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The 10 Best Biology PhD Programs

The 10 Best Biology PhD Programs
Rank School Location
1 Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts
2 Yale University New Haven, Connecticut
3 Columbia University In The City Of New York New York, NY
4 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley, CA
5 University of Chicago Chicago, IL
6 Stanford University Stanford, CA
7 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
8 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA
9 University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI
10 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI

This is a ranking of the 10 Best Biology PhD Programs in the US. A PhD can potentially prepare students with a passion for biology for many different careers. Many graduates pursue independent research and higher academia positions. Others transition to the private sector, working in corporate research, or secondary teaching.

Many of these universities offer many degrees in many integrative departments. Students can study fields such as cancer biology, plant genetics, ecology, and evolution.

Students interested in biology pursue a graduate degree to deepen their knowledge. This equips students to publish research or pursue high career positions.

Doctorate and Master's programs often require a specialization and a research focus. Many programs offer flexible courses with an emphasis on lab rotations. These rotations help candidates narrow in on their research question and thesis focus. Often students find faculty mentors to guide their research and laboratories.

Many schools look for research interests and statements of purpose for admission. Most PhD programs last 4-6 years and several include student teaching requirements.

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The 10 Best Biology PhD Programs


Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Harvard University

The Doctor of Philosophy in Molecules, Cells and Organisms program prepares students to work in many fields of biology. With faculty from five different departments, students gain a wide understanding of biology.

Students study from faculty in the Molecular and Cellular Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, and Physics departments. The program boasts 10 areas of research and several research communities.

In the first year, all students complete three out of four possible lab rotations and then select a thesis lab. These labs let students explore an interdisciplinary approach before focusing on their specialization. The students also complete a series of core courses and several electives in their early years.

Students take part in the Student-Faculty Journal Lab and spend a term as a teaching fellow. They will learn to hone their communication skills, both written and verbal. By their second year, all students are assessed by faculty on their candidacy. Approved candidates spend the coming years studying in labs and completing their dissertation. Most doctoral students complete their requirements by their sixth year.

Credit requirements: The program lasts six years, including full time coursework and research requirements.

Selection of courses:

  • Genetics, Genomics and Evolutionary Biology
  • Cellular Biology, Neurobiology and Developmental Biology
  • Biochemistry, Chemical, and Structural Biology
  • Mathematics in Biology

Admission and transfer information: Prospective students complete the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Online Application. They'll also submit a personal statement, letters of recommendation, transcripts, a record of recommended coursework, and optional GRE scores. No transfer credit is accepted.

Accreditation: Harvard University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.


Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

Yale University

Earning a Doctor of Philosophy in Biological and Biomedical Sciences from Yale University gives you access to a modern research university. The combined program features eight interdepartmental tracks.

The tracks separate students into interest fields and career goals. Each track has recommended or required courses with elective options outside the track. The tracks include interests like biochemistry, computational biology. molecular biology, neuroscience and plant biology.

Each student develops their own course work and independent research with a faculty advisor. The program ensures breadth and coverage of specific topics and training to prepare graduates for their desire career.

Regardless of track, each student student-teaches for two semesters. They can teach at the undergraduate, graduate and medical level relevant to their interest. There is also training available for students planning to teach post-graduate.

Students can pair their interdisciplinary courses with one of the several programs offered. Integrated programs let students explore biological engineering and collaborate with scientists from Puerto Rico and China.

Credit requirements: The average time to a degree is 5.7 years

Selection of courses:

  • Frontiers in Medicine
  • Sensory Physiology
  • Molecular Mechanisms of Disease
  • Responsible Conduct of Research

Admission and transfer information: Admission is through the Yale Graduate School of the Arts and Sciences. Admissions is based off of past coursework and research in the field, GPA and GRE scores. No transfer credit is accepted.

Accreditation: Yale University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.


Columbia University In The City Of New York

New York, NY

Columbia University

Columbia offers both a Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences and a Master of Arts in Biotechnology. The PhD program revolves around laboratory rotations, doctoral thesis research and a teaching emphasis. The MA program emphasizes biology's uses in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

The Department of Biological Sciences has PhD programs in many fields of Biology.

All students take a first year intensive core course before splitting into electives their second year. Laboratory rotations are critical, with first year students participating in three. At the end of the first year, students choose a mentor. They'll continue to research in their laboratory. This research might be in the department or in the school of medicine, other departments or even other collaborative colleges.

The research emphasis organizes around the programs of study. Students benefit from research clusters and share expertise, paired with their core course. Students also receive teaching training via a workshop program beginning their second year.

The Biotechnology MA program trains students in molecular biology for diverse careers in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. The program can be completed in one year. Students in this program go on to further research, earning admission to further education and careers in research, regulation, and law making.

Credit requirements: For the PhD, students take 5-7 years to complete their program. The MA requires 30 credits of coursework and a master's thesis.

