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Ph.D. Program Requirements

First, read Graduate School Graduation Requirements for obtaining a Ph.D. degree.

Below are specific requirements for PBIO graduate students. 

Required Courses: 

  • PBio/Neuro 504: Biophysics of Nerve, Muscle, and Synapse 
  • Pbio/Neuro 545: Quantitative Methods in Neuroscience 
  • Neuro 501: Intro to Neurobiology 
  • Neuro 502: Intro to Neurobiology 
  • Pbio 508: Lab Rotations (x3) Rotation Evaluation Form (pdf) 
  • Pbio 519: Membrane and Muscle Biophysics Seminar (x2) 
  • 6 departmental mini-courses to be completed prior to the General Exam 
  • Pbio 513: Teaching Physiology (2 quarter TA requirement; to be determined by student interests and with advice of the students committee) 
  • Pbio 600: Independent Research (before General Exam) 
  • Pbio 800: Doctoral Dissertation (after General Exam) 
  • Highly Recommended Courses (not required): 
  • Neuro 503: Cognitive and Integrative Neurobiology 

Faculty Mentors 

All new students will be assigned a faculty advisor to mentor them throughout the first year. This faculty member’s research will be outside the interest area of the student. The goal of this program is to:  

  1. Help students to adjust to their new life.
  2. Identify problems early on so that they may be dealt with promptly.

The structure of the relationship will naturally depend on the mentor and student, but faculty members should try to meet with their assigned student once a quarter, ideally towards the beginning of the quarter, especially in the Fall. 

After the first year and at least 3 lab rotations (but no more than 5) have been completed the student will choose a lab to conduct her thesis research. It is expected that after completing 3 (occasionally 4 and rarely 5, both of which require permission from the graduate program director) laboratory rotations in the first year of the curriculum, a student will find a suitable faculty/laboratory match (by mutual agreement) with whom to perform his or her dissertation research. Finding a suitable faculty/laboratory match after completing 3 or 4 rotations in the first year is necessary for making adequate progress in curriculum. Failure of the student to find and agree to a suitable match after these laboratory rotations would constitute unsatisfactory progress and indicate that the UW PBIO Graduate Program is not a suitable host to foster the student’s career objectives. Once a lab is chosen the student will register for Pbio 600. 

Supervisory Committee 

The Graduate School recommends that the Supervisory Committee be formed at least 4 months prior to the General Exam date. The committee needs to be composed of at least 5 members of which 3 are Pbio faculty (including the thesis advisor) and the student will also need to choose their own Graduate School Representative (GSR). The GSR may not have an appointment in any of the departments in which the thesis advisor has an appointment. Please email your committee to Jon Cimuchowski, and he will establish the committee with the Graduate School. 

Once the student has established her committee the Department requires that committee meetings take place annually. Students are responsible for setting up their annual meeting (to occur within 6 weeks  ± of the recurring 12 month cycle).  (Failure to hold the annual meeting in a timely fashion may be grounds for  academic warning, probation, or dismissal.)  The Chair of the Supervisory Committee is responsible for: 

  1. completing Student Progress Annual Evaluation form; 
  2. having all members  of the Supervisory Committee sign the form; and 
  3. delivering the signed form to the Graduate Program Coordinator (Jon Cimuchowski) for filing. 

The Chair of the Supervisory Committee is also responsible for giving  the student a copy of this signed form for his/her review and co-signature (and the possible addition of student comments, as may be warranted). 

The purpose of these annual committee meetings is to offer advice and direction to the student, monitor progress, and help identify any potential problems or issues early on. A student progress evaluation form needs to be filled out and submitted to the Graduate Program Coordinator (Jon Cimuchowski) after each meeting. 

General Exam 

Schedule your general exam online through MyGrad Program – Student View

The general exam must be taken before the end of Autumn quarter of your 3rd year.  To start the process for taking your general exam, first identify a General Exam chair (this can be the supervisory committee chair or any other member of the committee except the GSR.)  Then meet with your supervisory committee members – either individually or as a group and identify one or two topics with each committee member (except GSR) to focus on and develop a reading list from which the committee member will draw questions for the written and oral exam.

Schedule your General exam by first getting at least 4 members of your supervisory committee (including the Chair and GSR) to agree to a date, time and place for the exam.  Then click on the link to Graduate School website (here) to notify the Graduate School of your intent to take the exam as agreed to by your committee. Jon Cimuchowski in the main office will act on your request and print out a warrant for your supervisory committee chair ahead of the exam. 

Please send an email to Jon Cimuchowski with the date, time, place and title of your exam; he will see that exam is advertised. 

Please see below for information about the content of your general exam. 

General Exam Content 

  • Dissertation Proposal: 
    • Deadline: submit to the committee members 2 weeks prior to the exam 
    • Should be no more than 5 pages, single spaced 
    • Content 
      1. emphasize published studies pertinent to the proposed research area 
      2. develop the rational for the proposed study, emphasizing gaps in the current knowledge in the proposed research area
      3. advance one or two hypotheses
      4. describe an experimental strategy to test the hypothesis
      5. bibliography (not included in the 5 page limit)
  • General Knowledge Questions: 
    • After the dissertation proposal is received by the committee – each member (excluding the GSR) sends the committee chair 1-2 knowledge questions 
    • The committee chair chooses 3 questions to send to the student 
    • The student has 1 week to answer the questions which will be returned to the committee chair and provided to all committee members one week before the oral exam. 
  • Oral Exam 
    • Student gives a 20 minute public talk about proposed research: experimental strategy and background information (preliminary data not required) 
    • 1 hour (approximate) closed session follows where the committee asks the student questions about the proposal, experimental design and general knowledge. 

After passing the General Exam the student is advanced to candidacy for the doctoral degree. The student will register for Pbio 800 and continue working on her dissertation research. 

Final Exam 

The culmination of the program is the submission of a written dissertation and the presentation of this work in a public lecture attended by members of the department and the University.  Please see the Graduate School’s Graduation Requirements for links to different sections of the Graduate School website for information about all the requirements for completing your degree. 

The Final Exam should be scheduled the same as the General Exam:  get at least 4 members of your supervisory committee, including the Chair and GSR, to agree to a date, time and place for the exam, then go to MyGrad Program for Students to schedule your exam.

Again, as with the General Exam, Jon Cimuchowski in the main office will act on your request and print out a warrant for your supervisory committee chair ahead of the exam. 

Please send an email to Jon Cimuchowski with the date, time, place and title of your exam; he will see that the exam is advertised. 


Feedback and evaluations are designed to help each student choose and meet their respective goals. 

Feedback happens in many ways: during course work and exams; from lab personnel during rotations and faculty evaluation of the rotation; from first year advisor and other faculty you choose for information and advice; from your thesis advisor and thesis committee members, and finally from formal examinations of the department, e.g. the general examination. Ordinarily is it not at all difficult for each student to know if sufficient progress is being made because there are so many sources of information. And ordinarily students have little difficulty proceeding and establishing their research careers. 

The department reviews progress of each student at yearly. This annual review is simply a check that milestones and grade requirements are reached. Ordinarily this occurs with the faculty with whom the student comes in contact: first year faculty advisor, faculty in rotation lab, course directors, etc. Most students proceed towards their Ph.D. degree satisfactorily with this kind of feedback and evaluation. 

Rarely a student will have some difficulty in one or more steps outlined above, and will receive feedback indicating unsatisfactory progress. When such a problem arises the Student Progress Committee comes into play to evaluate the situation and confer with the student on possibly remedies, and to identify a course of action.