2021-2022 Academic Catalog 
    Sep 21, 2021  
2021-2022 Academic Catalog

Biology, PhD

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With a breadth of research areas, Clark’s biology doctoral program provides opportunities and flexibility to pursue research that benefits our understanding of the world within a connected community of scholars. Our research areas include molecular and cell biology, quantitative and computational biology, ecology and evolution.

The program’s intimate size allows graduate students to collaborate, build relationships with, and receive mentoring from world-class faculty. Close ties across the sciences, including with those enrolled in our biochemistry and molecular biology and chemistry doctoral programs, exposes students to a range of ideas and research outside their interest areas. Graduate students are guaranteed tuition remission and teaching assistantships for five years. Further information, including course requirements, application procedures, and policies can be obtained from the Biology website at http://www.clarku.edu/departments/biology/.

Graduate Program

Program Requirements


Residency Requirements

The Graduate School requires a minimum of 16 semester courses in residence for the doctoral degree. Courses must be completed with a grade of B- or better to earn graduate credit. The time necessary for the completion of the degree will depend on the student’s research and is usually in excess of this minimum. Part-time graduate work is discouraged as it is impractical for a research degree.


Advisory Committee

Early in their first semester, new students should meet with a prospective adviser to discuss possible course requirements and Advisory Committee members. Students may elect to work with any member of the department faculty, including adjunct and affiliate faculty. The responsibilities of the Advisory Committee are:

  • To determine what courses must be taken
  • To meet at least once a year to assess the student’s progress
  • To administer the qualifying examination, proposal defense, and thesis defense, and to inform the chair of the Graduate Studies Committee regarding their outcome

The Advisory Committee must include the student’s advisor, who serves as chair of the committee, and two full-time faculty members of the Biology Department (including adjuncts and affiliates), and one member that is external to the University. The external committee member must have thier PhD and should be appointed by the end of the second year of the program. The advisor may invite additional scholars from within or outside the University to join the Advisory Committee. The advisor submits the proposed Advisory Committee to the department chair, who appoints the committee. The Advisory Committee should be chosen (minus the external member), and a committee meeting should be held, by the end of the first year of study.


Course Requirements

Each student’s Advisory Committee will determine which courses must be taken, based on the student’s research interests and prior training. These requirements, as well as the residency requirement, must be met with a grade of B- or better. Grades lower than B- will not be counted toward the degree, and students who accumulate more than two grades lower than B- will not be allowed to continue in the program.

In addition to formal courses stipulated by the committee, graduate students are required to enroll in the Graduate Research Seminar (BIOL 350) and attend all departmental seminars.


Graduate Studies Committee

This is a three-member committee composed of Biology Department faculty. The chair of the Graduate Studies Committee keeps records of each graduate student’s progress toward the Ph.D. and sends an annual letter to every student informing them of their status. The student’s advisor should notify the chair of the Graduate Studies Committee when Advisory Committee meetings and examinations are scheduled (see below), and should report their outcome.


Teaching Requirements

Students conducting doctoral research are required to assist in the teaching of a course (or courses) for at least two semesters.


The Qualifying Examination

Ph.D. candidates must take a qualifying examination, which consists of a series of written examinations on specific subject areas administered by each Advisory Committee member (excluding the external member), followed by an oral examination on the same subjects, as well as general subjects in Biology. It is expected that this examination will be completed by the end of the second year in residence.


The Advisory Committee will decide whether the student passes or fails. Students who fail the qualifying examination may, at the discretion of the Advisory Committee, be given one additional opportunity to take the examination, or may be required to leave the Ph.D. program; it may be possible for some students to complete a master’s thesis at this point, with the approval of the advisory committee. Students who fail the qualifying examination twice will be required to leave the program.


Third year Seminar

Doctoral candidates must present a departmental seminar during their third year in residence.


