Systems Biology PhD Programs

Jan 10, 2019

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Systems Biology degree programs are usually interdisciplinary programs and may include additional areas of focus in the degree title, such as chemical and systems biology or computational and systems biology. These programs usually allow students to participate in research and laboratory rotations and require a dissertation or doctoral research project. Learn more about these unique programs below.

Information for Doctoral Degree Programs in Systems Biology

Doctoral degree programs in systems biology may take around 5.5 years to complete and offer research opportunities or training in subjects like cell signaling pathways, genomic stability, engineering, physics, molecular biology and more. Coursework is usually flexible to allow students to pursue research interests, but some common course topics are discussed below.

Systems Biology

Some programs include an introductory course that discusses a range of foundational concepts in systems biology. Some of these courses are in a seminar format to allow students to explore research opportunities in the field and find a potential faculty mentor. Other courses are lecture-based and cover topics in cellular and population-level systems, such as cellular decision-making, cell-cell communication and evolutionary dynamics.


Most PhD programs in systems biology include various courses in neuroscience that focus on a range of topics. Some of these courses may be in a seminar format and cover current research in the field or research in similar fields, like neuroengineering. Other courses may focus on topics such as computational neuroscience or molecular and cellular neurobiology. Specific topics for some of these courses may include epigenetics, neurological/psychiatric disease, theories of computational neuroscience and adult neurogenesis.

Biochemical Processes/Analysis

Although these courses may go by different names, they all examine the foundational concepts in biochemistry and biomolecules. Students learn about the chemistry involved in biological processes and how to use chemistry to affect biological systems. Students may learn about protein labeling, macromolecular binding and specificity, chemical genetics, kinases, experimental design and more.


It is also fairly common for PhD students in the field to take one or more courses in genetics and/or genomics. Some of these courses give a broad overview of genetic principles, while others explore specific topics, like statistics and computational methods in genetics. Courses that give a broad overview may also include concepts in genetic analysis, human genetics, Mendelian inheritance and developmental genetics.

Chemical Biology

Some programs include courses that discuss the applications of chemical tools to biological systems more in depth. These courses are usually lecture-based and may discuss current technologies and techniques in the field, like genome-editing technology and mass spectrometry. Other concepts can include DNA/RNA chemistry, protein microarrays, genomic screening and protein labeling.

Common Entrance Requirements

PhD programs in systems biology usually require applicants to hold at least a bachelor's degree, typically in biology or another science or engineer field. Some of these programs require students to submit GRE scores, while others do not, but there is usually not a minimum GPA requirement. It is fairly common for these programs to require on-campus interviews at some point in the admissions process. Most students applying to these programs will need to submit official transcripts, letters of recommendation and a personal statement with their application. In their personal statement, students will likely need to identify some research interests and potential faculty mentors they would like to work with.

Students pursuing a PhD in Systems Biology can expect to take coursework in various areas of biology, chemistry and genetics. These programs usually require a dissertation and give students the chance to explore multiple research areas.

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