees.

Qualifying Examination

The PhD Candidacy Examination consists of a written and an oral examination. The written examination is based on the analysis of primary research articles broadly in the student’s area of study. For the oral examination, students write and defend a research proposal which will describes their planned thesis work. A student must successfully complete the written examination and the oral research proposal defense to be a PhD candidate.


The dissertation is the most important part of the PhD degree and must be an original and independent scientific study. The dissertation adviser and student work closely to develop the problem and arrange for a PhD dissertation committee of at least five members. One member must be an acknowledged expert from outside the department.

Residency Requirement

After admittance to doctoral candidacy, the student may satisfy the residence requirement through one year (or two six-month periods) of full-time graduate work on campus.

Review the Curriculum and Graduation Requirements here

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