grad-biophysics

The doctor of philosophy degree with a major in biophysics is an interdepartmental offering under the supervision of the Biophysics Graduate Degree Program. The biophysics degree is intended for those who wish to emphasize physical principles and methods in solving biological problems. By necessity, the interdisciplinary nature of biophysics generates interaction among, and expands the boundaries of, traditional areas of science. Persons with strong training in biophysics can be expected to be major innovators and contributors in research and applied technology. Biophysics graduates pursue careers in academic, industrial, and government research, and in teaching and administration.

The Biophysics Program consists of approximately 45 faculty members from 14 departments that span four colleges within the university. State-of-the-art facilities are available within the Biophysics Program for research in x-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic-resonance spectroscopy, electron resonance spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, microscopy and imaging, and computational chemistry. Graduate students in biophysics can choose from an expansive range of research topics including, but not limited to, biomolecular structure and function interactions, protein engineering and biotechnology, virus structure and function, enzyme catalysis and kinetics, membranes, neurochemistry, and electrophysiology.

The program is flexible in its formal course requirements and emphasizes excellence in research. The candidate is encouraged to begin research as quickly as possible, since it is research experience that brings focus and meaning to classroom studies, and research progress that empowers critical judgment and self-confidence for independent work. To enhance self-confidence, students are expected to participate in weekly seminars and to present a seminar.

Financial assistance is available to support qualified graduate students throughout their graduate studies. Types of graduate appointments that may be awarded include research assistantships, fellowships, and traineeships. The stipends awarded provide financial support to students during their graduate work, permitting them to devote their efforts to coursework and research. In recognition of the leadership provided by scientists and researchers at University of Wisconsin–Madison, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have funded a predoctoral training grant in molecular biophysics for the past consecutive 20 years.

For more information, see the Biophysics Handbook.

Undergraduate preparation for the Biophysics Program can vary widely and will be evaluated by the admissions committee on an individual basis. Most applicants have taken courses in general, organic, and physical chemistry; introductory physics; cell and/or molecular biology; calculus through differential equations; and computer sciences. Students can generally make up any deficiencies in their undergraduate background within the first year of graduate study through a broad and flexible course curriculum. The normal undergraduate course prerequisites are:

  • two semesters of physics with calculus
  • two semesters of calculus
  • two semesters of organic chemistry
  • one semester of physical chemistry
  • one semester of computer sciences
  • one semester of statistics
  • introduction to biology

Exceptions to these requirements may be granted for incoming biophysics graduate students who otherwise have strong undergraduate training in physics, mathematics, computer sciences, biology, chemistry, or other fields related to biophysics. In such cases, each missing required course will be counted as a deficiency that the student must correct by obtaining a passing grade in an equivalent undergraduate or graduate course taken within the first two years of graduate study.

In addition, it is recommended for entering graduate students to have taken undergraduate courses in general biochemistry; general genetics and/or molecular biology; and biophysical chemistry. Students who have not taken courses in these subjects will be expected to do so as part of their formal graduate coursework.

Admission to the biophysics Ph.D. program is highly competitive. A committee of biophysics faculty trainers reviews each application and invites selected students for personal interviews in February. Outstanding international students will be offered video-conferencing interviews with members of the admissions committee. Final admissions decisions are made after all interviews are completed. An application for admission consists of:

1. A resume or CV

2. A personal statement that discusses a candidate's reasoning for pursuing a biophysics Ph.D. What initially drew you to the field? How will earning a Ph.D. help you accomplish your goals?

3. An official transcript of coursework from all undergraduate institutions attended

4. Three or more letters of recommendation

5. A report from the Educational Testing Service of scores received on the required GRE General Test

6. A report, if appropriate, of scores received on the TOEFL English language proficiency exam or an appropriate alternative (IELTS, MELAB)

The admissions committee highly weighs the personal statement and letters of recommendation when reviewing applicants. GPA values are evaluated to ensure they meet minimum graduate school requirements.

Graduate School Admissions

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic degree programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet requirements of both the program(s) and the Graduate School. Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.  

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and processes related to funding.

Program Resources

The Biophysics Graduate Degree Program offers stipends in the form of traineeships or research assistantships to all Ph.D. candidates, and assists those with outstanding records in competing for University and national awards (fellowships). The program guarantees a full stipend ($27,000 for 2017–18) for all its Ph.D. candidates who remain in good standing in the program. In addition to the stipend, all students receive tuition remission and are eligible for comprehensive health insurance.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements

MODE OF INSTRUCTION

Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

CURRICULAR REQUIREMENTS

Minimum Credit Requirement 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement Half of degree coursework (26 credits out of 51 total credits) must be completed graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide.
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Other Grade Requirements Any grade of BC or lower will not count toward the Biophysics core course requirement. If a student receives a BC or lower, the student must repeat the course in order to receive a higher grade.
Assessments and Examinations Students take two rounds of exams in order to achieve dissertator status. At the end of students' second year, they are required to take their written preliminary exam. Once this exam is passed, students must take their oral preliminary exam by the end of their third year.
Language Requirements No language requirements.
Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements No minor required.