Selection of courses:

  • Macromolecular Structure & Interactions
  • Human Evolutionary Genetics
  • The Central Dogma: Mechanisms and Regulation
  • Seminar in Epigenetics

Admission and transfer information: Students submit their resume, transcripts, general GRE scores, and three letters of recommendation.

Accreditation: Columbia University in the City of New York is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.


University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, CA

University of California Berkeley

The Life Sciences department at Berkeley includes 19 department and graduate groups in various specializations of the field. All of these groups grant a Doctor of Philosophy or Master of Arts, or both.

Some of these degrees include:

  • PhD in Bioengineering
  • PhD in Biophysics
  • PhD in Integrative Biology
  • PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology
  • PhD in Plant and Microbial Biology

All Berkeley programs benefit from the public research institution's wide access to resources. They are structured around core courses and intensive practical research training.

Berkeley currently houses over 500 faculty members studying the biosciences. Students can study from them and be involved in their research.

All the programs enjoy close proximity to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Innovative Genomics Institute, the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, and both cancer research laboratory, and electron microscope laboratory Organized Research Units. Students also have access to many nearby museums highlighting zoology, paleontology, and diseases.

The students spend their first year in three lab rotations. Depending on the program, students are either required to be a graduate student instructor for one or two semesters, train in oral presentation courses and in ethical conduct of research. All students complete a thesis, subject to review for graduation.

Credit requirements: 24 credits on average

Selection of courses:

  • Protein Chemistry, Enzymology, and Bio-organic Chemistry
  • Advanced Mammalian Physiology
  • Discrete Mathematics for the Life Sciences
  • Scientific Writing

Admission and transfer information: Prospective students submit the online application, their top two emphasis areas, three letters of recommendation, unofficial transcripts, and optional GRE scores. No transfer credit is applicable.

Accreditation: Berkeley is accredited by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges.


University of Chicago

Chicago, IL

University of Chicago

The Department of Biosciences confers 18 specialized Doctorates of Philosophy in Bioscience. These programs occupy the fields of the Biomedical Sciences, Darwinian Sciences, Molecular Biosciences, Neuroscience, and independent programs in interdisciplinary fields.

The Department of Biosciences offers vast areas of study and accomplished faculty for each. Their research has contributed to scientific breakthroughs in the last two centuries. They teach at over 50 institutes and centers at the University of Chicago.

The University offers 20 core facilities for research and study. These include microscopy imaging stations, genetics facilities, national laboratories, and more. The University initiative GreenLabs aims to reduce the laboratories' carbon footprint while important work gets done.

In the Ph.D program, students study for at least three years in their graduate coursework. Most students take five years. All students take one or two ethics courses and serve two quarters as a teaching assistant.

Graduates of the program are prepared to teach or to pursue independent research. Many graduates also transition to the business sector as private scientists and consultants.

The Department also offers a combined Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy in Bioscience. The Interdisciplinary Scientist Training Program trains physician-scientists. Students in the program pursue biomedical research using both scientific and clinical research methods. The program allows for specific training in one field or a combined approach.

Credit requirements: At least three academic years of coursework

Selection of courses:

  • Principles of Population Genetics
  • Molecular Evolution
  • Cellular Engineering
  • Quantitative Analysis of Cellular Dynamics
  • Stem Cells and Regeneration

Admission and transfer information: Applicants submit an official online application, all transcripts, a candidate statement, three letters of recommendation, and optional GRE and TOEFL scores.

Accreditation: The University of Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.


Stanford University

Stanford, CA

Stanford University

The biology department at Stanford University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Biology. There are 14 home programs of study within the doctorate that allow students to specialize with faculty.

The PhD program aims to prepare students for teaching and research at the highest level. There are three tracks within the Biology PhD program. Students study either Cell, Molecular and Organismal Biology, Ecology and Evolution, and at the Hopkins Marine Station.

Students in the second year of the program have the option to apply for the Cellular and Molecular Biology Training Program grant. The program enables teachings on ethical research, effective communications, and rigorous research approaches. Courses in all the programs benefit from small class sizes and tight bonds with mentors.

Each PhD student is required to work as a teaching assistant for two terms by the fall of their third year. They will gain training if they choose to pursue teaching, either in the rest of their program or beyond.

Stanford students who plan to pursue advanced courses in their undergraduate education at Stanford should apply for the Coterminal Master's Program. They will have the chance to expand their research experience. The program fits those wanting to transition to the private sector instead of pursuing research.

Credit requirements: The PhD programs lasts five or six academic years. The Master of Arts program requires at least 45 units.

Selection of courses:

  • Frontiers in Interdisciplinary Bioscience
  • Principles of Cancer Systems Genetics
  • Cell Signaling
  • Computational Analysis of Biological Information
  • Neuroplasticity

Admission and transfer information: PhD applicants must submit all transcripts, an online application, a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, optional GRE and TOEFL scores, and a current resume. Coterminal master's applicants should submit current transcripts from their undergraduate courses at Stanford, a statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, and a preliminary program proposal.

