Getting a PhD in biology is a matter of meeting prerequisites for acceptance to a college and then working for four to seven years to complete all assigned work. There are numerous biology programs, and students should consider each program's focus to determine if it meshes with their interests. It may take some work for students to thoroughly research available PhD programs.
Minimum requirements for entrance to schools that offer a PhD in biology are that students have a bachelor’s degree, which may or may not be in biology. It could be in a closely related field, and in almost all cases, must have a life science focus. Some schools only admit those students with a biology undergraduate degree, and a few colleges are more demanding. They may prefer students with master’s degrees or they won’t accept students to a PhD program until after they’ve completed all master’s degree requirements. This means the student begins as a master’s candidate and only advances to PhD candidacy by successfully completing a master’s degree.
In addition to prerequisites regarding undergraduate or graduate major and degree completion, many schools have other requests of applicants. A number of schools demand high scores on standardized examinations like the general and subject Graduate Record Examination (GRE). It’s a given that schools will want to see strong academic performance with a high grade point average, especially in science and math subjects. Students also need letters of recommendation and they’ll have to compose an excellent personal statement as part of their application.
After an applicant is accepted to a PhD program, he or she can expect to spend about four to seven years completing all requirements for the PhD in biology. If entry occurred at the master’s level, this time may be reduced slightly. Each school may have different types of studies, but most have core courses and then many electives students can take. In addition to taking classes, students often work as research assistants or sometimes as student teachers or section leaders.
Many schools have comprehensive examinations they require students to take before they’re approved to begin work on a dissertation, which is an original piece of research. It can take several years to complete, and PhD in biology candidates usually have access to laboratories to perform experiments that will be discussed in the dissertation. Once the dissertation is prepared, students present it in public and must have it reviewed by faculty. Approval of it, in addition to meeting all other graduate requirements, means the student is awarded a PhD in biology.
Changing elements in education mean that some students now earn their PhDs online. For subjects like biology, where so much laboratory and hands on research is required, this may not be equivalent to a degree at a bricks and mortar university. If students are interested in an online doctorate, they should make sure it is on par with doctorates offered offline, and that it is viewed as acceptable by the biology profession at large.