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Additional Academic and Program Requirements

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.

Instructional Assistant Experience

One important goal of the program is to provide 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, students are expected to 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 serve as an Instructional Assistant for a total of three courses, one of which must be a laboratory course, during their graduate career.

Additional information about Graduate Student IA Opportunities is available at this link.

Graduate Research Seminar (BGSE 205)

Graduate Student Seminars – This seminar series affords doctoral students the opportunity to practice presentation skills within a research affinity group of peers and faculty. Students enroll in the 2nd year and beyond.

For more information, see Graduate Research Seminar (BGSE 205).

Spring / Annual Evaluation

Doctoral students in Biological Sciences are formally evaluated on an annual basis. There are two components to the evaluation process. These processes occur in tandem during the Spring quarter and consist of the BioSci Program's Annual Evaluation requirements, which include an Annual Meeting, along with the Division of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA)'s Spring Evaluation, which is an online evaluation survey required by Graduate Council policy. The campus deadline for submission of all evaluation components is the last day of Spring Quarter.

The Annual and Spring evaluation processes are intended to provide an assessment of the student's completed research while also facilitating discussions that encourage the student throughout the program. Students and their Doctoral Committee work together during the annual meetings to redefine project goals and expectations to ensure progress to degree according to the program timeline. Please refer to the Annual Committee Meeting Instructions applicable to your cohort year located in the table below for details.

Step 1:

Complete the pre-meeting survey. Spring 2024 survey available in late March 2024.

Step 2:

Review the table below for requirements by year in the program.

Step 3:

The Committee Evaluation Head initiates and completes the appropriate Feedback form (faculty login required)

Thesis Advisor, Student, and Committee members complete the GEPA Online Spring Evaluation.

Overview of BioSci Program Annual Evaluation Requirements

Overview of BioSci Program Annual Evaluation Requirements
Cohort Year BioSci Annual Meeting Evaluation Requirements - Students and advisors can review the content of feedback forms at the links below. While final feedback form reports will be made available to students, the Evaluation Head is designated as the person to complete the Feedback form (faculty login required) for submission. As such, faculty login is required to view the full feedback form. GEPA Spring Evaluation - Routed via @ucsd email, portions are completed by the student, thesis advisor, and committee members.
1 st Year The First Year Exam, occurring in the summer, takes the place of an Annual Meeting. Follow the email prompt to complete the GEPA Online Spring Evaluation
2 nd Year Second Year Thesis Proposition Exam Follow the email prompt to complete the GEPA Online Spring Evaluation
3 rd Year

Annual Committee Meeting or Advancement to Candidacy

Note: Advancements occurring in Winter or Spring quarter may serve in lieu of the Annual Committee Meeting  and Online Spring Evaluation

Follow the email prompt to complete the GEPA Online Spring Evaluation
4 th Year

Annual Committee Meeting or Advancement to Candidacy

Note: Advancements occurring in Winter or Spring quarter may serve in lieu of the Annual Committee Meeting and Online Spring Evaluation

Follow the email prompt to complete the GEPA Online Spring Evaluation
5 th+ Year Annual Committee Meeting Follow the email prompt to complete the GEPA Online Spring Evaluation
Thesis Defense Pre-defense meetings occurring in Spring or Summer will serve as the evaluation.

Best Practices for Annual Committee Meetings and Spring Evaluations:

  • Students should complete their question and comment portion of the Division of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA)'s Spring Evaluation prior to the Annual Committee Meeting.
  • Roles and responsibilities of each member of the Doctoral Committee can be found on the Academic Advising page.
  • Please see the Individual Development Plan section below for information on that portion of annual requirements.

General Committee Meeting Advice:

  • Schedule as far in advance as possible
  • Written reports should be submitted well in advance of the committee meeting
  • Share the presentation with the thesis advisor in advance
  • You cannot over communicate on meeting logistics; make sure faculty respond
  • The goal of the meeting is to support degree progress
  • Stick to the agenda. There will be questions and interruptions (a good thing) but avoid digressions. Steer the committee back to the agenda.
  • Aim for 90 minutes.
  • Post-meeting thank you and documentation of action items are recommended

Sample Agenda:

  • Student and Committee without the Advisor (5 minutes) 
  • Look Back – The IDP can be a useful tool in organizing thoughts around this and the Look Ahead section
    • Recap previous committee meeting action items (if any)
    • Literature review and knowledge gaps
    • Research progress including any experimental challenges or other troubleshooting that you would like input on
    • How you are progressing towards your own technical and professional development goals
  • Look Ahead
    • Research goals for the next meeting
    • Writing goals (grants, manuscripts) for the next meeting
    • External presentations and other activities
    • Estimated timeline for program milestones (advancement, dissertation defense)
  • Other discussion topics
  • Advisor and Committee without the Student (5 minutes)
  • Reconvening of the entire group
  • Evaluation Head completes the appropriate BioSci feedback form (faculty login required)
  • Committee members / Thesis Advisor complete GEPA Spring Evaluation form

Individual Development Plan

In addition to preparing for the committee Annual Committee Meeting portion of the Annual Evaluation, all students in the program (2nd year and beyond) will work with their thesis advisor to develop an Individual Development Plan (IDP). These are meant to help define career goals and identify skills that need to be developed to help students be successful in graduate school and beyond.

Several templates are available. Students should consult with the Thesis Advisor regarding choice of template.

Students should finalize the IDP and meet with their mentor(s) (which could include the thesis advisor and others) before the Annual Committee Meeting. An IDP is required for all trainees supported by US federal funds, which effectively means all students. Students do not have to share the IDP with the committee, but the Thesis Advisor will need to verify that the IDP is complete on the online annual evaluation form.

The Doctoral Thesis Committee

Doctoral Thesis Committee

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

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 Division of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA).

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.


Division of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA) began using DocuSign in May 2020 for processing Academic Affairs forms. Forms are owned by the Division of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA), so beyond form initiation, biology staff cannot manage forms or send reminders. This means that it is the responsibility of students and faculty to take note of DocuSign emails and to sign documents in a timely manner, to avoid unnecessary stress in missing University deadlines.

Kinds of forms that will now be signed via DocuSign:

  • General Petition
  • Report of the Qualifying Examination and Advancement to Candidacy for the Doctoral Degree
  • Final Report of the Final Examination and Filing of the Dissertation for the Doctoral Degree
  • Dissertation / Thesis Signature Page / Final Report

Some suggestions:

  • DocuSign emails may look like spam or may go to junk folders; please check that DocuSign (specifically: is in your and your faculty’s, ‘known sender’ list.
  • Instructors must use UCSD Active Directory (AD) credentials (, when logging into
  • Students in Salk or labs outside the Division should double check that their advisors/committee members are aware of the need to use UCSD single sign on credentials. Information about DocuSign has been emailed to all Biology/Salk faculty and BS/MS advisors, but it is not possible to email all committee members, so it would be wise to confirm with all committee members that they are aware of how DocuSign works.
  • DocuSign emails have links to the forms, but faculty can always log in to to check their ‘action required’ list. Some forms may not appear until previous signatories have dealt with them.
  • For further inquiries about initiated forms or form reminders, please reach out to the Academic Affairs team in the Division of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (GEPA).
  • For technical issues, contact the DocuSign help desk at
Download the 2021-22 Graduate Student Handbook