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Course Requirements and Specializations

During the first year, all students in the general program pursue a rigorous academic program consisting of a sequence of graduate core courses and several elective courses.

Most students participate in the general set of curricular requirements, but some students choose more specialized training if they wish. See the sections below for more information on curricular requirements.

Find course descriptions, instructors, and schedules:

BioSci PhD Program (General)

Required Courses

  • BGGN 205 – Communicating Science to the Public (Spring)
  • BGGN 206A – Concepts of Reasoning and Experimentation (CORE) I (Fall)
  • BGGN 206B –Concepts of Reasoning and Experimentation (CORE) II (Winter)
  • BGGN 207 – Scientific Ethics (Spring Year 2)
  • BGGN 208 – Biological Sciences Grad Launch (Fall)
  • BGGN 213 –Foundations of Bioinformatics (Fall or Winter)
  • BGGN 216 – Graduate Biostatistics (Spring)
  • BGGN 298 or BGGN 299 – Rotation Laboratory Projects or Thesis Research (Varies)
  • BGGN 500 –Introduction to College Biology Education (Winter Year 1)
  • BGSE 205 – Graduate Research Seminar (Enroll Year 2 and beyond)

Elective Courses (at least two 4-unit elective courses)

  • Complete in years 1 or 2; preferably after identifying a thesis lab
  • Any 4-unit BGGN course open to doctoral student enrollment will automatically apply as an elective (other than required courses)
    • Not all electives are offered each year. Refer to the Tentative Course Offerings page.
    • Note that some BGGN courses restrict enrollment to students in MS major codes.
    • Other 4-unit, graduate level courses subject to Graduate Committee Chair review

BioSci PhD Program (EBE)

Those admitted as Ecology, Behavior and Evolution students will take two elective courses in their first year; BGGN 204 is recommended as one.

Electives are drawn from the advanced graduate courses and undergraduate elective courses. EBE students should consult their First-Year Advisor and Section Chair to determine the most appropriate courses to take the first year. The following are excluded as electives: BGGN 205, 208, 297, 298, 299, 500, and any BGJC, BGRD, or BGSE course.

Required Courses

  • BGGN 208 – Biological Sciences Grad Launch 
  • BGGN 298 or BGGN 299 – Laboratory Projects or Thesis Research (Varies)
  • BGGN 500 –Introduction to College Biology Education (Winter Year 1)
  • BGGN 207 (Year 2)
  • BGSE 205 – Graduate Research Seminar (Enroll Year 2 and beyond)

Elective Courses

  • BGGN 203– Topics in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution
  • BGGN 204– Topics in Community and Population Ecology
  • Other graduate level or undergraduate level courses as recommended by faculty advisor

Specific Requirements for the EBE Academic Program

Specialization in Quantitative Biology (qBio)

Students are admitted through their home program (Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Chemistry/Biochemistry, Physics, or BioEngineering) then request admission to the qBio Specialization. Quantitative Biology refers to the use of quantitative approaches, both experimental and theoretical, to discover the organizational principles of living systems. The goal is to establish a quantitative, predictive understanding of the physiological behaviors of biological organisms in terms of the molecular parts.

More information on the Quantitative Biology Specialization

The expected course sequence is:

Year 1– Required Courses


  • BGGN 205 –Communicating Science to the Public
  • BGGN 206A – Concepts of Reasoning and Experimentation (CORE) I
  • BGGN 206B –Concepts of Reasoning and Experimentation (CORE) II
  • BGGN 208– Biological Sciences Grad Launch 
  • BGGN 213 –Foundations of Bioinformatics
  • BGGN 216 – Graduate Biostatistics
  • BGGN 298 – Laboratory Projects in Biology
  • BGGN 500 –Introduction to College Biology Education (Winter Year 1)


  • PHYS 254 – qBio seminar (F, W, S)
  • PHYS 259A – Reading in Methods for Quantitative Biology (F)
  • BGGN 259 – Reading in Quantitative Physiology (W, S)
  • BGGN 214 – Introduction to Quantitative Biology (Can be taken Year 1 or 2)
  • PHYS 270A – Experimental Techniques for Quantitative Biology (S)

Year 2 – Required Courses


  • BGGN 207 – Scientific Ethics (S)
  • BGGN 299 – Thesis Research in Biology (Every quarter)
  • BGGN 500 –Introduction to College Biology Education (Spring Year 1)
  • BGSE 205 – Graduate Research Seminar (Every quarter)

qBio Elective Courses

Two required electives from below or upon approval:

