Undergraduate Program in Biological Sciences
Biological Sciences, Lehigh University
photo courtesy of Christa Neu, Lehigh University, Communications & Public Affairs

Program Guidelines

The Department of Biological Sciences offers a PhD in Biology with four concentrations:

  1. Cell and Molecular Biology
  2. Biochemistry 
  3. Neuroscience
  4. Evolution and Behavior

The following pages will briefly summarize a Graduate student’s academic career, which is composed of two main phases: Pre-Candidacy and Candidacy.


The Pre-Candidacy Phase includes Course WorkLab Rotations and Teaching or Research Assistantships.  Throughout this phase, the student meets periodically with the Graduate Committee.  The student is admitted into Candidacy upon the successful completion of Course WorkQualifying Exams and Dissertation Proposal Defense.  Each of these topics is discussed below.

Course Work
The Pre-Candidacy graduate student will take a number of required Core Courses as well as a set of Elective Courses.  In some cases, the Graduate Committee may allow substitutions or waive core course requirements if the student has taken equivalent course(s) at the undergraduate or graduate level (a proficiency exam may be required).  Formal course work is to be completed by the end of the third semester of graduate study (fourth semester for Neuroscience and Evolution and Behavior students).

Lab Rotations
Graduate students are strongly encouraged to rotate among different labs during the Pre-Candidacy Phase.  Rotations provide 1) first-hand laboratory experience, 2) training in lab-specific techniques and 3) one-on-one interactions with faculty.  After a maximum of three lab rotations, the graduate student will make a final decision, with the approval of the Major Advisor, regarding in which lab s/he will pursue his/her dissertation research.

Teaching or Research Assistantships
Graduate students are supported during the year with either a teaching assistantship or a research assistantship.  The teaching assistantships are provided by the department and usually provide up to 9 credits of tuition per semester as well.  The teaching assistantship requires no more than 20 hours per week assisting the department’s professors in one (or more) or the department’s undergraduate classes.  Research Assistantships may be provided by the department, the college or the Major Advisor.  Students supported by a research assistantship are expected to spend at least 20 hours per week on the research designated by the support.  Those students in receipt of a research assistantship will also receive up to 9 credits of tuition per semester.

Support Policy
The faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to providing a competitive 12-month stipend for up to five years for all graduate students in good standing. Good standing includes satisfactory performance in required coursework, passing of qualifier examinations, and distribution and defense of a proposal of the doctoral thesis resulting in timely admission to candidacy. After five years, students may request continued support by submitting a written request to the Graduate Committee.

Graduate Committee
The Departmental Graduate Committee includes faculty selected from all programs within the Department of Biological Sciences.  This committee will advise the student throughout his/her Pre-Candidacy phase – including the monitoring of progress through lab rotations and selection of appropriate course work. Pre-Candidacy graduate students meet at least on a once per semester basis with the Graduate Committee.

Qualifying Examination
The Qualifying Examination will be taken at the end of the third or fourth semester of graduate study. This examination will consist of a two-day written examination followed separately by an oral examination. Faculty will evaluate both written and oral exams. Passing the written exam is required to progress to the oral exam.  If a student fails his/her first attempt at either portion of the exam, s/he will be provided one opportunity to re-take the exam at the next opportunity.

Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation Committee
In consultation with the Major Advisor, the graduate student will select a Dissertation Committee before the end of the fifth semester of graduate study.  The four-member Dissertation Committee includes three departmental faculty (including the Major Advisor) and one doctoral level scientist from outside of the department.   Through research efforts, mastery of the literature and with input from the Major Advisor, the student will prepare a written Dissertation Proposal.  This document will be presented to the Dissertation Committee no less than two weeks prior to an oral defense in front of the Dissertation Committee.   The defense of the Dissertation Proposal will take place no more than one year after successful completion of the Qualifying Examination.

The Proposal defense includes a General Examination in which the student’s adequate understanding of the science related to his or her field of study will be assessed. Upon successful defense of the Dissertation Proposal and satisfactory performance in the General Examination, the following two forms must be signed by all members of the Dissertation Committee and submitted to the Graduate Programs Office of the College of Arts and Sciences:

  1.  Proposal Title Page
  2. “Report on the General Doctoral Examination”

In summary, the successful completion of coursework, written and oral qualifying exams and defense of a Dissertation Proposal/General Examination are requirements for Admission to Candidacy.  By University regulations, Admission to Candidacy requires 72 credits beyond the Bachelor’s degree or 48 credits beyond the Master’s degree. At least 24 of the credits must be in course work.



