Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (Ph.D.)

Doctor of Philosophy. Major in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

Admission to this program is highly competitive; meeting admission requirements is not a guarantee of admission. Students who wish to enter the master's or doctoral degree program must demonstrate mathematical maturity, skill in the use of high-level programming language and a basic knowledge of molecular biology. However, students lacking one of these may be admitted with the requirement that they make up the deficiency. At least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA if the student graduated within the last five years and a total Graduate Record Examination score of at least 1300+4 are the minimum admission requirements, though exceptions to GPA and GRE requirements may be made in exceptional circumstances. Students for whom English is a second language must have a TOEFL score of 600 (250 computer-based or 100 IBT) or higher. Applicants must provide at least three letters of reference, speaking to the applicant’s aptitude for graduate research, and a statement of research interests that clearly identifies the research he or she would like to pursue and why they want to pursue it at the University of Idaho.

Both the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees require a thesis. Students will take research and thesis credits (BCB 500) or research and dissertation credits (BCB 600). The M.S. degree will require at least nine credits of thesis research and the Ph.D. degree will require at least thirty credits. M.S. theses for a BCB degree will demonstrate a high level of scholarly achievement, and doctoral dissertations will represent a significant, original contribution to the field. In addition to the thesis and dissertation, students will publish their work in appropriate peer-reviewed venues. Students will present their thesis and dissertations publicly at their final defense.

Each student’s graduate committee will consist of at least four faculty members. This committee will represent the three BCB disciplines (biological sciences, computer sciences, and mathematical sciences) and will include at least three participating BCB faculty members. Co-advising by major professors in different disciplines will be particularly attractive for BCB degrees, and is possible at the discretion of the student and his or her committee. There is no explicit requirement for an "external" committee member, since each committee will already includes faculty from at least three different disciplines.

There will be no qualifying examination. The Ph.D. will require a preliminary examination, which will be taken no later than the end of the fifth semester. The preliminary examination will have three components. First, it will include a written thesis proposal prepared in the format of a federal research grant, and submitted to the committee at least four weeks prior to the oral examination. Second, there will be a public, oral presentation of the research proposal. Third, the committee will conduct a non-public oral examination in which committee members will ask questions about the proposed research, and about background and core coursework.

Incoming students admitted with background deficiencies will take background courses. For example, biology majors with little formal introduction to computation will take background courses in computer science. The specific required background courses will be determined by the students’ graduate committees with the approval of the program director. Note that credits from courses numbered 300 and below do not count toward the BCB degree requirements, though they may be required to fulfill deficiencies.

The core courses form a central, shared educational experience for all BCB students. These courses will enable them to share a common language, and to discuss problems from multiple disciplinary points of view. This shared experience will also give BCB students a sense of identity and community, which will encourage them to help each other overcome cultural and terminological differences that usually make such interdisciplinary interactions challenging. When possible and appropriate, core courses will include group projects using team members with backgrounds in different disciplines.

The depth courses provide more detailed knowledge of bioinformatics and computational biology, and provide the springboard for graduate research. The list of courses will evolve with the research interests of the BCB faculty participants, and more will be added as new faculty members join the program. See the program webpage at for the latest information.

Other courses may be required as determined by the student’s committee.

To explicitly make it easier to bridge the traditional gap between disciplines, the BCB program includes four bridging activities:

Seminars and workshops

Seminar series are available, and BCB students are required to participate. Seminars are an opportunity for students to interact with experts in a variety of fields. Workshops will provide practical experience with tools and techniques.

  • Lab rotations: In order to expose doctoral students to the research perspectives of another discipline, we will require them to spend at least one semester in a lab outside the discipline of their major professor. The lab will be the research lab of one of the participating BCB faculty outside the discipline of the student’s major professor. The student’s committee will determine, in conjunction with participating faculty members, with whom the student will meet this requirement. There is no lab rotation requirement for M.S. students.
  • One Credit Supplements: General courses in computer science, mathematics and statistics sometimes lack material specific to bioinformatics and computational biology. Participating faculty will offer one-credit supplements to current courses in order to provide this connection without duplicating courses in the current catalog. These will be required of BCB students as determined by their graduate committees.
  • Teaching experience: Each doctoral candidate will be required to have at least one semester of teaching experience relevant to the BCB program with the details of this requirement determined by his or her committee. This requirement may be satisfied, for example, by teaching a course, running a workshop, offering a supplement, or working as a teaching assistant.

The MS requires a minimum 32 credits and the Ph.D. requires a minimum 78 credits. The BCB program assumes the usual graduate full time load of at least 9 credits per semester. Note that the Ph.D. requires at least 18 credits of "other", supplemental, or workshop courses at the 400 level or above, since there are a total of 60 minimum required core, depth, thesis, seminar, and laboratory credits, and the student must have at least 78 credits to graduate. No more than 3 credits of workshop may apply to the degree, and credits for courses numbered below 400 cannot apply toward the degree. (These are general UI requirements.)

Ph.D. Degree

Requirements Credits
Background As determined on admission
Core courses 9 credits
Depth courses 15 credits: 3 in each of the other two areas and 12 in additional depth courses
Seminar 3 credits
Lab rotation 3 credits, not in discipline of major professor
Supplemental As determined by thesis committee
Dissertation 30 credits, minimum
Teaching requirement 3 credits
Other As determined by committee
Total (min) 78 (see text)