The goal of the Ph.D. Program in Applied Biology is to train outstanding students and enable their contributions to the wide array of life sciences research needs. The program combines fundamental and rigorous training in the pursuit of new knowledge regarding the mechanisms of biological processes coupled wit the skills needed to apply this knowledge in the workforce. In addition to traditional academic careers in research and education at colleges and universities and academic research hospitals and institutes, our graduates are also prepared for non-academic careers.
To provide students an area of focus within the broad field of biology, the Applied Biology program includes four options:
Students select their options anytime during their first two years in the program.
I. Biomedical Science
II. Developmental & Evolutionary Biology
III. Quantitative Biology & Biophysics
IV. Cellular & Molecular Biology.
Students select their option anytime during their first two years in the Program. Each option will contain a list of approved advanced option graduate courses that are currently offered at UMass Lowell. Students are required to complete at least four advanced courses in their option and two courses outside of their option.
Students are required to complete at least four advanced courses in their option and two courses outside of their option (certain core competency courses can be used as “outside” courses). Students are expected to complete a minimum of 32 credits of coursework by the end of their second year. In addition to coursework, students earn credits towards degree completion through an Optional Industry Internship, and Thesis credits. At the end of the program, students will have completed a total of 60 credits through coursework and research, and will present a doctoral dissertation containing original publishable findings that make a significant addition of new knowledge to their field of study.
Specific aspects of admission to the Applied Biology Program are described below. These policies are in addition to all the standard requirements for graduate admission described by UMass Lowell Graduate Admissions office (https://www.uml.edu/Grad/Process/).
Sponsorship: All applicants must identify two potential advisors prior to submitting an application to the Applied Biology PhD program. Evidence of sponsorship will be provided by potential advisors on an internal document to the AP Program Committee, which will be retained by the Graduate Coordinator for Biology. This will be done in an attempt to ensure that funding will be available to support the admitted students. Students will have the opportunity to select a different permanent advisor during year 1, but it is anticipated that one of the potential advisors will often serve as the permanent dissertation advisor.
First Year Students & Transfers:
Transcripts: First year and transfer students must show evidence of having earned a Bachelors or Master’s degree in Biology or a related discipline (e.g., Biochemistry, Botany, Environmental Biology, Marine Biology, Zoology) with a minimum 3.0 GPA. International applicants must have earned a comparable degree and GPA as verified by the Center for Educational Documentation (CED). A Master’s degree with evidence of a strong background in biology may be used in lieu of a degree in Biology or a related discipline for students who earned their undergraduate degree in a different field of science or engineering.
Exams: All applicants must take the general Graduate Record Exam and earn a minimum score of 300, achieving at least 150 on both quantitative and verbal portions. Foreign applicants from countries where English is not an official language must also take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam and earn a minimum score of 90. The TOEFL may be waived under select conditions.
Personal Statement: A personal statement must be submitted that describes the student’s educational background, research experience, and career goals. The student must identify at least two potential PIs in the statement. Applicants will be strongly encouraged to have established contact with their potential advisors before applying. Particular attention will be given to students who have research experience and display a commitment to pursuing excellence in science.
Letters of Recommendation: Three letters of recommendation from professional sources must be submitted at the time of application. Sources may include academic professionals or supervisors/colleagues from a current or previous employer.
Transfer Requirements: Students who transfer into the Applied Biology PhD program from an equivalent doctoral program must fulfill the above requirements. Transfer of graduate credits may be allowed, in accordance with University policy.
Curriculum Description and Degree Requirements:
Core Competency Courses: Each student’s competency in foundational areas of biology (e.g., Biochemistry, Cell & Molecular Biology, Genetics, Developmental Biology, Evolutionary Biology) will be evaluated upon entry into the program based on their academic background, and courses will be assigned based on any identified deficiencies.
Core Competency Courses
Research Lab Rotations: At least one semester of laboratory rotations with 2 different research faculty for course credit (BIOL.7210 Special Problems in Biology) is required. Students who have not matched with an advisor after the first semester-will do a second semester of laboratory rotations in two additional faculty laboratories. Rotations will be assigned to the student based on their stated interests, background and availability. At the end of each rotation students will prepare a brief written report and deliver a 10-minute oral presentation in a simulated conference setting that will be open to all students and faculty. Students will be matched to a permanent thesis advisor by the end of the first year.