Required Courses

Required by the time oral prelim is taken:
BIOCHEM/​CHEM  665 Biophysical Chemistry4
CHEM 668 Biophysical Spectroscopy 12-3
Students must take at least 2 additional classes from different categories from the following list of classes (alternative classes may be substituted with approval from the Biophysics Program Steering Committee):
Structure
Protein and Enzyme Structure and Function
Mathematical Methods for Structural Biology
Mechanisms of Action of Vitamins and Minerals
Modeling
Chemical and Statistical Thermodynamics
Mathematical Methods for Systems Biology
Molecular Biology
Prokaryotic Molecular Biology
Eukaryotic Molecular Biology
Neuroscience
Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Spectroscopy/Microscopy
Microscopy of Life
Additional Courses
BIOCHEM 729 Advanced Topics (Ethics) 21-3
CHEM/​BIOCHEM  872 Selected Topics in Macromolecular and Biophysical Chemistry 31-3
990 Seminar 4

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Graduate Program Handbook

The Graduate Program Handbook is the repository for all of the program's policies and requirements.

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned more than two years prior to admission to the doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements. No admissions are made into the master's program.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

No credits from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward the degree.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 credits of coursework numbered 300 or above taken as a UW–Madison Special student. Coursework earned more than two years prior to admission to the doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements. No admissions are made into the master's program.

Probation

If students fall below the 3.00 GPA program requirement or have incomplete grades, the Biophysics Program follows the Graduate School's policy of satisfactory/unsatisfactory progress. This could result in academic probation or suspension.

ADVISOR / COMMITTEE

All students are required to have an advisor by the end of their first semester in the program. Thesis committees must be formed at the end of a student's first year in the program. The committee consists of at least four other faculty members and the student's advisor and faculty must represent at least two different departments on campus. After gaining dissertator status, students are required to hold yearly progress report meetings with their committee until graduation.

CREDITS PER TERM ALLOWED

15 credits

Time Constraints

A candidate for a doctoral degree who fails to take the final oral examination and deposit the dissertation within five years after passing the preliminary examination may by require to take another preliminary examination and to be admitted to candidacy a second time.

Doctoral degree students who have been absent for ten or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements; that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.

Other

Fall semester enrollment only. First semester, program-sponsored lab rotations lead to thesis lab selection and research assistantship through the thesis advisor.

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

1. Articulates challenges, frontiers and limits with respect to theory, knowledge or practice within the field of study.

2. Formulates ideas, concepts, designs, and/or techniques beyond the current boundaries of knowledge within the field of study.

3. Creates research, scholarship or performance that makes a substantive contribution.

4. Demonstrates breadth within their learning experiences.

5. Communicates complex or ambiguous ideas in a clear and understandable manner.

6. Evaluates the implications of the discipline to broader social concerns.

7. Fosters ethical conduct and professional guidelines.

Faculty: 

Chair: Professor Meyer Jackson (Neuroscience Department) Website

Paul Ahlquist (Oncology) Website

Tom Brunold (Chemistry) Website

Judith Burstyn (Chemistry) Website

Sam Butcher (Biochemistry) Website

Silvia Cavangerno (Chemistry) Website

Baron Chanda (Neuroscience) Website

Ed Chapman (Neuroscience) Website

Gheorghe Craciun (Mathematics) Website

Cindy Czajkowski (Neuroscience) Website

Katrina Forest (Bacteriology) Website

Brian Fox (Biochemistry) Website

Sam Gellman (Chemistry) Website

Pupa Gilbert (Physics)

Randy Goldsmith (Chemistry) Website

Jeff Hardin (Zoology) Website

Katie Henzler-Wildman (Biochemistry) Website

Hazel Holden (Biochemistry) Website

Aaron Hoskins (Biochemistry) Website

Mathew Jones (Neuroscience) Website

Jim Keck (Biomolecular Chemistry) Website

Bob Landick (Biochemistry) Website

John Markley (Biochemistry) Website

Megan McClean (Biomedical Engineering) Website

Matthew Merrins (Biomolecular Chemistry)

Julie Mitchell (Mathematics) Website

Regina Murphy (Chemical and Biological Engineering) Website

Vatsan Raman (Biochemistry) Website

Ivan Rayment (Biochemistry) Website

Tom Record (Biochemistry) Website

Gail Robertson (Neuroscience) Website

Phil Romero (Biochemistry) Website

Kris Saha (Biomedical Engineering) Website

David Schwartz (Chemistry) Website

Alessandro Senes (Biochemistry) Website

Nate Sherer (Oncology) Website

Melissa Skala (Biomedical Engineering) Website

Lloyd Smith (Chemistry) Website

Daniel van der Weide (Electrical and Computer Engineering) Website

Reid Van Lehn (Chemical and Biological Engineering) Website

Ophelia Venturelli (Biochemistry) Website

Doug Weibel (Biochemistry) Website

James Weisshaar (Chemistry) Website

Yongna Xing (Oncology): Website

John Yin (Chemical and Biological Engineering) Website