Program Requirements

The graduate program in the Field of Biophysics offers a Ph.D. program only.  Our program is designed so that students will attain competence in physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology while doing research at the interface between physics/biology or chemistry/biology.

Getting Started

New students meet as a group, and individually, with the Director of Graduate Studies. In this highly interdisciplinary area, the course requirements are instead "learning objectives", with actual courses tailored to the needs of each individual student, rather than having a fixed set of course requirements. Each student chooses three research groups for two-month rotation projects that start early in the fall semester, and continue until final exams in May, when the student chooses one group for Ph.D. research.

Special Committees

At Cornell, the progress of each graduate student is guided and supervised by the Special Committee, also known as the thesis committee.  This consists of the research supervisor and two other faculty members, one of whom represents a "minor" subject, chosen by the student.


In the fall semester of the first year, a typical student takes two or three lecture courses, and does one rotation.  Usually the second rotation starts during the winter break, and the third rotation, along with two or three lecture courses, keeps a student constructively busy during the spring semester.

By the second year, most students have completed the necessary core lecture courses for their biophysics training, and start to take courses to satisfy their minor requirement.


Throughout the academic year, well-known scientists give formal lectures on their work in our Wednesday Biophysics Seminar Series.  Students themselves also invite and entertain some speakers.  Other departments also have seminar series that are of interest to Biophysics students, including the departments of Physics, Chemistry & Chemical Biology, Molecular Biology & Genetics, and Molecular Medicine, and there are many more seminar series around the campus.

An important feature of our program is that, starting in the summer after the second year, each student makes a half-hour formal presentation of their research results to the other students and to the faculty.  This Summer Student Seminar Series provides valuable training in the necessary art of science communication.


The Field of Biophysics has no teaching requirement for graduate students.  However, in most cases students who want to obtain experience as a teaching assistant can make that arrangement, with the help of the Director of Graduate Studies.


Graduate students in Biophysics are required to pass two examinations during their studies.  The first one, termed the "A exam", should be taken before or during the 5th semester of study.  This exam is an oral defense by the student in front of the Special Committee of an original research proposal that describes the student's progress and research plans.  The second exam, termed the "B exam", is the thesis defense.  The first part of the B exam is a public seminar on the completed research, attended by any interested students and faculty.  Next, the student and the Special Committee get together for the oral defense of the thesis.  In most cases, students have already published several papers by the time of the B exam.