Accreditation: Stanford University is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.


Cornell University

Ithaca, NY

Cornell University

The Doctor of Philosophy in Biology at Cornell University is organized by Graduate Fields. There are over 13 graduate fields related to biology. The Graduate Fields are interdisciplinary and interdepartmental.

Some of the Graduate Fields at Cornell include ecology, biochemistry, molecular biology, biomedicine, and computational biology. Students apply to their program with a particular faculty member in mind.

Because of the interdepartmental nature, students are encouraged to pursue their own research. With the help of countless faculty across many departments, students find mentors to aide them. Many students pursue research tangentially to their mentor.

The personalized nature of the programs means increased flexibility in coursework as well. Many of the programs include graduate teaching requirements and immersive courses over the summer semester.

Credit requirements: Each program takes 5-6 years to complete.

Selection of courses:

  • Human Genomics
  • Quantitative Genetics in Plant Breeding
  • Ecology and Conservation of Wildlife in the Neotropics
  • Physical Chemistry Research

Admission and transfer information: Potential students should submit two or three letters of recommendations, potentially optional GRE scores and TOEFL scores, all transcripts, and a statement of purpose.

Accreditation: Cornell University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, MA


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers several Doctors of Philosophy and Masters of Engineering in Biology fields. With small class sizes and intensive courses, students are prepared for careers in research, academia and beyond.

The Doctor of Philosophy in Biology offers 21 research areas for specialized study. The Doctor of Philosophy in Computational and Systems Biology offers 16 research areas.

MIT also offers a Master of Engineering in Computer Science and Molecular Biology and a Master of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering with 22 research areas.

Most of the coursework is completed in the first couple of semesters with month long rotations in laboratories. The rest of the candidate's time is spent pursuing research for their theses.

The programs emphasize logic and discovery rather than skills mastery. Teaching experience is required for students in their second year. Small class sizes and department sizes allow for individual attention and access to resources. The flexible coursework prepares students for a variety of fields.

Credit requirements: The average time to complete the program is five and a half years.

Selection of courses:

  • Principles of Biochemical Analysis
  • Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience
  • Fields, Forces, and Flows in Biological Systems
  • Computational & Systems Biology

Admission and transfer information: Applicants submit an online application, statement of objectives, three letters of recommendation, transcripts and TOEFL scores.

Accreditation: MIT is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.


University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, WI

University of Wisconsin Madison

The University of Wisconsin- Madison offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Cellular and Molecular Biology and a Doctor of Philosophy in Zoology.

The Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) program is research-oriented and interdisciplinary. The coursework lays the foundation for enhanced study. Students and faculty collaborate in research focus groups to pursue their guiding questions. The focus groups span many specialized interests. The program engages 180 faculty across 40 departments.

Students in the CMB program gain oral communication skills through annual theses presentations.

The Integrative Biology department houses the PhD in Zoology. The Zoology doctorate has many research areas, including aquatic biology, bioinformatics, cell biology, conservation biology, developmental biology, evolution, and physiology.

Students in the zoology program tailor their courses to individual interests and career goals. Many students have academic backgrounds in topics beyond biology. The program emphasizes personal responsibility and individuality in research pursuits.

There is not a student teaching requirement in these programs.

Credit requirements: 51 credits minimum

Selection of courses:

  • Eukaryotic Molecular Biology
  • Plant Cell Biology
  • Ethics in Science
  • Design of Biological Molecules
  • Fundamentals of Mammalian Embryology

Admission and transfer information: Applicants submit an official application, three letters of recommendation, official transcript, optional GRE scores, and a personal statement.

Accreditation: The University of Wisconsin-Madison is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.


University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI

University of Michigan Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan- Ann Arbor offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.

The Ph.D. degree program in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology emphasizes broad research areas in the molecular sciences.

The PhD program has three core courses as well as seminars and lab rotations. By the end of the first year students will have chosen a dissertation mentor and an area of research.

The faculty share an intellectual approach to research. That approach emphasizes mechanistic and experimental strategies to answer broad questions. The faculty are divided into broad research areas that include biochemistry, cell biology, development, animal physiology, microbiology, neuroscience and plant molecular biology.

Admission and transfer information: Applicants submit a statement of research interests and experience, 3 letters of recommendation and transcripts from all academic institutions attended.

Accreditation: The University of Michigan- Ann Arbor is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Ranking Methodology:

This ranking criteria consists of academic influence, graduate program degree offerings, and academic prestige. To see the academic influence, we consulted the ranking at AcademicInfluence.com. AcademicInfluence.com has a proprietary method of determining which colleges have the most influence in Biology.

This is determined by looking at published articles and citations written by faculty and alumni of all colleges across the US. It's an objective way of ranking programs by their academic influence. From there we focused on the graduate programs in Biology, and looked at what degrees are offered and at what levels (master's and doctorates). The final criterion was the academic reputation of these universities.

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