Core Courses: The series of core courses included in the Applied Biology Program ensure that all students develop key skills needed to be successful in completing their independent research.
Core Program Courses
Optional Industry Internship – In the summer after the first year (and in some instances at later times), students may participate in an industry internship for course credit (BIOL.7070 "Internship Biology") at a biotech/biomedical company that complements their option specialization. Prior to initiating an internship, students must have completed at least one traditional academic year (fall/spring or spring/fall), have completed 18 credits and be in good academic and judicial standing. Students on F-1 or J-1 non-immigrant status must also obtain prior approval from the International Students & Scholars Office.
Year 2: In the second year of the program, under the guidance of their PhD supervisor, students develop an individual dissertation research project (IDRP) plan. The Applied Biology Program Committee will work with each student to select a Dissertation Advisory Committee, comprised of 4-5 faculty members, including the student’s primary advisor and at least one faculty member from outside the Biological Sciences Department, who will review and approve the IDRP plan. Students will continue taking courses to fulfill their option specialization requirements, with the aim of completing coursework by the end of year 2.
Comprehensive Qualifying Examination: All students are required to take and pass a “Comprehensive Biology” qualifying examination that evaluates the students’ core knowledge, critical thinking, and the ability to apply scientific principles to address research problems. This exam is given in the late spring after the second year. Advanced students in good standing, generally with a master’s degree, may petition to take this exam at the end of their first year. Students who fail the qualifying examination will be given one opportunity to re-take the exam in the early fall of the next academic year. Students who fail the exam a second time will lose doctoral degree candidacy and, if appropriate, may be directed to complete an M.S. degree.
Each year a Qualifying Examination Committee of 3-5 Program faculty will select recent papers from the primary scientific literature and will prepare written questions for the examination based on these papers. Two papers will be common for all students, and one paper will be selected that is relevant to each specialization option. Students will be given three papers (two common, and one based on their declared specialization) 2 weeks prior to the examination. During this 2-week study period, students will be excused from their research responsibilities. A similar study period will be provided before a make-up exam in the fall. The one-day written examination will be administered and scored by the Qualifying Examination Committee and the final results (Pass/Fail) will be delivered to the Applied Biology Program Committee for approval and dissemination to the student and faculty.
Year 3: In year three, students concentrate on their research and prepare their Written and Oral Dissertation Proposal. The student’s proposal must be presented and approved by their Dissertation Advisory Committee before the start of the student’s 4th academic year. The written proposal will be based on the student’s project, using a standard grant application format as approved by the student’s Dissertation Advisory Committee. The written proposal will be submitted to the Dissertation Advisory Committee at least 2-weeks prior to the scheduled oral presentation. The student will present and defend their proposal orally to their Dissertation Advisory Committee who will approve the proposal or recommend revisions. In instances where the Dissertation Advisory Committee deems that the student’s proposal is not of sufficient quality, the student may be allowed to re-submit a revised written proposal and re-present/defend it. It is expected that students would submit their proposals to the NSF, NIH or another funding agency for funding consideration. If students are unable to successfully defend their proposal after a second attempt, they will be advised to pursue completion of a Master’s degree.
Years 4-5: In years 4 and 5 students will work closely with their dissertation supervisor and Advisory Committee to complete their research and dissertation. After successfully defending their proposal, each student will meet with his/her Dissertation Advisory Committee every 6-12 months to provide updates on progress as well as immediate and long-term plans. The student will prepare an “Action Item Report” after each meeting that will include specific milestones and a detailed time-line for completion. These reports will be approved by the student’s committee, submitted to the Applied Biology Program Committee and included within the student’s academic record. As students begin to make significant progress in their research, they will also be required to give an interim report in the form of a seminar in the Department of Biological Sciences Colloquium series. Once students have completed a significant body of publishable research, they will prepare a written dissertation and present a public oral defense to their Dissertation Advisory Committee.
Required Program Courses for all Students
Optional Internship Course
Advanced Option Advanced Elective Courses
I. Biomedical Science Option
II. Developmental & Evolutionary Biology Option
III. Quantitative Biology & Biophysics Option
IV. Cellular & Molecular Biology Option