Candidacy is the second and final stage of the graduate experience.  In this phase, the Doctoral Candidate engages primarily in research activities with the goal of publishing new and novel results. Throughout this phase, the student meets regularly with a Dissertation Committee chosen by the student in consultation with the student’s Major Advisor.   Candidacy is typified by research publications, attendance and participation in both research conferences and departmental colloquia.  This phase culminates in the generation and defense of a PhD Dissertation

Major Advisor 
The major advisor is the professor in the department with whom the student designs and executes the project that will comprise his/her dissertation.  The work is usually done in the major advisor’s laboratory, but, in some cases, work may be done in a lab outside of Lehigh University.  The major advisor works in concert with the dissertation committee to guide the student’s project, but bears the greatest responsibility for overseeing the student’s progress.

Dissertation Committee
The Dissertation Committee is chosen within the fifth semester of graduate study and assesses the Dissertation Proposal Presentation.  The Dissertation Committee offers guidance to the Candidate and ultimately assesses the Dissertation Defense.  Each Candidate will hold regular yearly Dissertation Committee meetings to discuss progress, problems, changes to the research plan, etc.  Please click here to access the Progress Report form which must be completed and submitted annually.

Near the end of his/her academic tenure, the Doctoral Degree Candidate will generate a PhD Dissertation and then defend the findings contained within this document in both a public oral presentation and a private examination by the Dissertation Committee.

PhD Dissertation
The requirements for the written Dissertation, the timetable for the submission of both a draft of this document and the final version of the Dissertation are established by College and University Regulations



In addition to the following BiochemistryEvolution and Behavior, Neuroscience and Cell and Molecular Biology concentration required courses - All students will enroll and attend:

  • BioS 408 (0 credits) Responsible Conduct of Science within their first year of graduate study
  • BioS 406 (1 credit) Biological Sciences Seminar at least twice in the first four semesters and
  • All Departmental Seminars

Concentration: BIOCHEMISTRY

Required Core Courses

  • BioS 371 and 372 - Elements of Biochemistry I and II
    (A student with one year of undergraduate biochemistry can fulfill this requirement by passing a proficiency exam.)
  • BioS 469 and 470 - Biochemical Problem Solving I and II
  • CHM 423 - Bio-organic Chemistry
  • BioS 345 - Molecular Genetics
  • Seminar Course in Biological Sciences or Chemistry

Elective Courses

  • Additional courses to reach 24 course credits may be chosen from the upper level courses in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Bio-Organic Chemistry. At least 12 of these credits must be at the 400 level.


ALL students are required to take the following courses:

BioS 401: Professional Skills
BioS 406: Biological Sciences Seminar (2 semesters)
BioS 408: Responsible Conduct of Science

Required courses

Four courses, at least one from each of the areas below.

  • Take three (3) courses from the Evolution/Behavior area

BioS 434: Speciation
BioS 498: Coevolution 
BioS 439: Advanced Behavioral Ecology
BioS 496: Molecular Evolution

  • Take one (1) course from EITHER the 400-level Cell and Molecular offerings (see below) OR the 400-level Neuroscience offerings (see below).


Concentration: NEUROSCIENCE

ALL students are required to take the following courses:

BioS 401: Professional Skills
BioS 406: Biological Sciences Seminar (2 semesters)
BioS 408: Responsible Conduct of Science

Required courses

  • Take one (1) course from the Behavioral Neuroscience area:

BioS 457: Advanced Behavioral Neuroendocrinology
BioS 453: General Neuroanatomy

  • Take one (1) course from the Neurophysiology area:

BioS 424: Advanced Neurobiology of Sensory Systems
BioS 495: Synapses, Plasticiity and Learning

  • Take one (1) Neuroscience elective, selected from any of the previously mentioned areas or the following courses:

BioS 492: Genes and the Brain
BioS 471: Eukaryotic Signal Transduction

  • Take one (1) course from EITHER the 400-level Cell and Molecular offerings (see below) OR the 400-level Evolution and Behavior offerings (see above).


Required Core Courses

  • BioS 345 - Molecular Genetics (or equivalent)
  • BioS 371 - Elements of Biochemistry I (or equivalent)
  • BioS 372 - Elements of Biochemistry II (or equivalent)
  • BioS 411 - Advanced Cell Biology
  • BioS 421 - Molecular Cell Biology I (prerequisite = BioS 411 or equivalent)
  • BioS 422 - Molecular Cell Biology II (prerequisite = BioS 345 or equivalent)

Elective Courses

  • Additional courses to reach 24 course credits may be chosen from the upper level courses in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology. At least 12 of these credits must be at the 400 level.


Satisfactory progress is determined through the student meeting with the Graduate Committee and includes grades, progress in supervised research, and input from the research adviser.

Grading Policy
A regular status graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree who receives more than one grade below B- in any program-related course numbered 300 or above will be dropped from the program.



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Biological Sciences
111 Research Drive
Bethlehem, PA 18015
Phone: 610-758-3680
Fax: 610-758-4004
Email: inbios@lehigh.edu