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Department of Biological Sciences | Faculty of Science Simon Fraser University Calendar | Summer 2024

Biological Sciences

Doctor of Philosophy

The doctor of philosophy program in the Department of Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser University entails rigorous academic training and independent research culminating in a thesis leading to peer-reviewed publications. Our research strength is broadly organized into three themes: Cellular, Developmental, & Molecular Biology; Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology; and Applied Biology. Because applicants must identify a faculty member who will supervise them, all applicants must contact potential supervisors directly. To learn about areas of faculty research, click here.

Further information about the department and how to apply can be found on our website.

Admission Requirements

Applicants must satisfy the University admission requirements as stated in Graduate General Regulations 1.3 in the SFU Calendar, have a research supervisor confirmed, and provide evidence of ability to undertake advanced studies. Prior to applying for admission, applicants are required to contact faculty members directly to discuss research interests, programs, and to confirm the availability of a position within their group as well as possible financial support.

Students already in the MSc, MPM, or MET program in the Department of Biological Sciences may transfer to the PhD program after meeting the following criteria:

  • At least two terms completed (and no more than six terms) in the SFU master's program;
  • Completion of at least three-quarters of the required course work of the respective master's program, with a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 3.5 or better;
  • Letters of support from all members of the supervisory committee;
  • Evidence of scholarly accomplishments, such as submission of manuscripts for publication or presentations at national or international meetings.

Please note that a transfer is NOT automatic. The application for transfer is considered by the departmental graduate studies committee who will carefully review the quality of the proposal, the extent of tangible accomplishments to date, and the student’s supervisory committee’s comments before approving a request to transfer. It is recommended that the application to transfer be submitted no later than the end of the sixth term of the MSc program.

Program Requirements

This program consists of courses and a thesis for a minimum of 24 units. Students may be required to complete additional course work at the discretion of the supervisory committee. Students accepted to the PhD program who have not completed a master's degree, must complete an additional six units of graduate course work.

Students must complete

Six units of graduate courses

and a candidacy exam

BISC 892 - PhD Graduate Candidacy Exam (0)

Oral presentation and defence of a written PhD research proposal. All PhD students enrolled in the BISC PhD graduate program must take BISC 892. Graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis.

Section Instructor Day/Time Location
G100 TBD

and a thesis

BISC 899 - PhD Thesis (18)

Graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis.

Section Instructor Day/Time Location
G100 TBD
G200 TBD

The thesis is based on original research and is defended publicly. See Graduate General Regulation 1.10 for more information on the examination of the thesis.

Optional Specialization in Translational and Integrative Neuroscience (TRAIN)

Application to TRAIN is through the TRAIN steering committee. Students must fulfill all the departmental requirements for the PhD.

To receive TRAIN specialization, students must complete both NEUR courses with a grade of B+ or higher. These courses would replace graduate elective course requirements for this program.

Students must complete

NEUR 800 - Foundations of Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience (3)

Covers fundamental concepts related to the basic cellular neurobiology of neurons and other nervous system cells, neuronal pathfinding, electrophysiology, dendritic organization, axonal transport, plasticity, and signal transduction, as well as the integration of neurons into neural circuits and diseases of the nervous system. This course can only be taken once, either during a Masters or Doctoral program.

NEUR 801 - Foundations of Systems Neuroscience (3)

Fundamental concepts related to information processing (sensing, encoding, planning, decision-making, execution) by neural circuits are discussed. Topics include: neural communication, sensorimotor control of movement, neuroplasticity, and diseases of the brain. Issues of experimental design and application of modern neuroscience methods will be integrated across these topics. Additional topics will vary depending on the year. This course can only be taken once, either during a Masters or Doctoral program.

and four times

NEUR 802 - Translational and Integrative Neuroscience Workshop (0)

Workshops focus on providing students with skills to facilitate the translation of neuroscience, broadly defined, for the benefit of society. Faculty members at SFU as well as relevant clinicians and company representatives will run these workshops. Topics may include: how to translate fundamental questions into clinical-oriented questions; how to perform clinical research; how to start a spin-off company; how to pitch ideas for commercialization; how to work with industry; how drug-discovery works; and how to communicate to different audiences. All topics will relate specifically to neuroscience. Graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis. Prerequisite: Enrollment in translational and integrative neuroscience graduate specialization or permission from lead workshop organizer.

For more information on TRAIN, please see Translational and Integrative Neuroscience.

Program Length

Students are expected to complete the program requirements in less than five years.

Other Information

Oral Candidacy Exam

The student must pass an oral candidacy exam prior to the end of the fourth program term, or the second term after transfer from the MSc program. The exam concentrates on the student’s research area, follows a written PhD research proposal submission, and is graded satisfactory/unsatisfactory. Students with an unacceptable grade must pass a second exam within six months. Students who receive a second unsatisfactory rating will be withdrawn from the program.

Supervisory Committee

A supervisor is appointed prior to admission. The supervisory committee consists of, at minimum, the supervisor and one additional regular biology faculty member. In exceptional cases, a faculty member from another Simon Fraser University department may be substituted for the Department of Biological Sciences faculty member. Additional supervisory committee members from other institutions may be appointed upon submission of research credentials and approval by the departmental graduate studies committee.

Annual Progress Report

Students submit a report of their progress every year, and must maintain satisfactory progress toward degree completion to remain in the program. Students receive an annual report form from the graduate secretary every year in the term in which they started, and are expected to complete and return it within six weeks. They will have a committee meeting each year, and a brief summary of this meeting will be included in the report. Also included should be a description of the work/courses completed since the last report (or since starting their program if this is the first time), student progress evaluation forms by each of the supervisory committee members, and a copy of the student’s unofficial transcript.

Academic Requirements within the Graduate General Regulations

All graduate students must satisfy the academic requirements that are specified in the Graduate General Regulations, as well as the specific requirements for the program in which they are enrolled.