  • BGGN 212 – Introduction to Quantitative Evolutionary Biology
  • BENG 235 – Molecular Imaging and Quantitation in Living Cells
  • BNFO 284 – Nonlinear Dynamics in Quantitative Biology (alternate years)
  • PHYS 239 – Spatiotemporal dynamics in Biological Systems
  • PHYS 273 – Information Theory and Pattern Formation in Biological Systems
  • PHYS 275 – Fundamentals of Biological Physics
  • PHYS 276 – Quantitative Molecular Biology
  • PHYS 277 – Physical Biology of the Cell
  • MAE 263 – Mechanics Inside the Cell

Specialization in Bioinformatics

Currently unavailable, pending curriculum updates.

Specialization in Multi-Scale Biology

Students who select the interdisciplinary Specialization in Multi-Scale Biology track must satisfy the requirements for both the Division of Biological Sciences and the UCSD Interfaces Graduate Training Programs.

Interested Biological Sciences Ph.D. students must first complete the program's General, EBE or Microbiology curricular requirements, then complete the Multi-Scale Biology course requirements.

Learn more information about the UC San Diego Interfaces Multi-Scale Biology Program Requirements

Specialization in Anthropogeny

A transdisciplinary graduate specialization in Anthropogeny is available for Ph.D. students in the Biological Sciences and other disciplines. Information on requirements for this specialization is available through the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA). The specialization provides students an opportunity to specialize in research and education on the origins of humans. Top areas include:

  • Human and Primate Genetics and Evolution
  • Paleoanthropology and Hominid Origins
  • Mammalian and Primate Neurosciences
  • Primate Biology and Medicine
  • Language and Cognition
  • Nature-Nurture Interactions in Explaining Language and Cognition
  • Human and Primate Society and Culture
  • Comparative Developmental Biology of Primates
  • General Theories for Explaining Humans

Interested Biological Sciences Ph.D. students must first complete the program's General or EBE requirements, then complete the Specialization in Anthropogeny's course requirements.

Learn more information on UC San Diego Specialization in Anthropogeny

Specialization in Interdisciplinary Environmental Research (PIER)

A graduate specialization in Interdisciplinary Environmental Research (PIER) is available for select doctoral students in biology. Students in the Program for Interdisciplinary Environmental Research seek solutions to today's environmental challenges.

The PhD specialization is designed to allow students to obtain standard training in their chosen field and an opportunity to interact with peers in different disciplines throughout the duration of their doctoral projects. Such communication across disciplines is key to fostering a capacity for interdisciplinary "language" skills and conceptual flexibility.

Specialization Requirements

  • Complete all course work, dissertation, and other requirements of the biological science doctorate
  • 16-unit interdisciplinary boot camp (summer, SIO 295S–295LS)
  • 8 units from a secondary field (outside the home department)
  • 6 units (3 quarters) Interdisciplinary Environmental Research Forum (SIO 296)
  • At least one chapter of the dissertation will be broadly related to environmental research and will be interdisciplinary in nature.

Students are advised to begin PIER in their second year upon completion of core biology course requirements.

Interested students should contact the program via

Specialization in Immunology

As part of the Program in Immunology, the graduate specialization in Immunology promotes an immersive educational experience in immunology that includes participation in immunology coursework, seminars given by renowned speakers, biweekly research presentations by peers, a weekly journal club, and a yearly area-wide immunology conference. Biological Sciences student may apply to enroll in the Specialization in Immunology after entering the program or at the conclusion of the first year with rotations complete.  Interested students should contact to request an application.

Specialization Requirements

  • Complete all course work and other requirements for the biological science doctorate, including participation in the Immunology section of BGSE 205
  • Completion of 3 of the following 4 courses, which will apply toward BioSci program elective requirements:
    • BGGN 225 (Graduate Immunology)
    • BIOM 253 ( Pathogens and Host Defense)
    • BGGN 232 (Innate Immunity)
    • BGGN 239 (Bioinformatics for Immunologists)
  • Enroll in BGJC 204 - Journal club in Immunology (Students should plan to participate in a minimum of 3 quarters of BGJC 204)
  • Thesis research must be completed in an approved immunology laboratory