The Proposal Defense

Each Ph.D. candidate must pass a proposal defense, an oral examination that is based on a written research proposal. It is expected that the proposal defense will be taken by the end of the third year, and at least six months after the qualifying examination has been passed. The proposal defense is administered by the Advisory Committee, including the external member, plus any additional scholars from within or outside the University who might be invited by the chair of the Advisory Committee to participate.

The written research proposal must be delivered to the committee at least three weeks prior to the proposal defense.


Ph.D. Dissertation

The Ph.D. dissertation is written under the supervision of the student’s advisor, and is based on the student’s original research.  Read the Dissertation Format Guide .

Papers published in or accepted by a refereed journal may be submitted as part of a thesis with the approval of the Advisory Committee. A copy of the work, in final format and approved by the student’s advisor, must be submitted to each member of the examining committee and made available to the department faculty as a whole at least three weeks before the final examination, and at least six weeks prior to Commencement.


Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense consists of two parts: a public seminar in which the student presents their research, and an oral thesis defense before the Advisory Committee and any additional persons from within or outside of the University whom the chair of the Advisory Committee may appoint. The chair of Graduate Studies has final approval over the composition of the examining committee.

The chair of the Advisory Committee notifies the Graduate Studies Committee when the defense has been scheduled, and also informs them of its outcome.


Acceptance of Dissertation

After revisions required by the Advisory Committee have been made, the thesis or dissertation is submitted to the advisor for final approval and signature. After recieving the advisor’s approval, the dissertation must be submitted to ProQuest viat the ETD Administrator by the deadline online (typically by August 1st for degrees awarded in August, December 1st for degrees awarded in December, and April 1st for degrees awarded in May).

The Biology Department will pay the cost of printing and binding the departmental copy of the thesis, as well as copies for the student and the advisor.


Requests for Continued Support

At the beginning of the spring semester, the Graduate Studies Committee will send each Ph.D. student a letter that includes a copy of the student’s record of progress and a form that allows the student to request support as a Teaching Assistant in the coming academic year. Students should update their records, indicating whether they desire continuing T.A. support, and return the form to the Graduate Studies Committee by February 15.

Students who request support beyond the fifth year should include a statement of progress and a timetable for completion of degree requirements. The department, through the Graduate Studies Committee and after consultation with the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, will inform students of the availability of T.A. support by the end of the spring semester.


Example timeline for the Ph.D. program*:

Year 1

New graduate student orientation meeting (in the first few weeks of the semester)

Campuswide orientation for new graduate students

Meeting with prospective adviser (within first two weeks of the semester)

Selection of Advisory Committee members

Advisory Committee meeting

Year 2

Qualifying examination

Selection of an External Committee member

Year 3

Proposal defense

Departmental seminar

Year 4 Advisory Committee meeting
Year 5

Dissertation defense (at least five weeks before Commencement, if the student is participating in Commencement activities)

Submission of thesis (at least four weeks before commencement, if the student is participating in commencement activities)

*This is only an example; it is expected that some students will deviate from the general timeline outlined here.



Biology Faculty


Nathan Ahlgren, Ph.D.

Philip J. Bergmann, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Bone, Ph.D.

Jackie Dresch, Ph.D.

Robert Drewell, Ph.D.

David Hibbett, Ph.D.

Chandra Jack, Ph.D.

Denis Larochelle, Ph.D.

Kaitlyn Mathis, Ph.D.

Néva Meyer, Ph.D.

Deborah Robertson, Ph.D.

Javier Tabima, Ph.D.

Justin Thackeray, Ph.D.


Dominik Kulakowski, Ph.D.
Noel Lazo, Ph.D.
John Rogan, Ph.D.
Donald Spratt, Ph.D.
Christopher A. Williams, Ph.D.


Todd Livdahl, Ph.D.


Halina Brown, Ph.D.
Frederick Greenaway, Ph.D.
Thomas Leonard, Ph.D.
Timothy Lyerla, Ph.D.

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