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Academic Advising

Our Ph.D. program in Biological Sciences has a clearly defined, multi-tiered advising structure that includes faculty advisors, student peer advisor and staff advisors.

Chair and Vice Chair of the Graduate Committee

Eric Bennett
Justin Meyer
Vice Chair


The Chair of the Graduate Committee is responsible for the organization and activities of the Graduate Committee. The Graduate Committee is charged with the evaluation and continued improvement of existing programs and policies, as well as the development of new programs. The Chair and Vice Chair serve as advisors to all graduate students for general issues as well as specific individual needs.

Peer Mentorship Program

Program Contacts

Peer Mentors are listed on the Graduate Student Representatives page.

About the Program

The Biology Graduate Student mentorship program matches an incoming first year Biology Ph.D. student with an upperclassman mentor. The goal is for mentors to help guide their mentee through the first year of the Ph.D. program by listening to the mentee’s concerns and questions as well as providing another student perspective and opinion.

What is the time commitment for participants of the mentorship program?

Mentors and mentees will be required to meet monthly for the first year and quarterly thereafter. They will be treated to coffee on the department at Art of Espresso (details will be provided on how to access this benefit).

  • Attendance at an introductory dinner for mentors and mentees to meet.
  • Mentors will be encouraged to attend each Grad Launch I happy hour during orientation.
  • Mentors will be strongly encouraged to attend the Biology retreat to get to know their mentee at these events.

Attendance at two more program-wide social events later in the year will be encouraged for mentors and mentees. In November, we will have a social event such as a happy hour to encourage discussions about rotation planning and how course work/social life is progressing. Late in the following April, a second event will be held for mentors and mentees to focus on advising lab choice.

The mentorship program IS...

  • a chance to get to know other students in the program and network between the classes
  • an informal setting in which to discuss issues relating to the first year of grad school – rotations, classes, choosing a lab, etc.
  • an opportunity to make new friends and have fun

The mentorship program is NOT...

  • meant to provide official university advice regarding your Ph.D. degree or replace academic advising
  • a substitute for medical services or advice
  • a substitute for professional mental health services, such as counseling
  • meant to provide legal advice

Staff Advising

Meagan R. Daly
Ph.D. Program Coordinator
Valeria Zaporozhets (Spall)
Ph.D. Program Coordinator


The Graduate Student and Instructional Services Staff, located in Pacific Hall first floor, are available to assist with clarifying program requirements, navigating policy and procedure, and connecting with campus resources. Do not hesitate to reach out to them with questions or concerns.

PhD Student Email Digest

Students can find information about academic requirements and other opportunities and announcements by visiting the PhD Student Email Digest.

PhD Advising Services

Advising services are available to all current Biological Sciences PhD students

  • Online Appointments: One-hour appointments can be reserved via Calendly.
  • In-person Appointments: Located in Pacific Hall. One-hour appointment can be reserved via Calendly.

Availability is subject to change. Advisors can offer additional availability upon request.

Faculty Advisors

The drawers below describe the different types of faculty advisors, their role and how they are selected.

First Year Advisor


The First-Year Advisor provides guidance and support, especially during the critically important time when choosing a thesis advisor. They will be familiar with the graduate program requirements and may have familiarity with the student's stated research field of interest. Students should meet with their First-Year Advisor early in the Fall quarter to discuss their prior course record and other relevant experiences in experimental biology. On the basis of this discussion, the advisor might make recommendations regarding possible rotation laboratories and coursework.

Subsequently, students should meet with the First-Year Advisor once per quarter throughout the first year to discuss progress in coursework and in the rotation program. Students should also feel free to discuss possible changes in research interest and how those changes affect course and rotation selections.

The First-Year Advisor will be encouraged by the program to contact their assigned students before the beginning of the Fall quarter to set up the first meeting, but students should also feel free to take initiative to reach out to their First-Year Advisor to have these meetings.


The Chair of the Graduate Committee assigns a First-Year Advisor to each incoming student. If necessary, students may request to change advisors. This request is to be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator.

Thesis Advisor (Doctoral Committee Chair)


Selecting the Thesis Advisor to supervise PhD thesis research and to chair the doctoral committee is a crucial step in the graduate student career. Students are advised to enter into the student/advisor relationship carefully and only after they have given considerable thought to their own advising needs. Students should have selected a thesis or doctoral advisor by the end of June of the first year.

