Core Curriculum

Students must complete the course requirements for one of the program’s curricular tracks. Most coursework is completed during the first year. All incoming doctoral students take Graduate Boot Camp and Graduate School Fundamentals courses during their first quarter.

Lectures in molecular biology, cell biology, and genetics that provide an advanced foundation in these fundamental disciplines are complemented by small group discussions with faculty moderators focused on the critical evaluation of the primary scientific literature.

Flexibility for each student to pursue individual interests during the first year is provided not only through rotations, but also through elective courses.

Once the core course load is completed, students are encouraged to take other courses that enhance their education and research experience.

See a complete list of graduate level courses offered in the Division.

Rotation Program

A series of six‐week rotations allows students to sample research across the biological sciences and obtain mentored training in general and specialized research methods and approaches.

Laboratory research meetings and research seminars provide training in effective scientific communication, while also introducing students to the research community at UCSD and the Salk Institute, including advanced graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and prospective thesis advisors.

Students complete a minimum of four rotations (by the end of the Winter quarter), after which they are eligible to request to join their selected dissertation lab.

Students may opt to complete more rotations during their first year, but all students will have joined labs by the end of June.

Graduate Instructional Apprentice Program

One important goal of our program is to provide our students with the training and mentorship that will enable them to become experienced and effective teachers of science at the college level.

Independent of ultimate career path, we expect all students will develop a high regard for excellence in teaching as well as research.

Our program also develops each student’s ability to convey ideas accurately and persuasively in a variety of contexts and hones their skills to make presentations with poise and impact.

The program requires each student to assist as a Graduate Instructional Assistant for a total of three courses, one of which must be a laboratory course, during their graduate career.  Typically, students assist in this role in one course in each of their second, third and fourth years in the program.

More information about the Instructional Apprentice Program.

Additional Coursework

In addition to the core curriculum, students are expected to complete other requirements to help develop into leaders in their selected field. 

  • Scientific Ethics – Students must complete a course in scientific ethics which is normally taken in the Spring quarter of their second year.
  • Graduate Student Seminars – We feel it is critically important for students to practice their presentation skills. We offer a course, BGSE 205, in which students, beginning in their second year, present their research to a group of their peers and faculty mentors.
  • Journal Clubs - Most students actively participate in a journal club of their choice in order to discuss recent papers with many members of the scientific community, including other graduate students, postdocs and faculty from neighboring institutions.

Annual Meetings with Doctoral Committee and Thesis Advisor

Each student must meet with their primary advisory committee (doctoral committee) at least annually, usually during the Spring quarter.

These formal meetings are designed to evaluate research accomplished to date and to redefine goals and expectations. The meetings are designed to help students plan their research and give faculty advisors a chance to give effective feedback and support, to ensure they stay on track and are making progress toward the PhD.

Dissertation Requirements

The PhD is awarded once a student has completed the dissertation and conducted the oral defense.

The defense is facilitated by the thesis advisor and doctoral committee. The dissertation must be organized and written in a form approved by the thesis advisor and the dean of the Graduate Division. 

The dissertation defense is an examination that consists of a pre-defense meeting with the doctoral committee followed by a formal presentation of the research in a public divisional seminar.