Training & Degree Requirements


Graduate training in the Biology Graduate Program is diverse, challenging, and rewarding. The Department houses a wide array of research programs covering the breadth of biological organization, from molecules to ecological communities. Training involves opportunities to gain both general knowledge and specialized technical expertise. Students have considerable latitude to devise their own training and integration of different learning formats (coursework, seminars by invited speakers, seminars, courses, and research groups in other departments on campus, benchwork, etc.) is common.

The three degree programs (see menu on left) emphasize different kinds of training, but all allow students to develop multiple skill sets and prepare them for future careers in science. Students in our two research-oriented degree programs (PhD and thesis MS) spend considerable time engaging in primary research. In addition to the broad research interests within the Department of Biology, there are also many research laboratories in the Colleges of Medicine, Engineering, and Agriculture with which students and their mentors may choose to collaborate. The Department also has a growing outreach and community engagement program. There are many ways for ambitious students to make their mark and flourish!


Biology has a diverse and active group of graduate student researchers working with different faculty members. For prospective students, your engagement in our research begins before you even apply! Start by navigating around this website to find information about different laboratories and their research programs. We encourage prospective students to engage with potential mentors early in order to start identifying those that best fit your research interests and mentoring needs. Mentorship by a faculty member is an essential element of how we train students in research, so finding the right mentor is critical to your success. 

Upon acceptance into the Graduate program, some students will join a specific lab immediately while others will rotate in 2-3 labs before choosing a mentor. A student's graduate mentor is their primary, day-to-day source of advice about their research. Officially, the student’s thesis Committee is charged with guiding all graduate training, including coursework, seminars, other types of training, and the research project. In consultation with their mentor, each student selects a thesis Committee composed of 3 (MS students) or 4 (PhD students) faculty members by the start of their 2nd year. The Committee then provides academic guidance, administers the required Qualifying exam & Dissertation exams and meets regularly (at least yearly) to provide feedback on research progress.  

Program Requirements

All students must meet the basic requirements of the Graduate School and the Biology Graduate Program for successful completion of their degree. The degrees (see choices in menu to the left) differ in their requirements and Biology has added a few requirements in addition to the Graduate School’s basic program. However, students still have enormous flexibility in crafting their own training. For example, PhD students must take 36 hrs of coursework before taking their qualifying exam and up to 24 of the 36 can be research hours. Similarly, the format of the qualifying exam is flexible and varies across the department. Individual mentors have developed preferred methods for achieving these requirements, which are discussed with the student and their thesis Committee.

Important Resources

For any questions not addressed here, the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) is a valuable resource for students seeking information on anything related to progress towards a degree (e.g., course registration, scheduling a defense date). The DGS also monitors each student’s progress toward the degree and their compliance with the rules and regulations of the Biology Department and the University of Kentucky Graduate School. In addition, the DGS can provide help with student funding through fellowships and assistantships.

Most students will have the responsibility of teaching in our undergraduate Biology courses and labs during their graduate career. The Associate Chair for Instruction oversees professional training for new teaching assistants and coordinates all graduate student-led instruction. 

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