Students will collaborate with the thesis advisor to set up a program of formal research and courses that will develop the student's depth of knowledge in the area of the dissertation project and to give the student necessary breadth for a wide range of careers in the biological sciences. This should include:

  • Guidance in the selection of a feasible research project, with an emphasis on its potential for independent and original research.
  • Ensuring that the student is making progress in meeting all program requirements.
  • Ensuring that the student develops their ability to communicate ideas through journal clubs and group research meetings, the divisional seminar program, and through participation as a graduate instructional apprentice in appropriate courses.
  • Serving as chair of the student's Doctoral Thesis Committee.

A student should agree on a process of regular communication with the Thesis Advisor, and it is recommended that such communications be documented. To guide in progression through the program, students will receive an annual evaluation from the thesis advisor and committee, but evaluations are not restricted to this format. The annual evaluation will be reviewed by the Chair of the Graduate Committee and it will become part of the student's academic file. For detailed information, please see the Annual Evaluation and Examination section of the handbook.


Selecting the PhD Thesis Advisor is a crucial step in the graduate student career. It is one of the most important elements in maintaining normal progress toward the PhD degree. The Thesis Advisor assumes responsibility for guiding research and for progress in meeting degree requirements. Some criteria students may wish to consider:

  • The prospective advisor's research interests and expertise
  • Compatibility of work style and personality
  • Availability of the advisor for regular meetings and timely communication
  • Track record in training previous PhD students

When selecting an advisor, students are strongly encouraged to have several conversations with the faculty member to determine if the relationship is a good match. Students should also talk to other students who have worked with the advisor, weighing their judgment carefully, as personality and work styles differ among students. Peers can be a good resource for learning more about the potential advisor's approach to communication, problem solving, time management, and conflict resolution.

The Thesis Advisor may be any ladder rank (Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor Series) faculty member of the Division of Biological Sciences, a participating Adjunct faculty member of the Salk Institute, an adjunct member of the Division of Biological Sciences, or any ladder-rank member of the UCSD faculty. As described before, it is expected that students will have selected a PhD Thesis Advisor by the end of June.

The Orientation Seminar (Graduate School Fundamentals , BGGN 200) will also include a session on how to choose a thesis advisor.

Doctoral Committee Evaluation Head


Students will select a member of the thesis committee to serve as Evaluation Head. The Evaluation Head, not the primary thesis advisor, will lead all thesis committee meetings and examinations. This will encourage an objective review of student performance and of the research project. The faculty serving as the Evaluation Head will be an additional mentor to turn to during the graduate career. Note that only faculty with a Biological Sciences appointment may serve as Evaluation Head.

The Committee Evaluation Head leads the annual committee meeting and prepares the evaluation. The annual evaluation is a written (online) report, due within a week after the annual meeting with the thesis committee, addressing the following key issues:

  • Research progress
  • Key suggestions of the committee
  • Concerns (if any)


In consultation with the advisor, students will select the Doctoral Committee Evaluation Head by the time of the second-year proposition exam.

Doctoral Committee Members


The Doctoral Thesis Committee ('Thesis Committee') is charged with advising on and evaluating research progress throughout the remainder of a student's graduate studies. Students will meet with the Thesis Committee at least once a year (every Spring quarter) to review research progress. During these meetings, the committee evaluates progress, provides feedback, and contributes to the annual evaluation. The committee should also provide input on the appropriate end point for thesis research. Committee members are available as sources of advice, including confidential advice in situations where conflict may arise with a thesis advisor. Students are encouraged to build strong professional relationships with each committee member and to communicate with them regularly.

Selection of Core and Final Thesis Committee Members

During the second year students will select a Core Thesis Committee of at least three faculty members, including the Thesis Advisor. If co-advised, a minimum of four faculty members (2 faculty in addition to the Co-Advisors) is required to constitute the Core Thesis Committee. The Core Thesis Committee conducts the Proposition Examination (2 nd year exam).

During the Third or Fourth year, students will select at least one additional faculty, to form the Final Doctoral Thesis Committee. The Advancement to Candidacy, or Qualifying Exam, (3rd or 4th year) and the Thesis Defense require participation of all the members of the Final Doctoral Committee.

See Doctoral Committee Composition Guidelines for more information.