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Stanford Biosciences

PhD Academic Milestones

Photo courtesy James Harden


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Explore research labs and develop mastery of skills and knowledge that will serve as the foundations of your scientific career. Embark on your independent research and build your scientific community. Explore interests that may lead to future research and professional directions. Become an expert in your field and demonstrate that expertise with publications and your thesis. Deepen skills and interests, and take the next step toward your career of choice.


You have enormous flexibility in arranging laboratory rotations at Stanford. You will set up rotations directly with faculty of interest, typically rotating in 2-4+ labs throughout any of our 14 Home Programs, with the ability to opt for shorter rotations to gain a wider breadth of experience. Students are expected to rotate within their Home Program during their first quarter, as it helps integrate you within a tightly knit community. Rotations are critical to your choice of a thesis lab, to introduce you to broader areas of research, and to establish interconnections for future collaborations.

Explore the Home Programs.


Most students begin their graduate careers with Foundations in Experimental Biology, specifically designed to prepare you on how to find and develop a research project, read the literature, and make the transition to becoming a producer of knowledge. Your Home Program coursework will develop your expertise within your discipline. While most curriculum is finished in the first year, you can continue to tailor your education across disciplines and explore new scientific frontiers through intensive, 2-3 week mini-courses. You are not limited to course offerings in the biosciences, either. Many of our students take Stanford courses in closely aligned disciplines, like chemistry, physics, statistics, engineering, and design, or extend further into the Schools of Law, Business, and Humanities.

Teaching Assistantship

Required by some programs and available to any student, teaching assistantships in undergraduate and graduate courses offer you experience and the opportunity to develop presentation skills.

Choose Your Thesis Lab

As early as April of first year. Your choice of a thesis lab is the most important choice you will make in graduate school. The flexibility of our rotations—as well as the direct student-faculty interactions—help students find the right laboratory environments for their thesis research. We empower students to discover and pursue: 1. the science they love, 2. a great mentor with whom they can work well, and 3. a collegial environment that will further their research.

Qualifying Exam

The completion of the Qualifying Exam marks a student’s formal step into Doctoral Candidacy, as she or he demonstrates the expertise and thought processes necessary to design and carry out thesis research. You will choose a committee of faculty members—which includes your advisor and two or three additional faculty—to mentor you through your development and thesis research. Conducted in the format of a written research proposal and oral presentation, the qualifying examination is a valuable opportunity to talk with other scientists, share what you have done, and discuss what you are excited to do next.

Thesis Research

The thesis project is where you take ownership over your scientific research, developing and pursuing your own interests. You are free to develop new collaborations with labs throughout Stanford as well as others around the world. Passion, creativity, and the fun that you have all come into play as you dedicate yourself to tackling some of the Biosciences’ most important problems. During this time, you will establish close relationships with your advisor and together explore new areas of research.

Committee Meetings

Students best explore their creative potential and develop their intellectual and analytical skills through frequent, collegial interactions with faculty. In that spirit, committee and proposal meetings are designed to facilitate an open and exciting exchange of scientific ideas and results. After completing your qualifying exam and selecting a reading and thesis committee, you will regularly update your committee and participate in discussions that help focus your research. These begin as annual meetings and later increase in frequency. Additionally, students are encouraged to meet informally with their committee members as well as to initiate additional meetings as they near completion of their thesis and prepare for next career steps.

Thesis Defense

The work and creativity you have put toward your research—and in furthering the Biosciences—culminates in a thesis defense, which includes a written dissertation, a public seminar, and a closed oral exam. Your fellow students and faculty will cap the day with a celebration of your accomplishments!


Being able to break down your larger research and life goals into bite-sized tasks is key to navigating the “forest” of graduate research. We will help train you to organize, strategize, and adjust in the lab, as you think step-by-step through important questions that include: What should the next paper be? How would that paper move the field forward and engender exciting follow-up studies? What results and figures are needed?

Career of Choice

Our goal is to train you to think critically, to find and ask new questions, and to be the most creative scientist you can be. We believe, by doing that, we empower our students to become the next generation of innovators and leaders, with skills that have been proved highly transferrable beyond Stanford. All of your academic development serves as an exploration of that passion, helping you see the world in new ways and discover the way in which you want to give back. Stanford also offers many opportunities to interact with alumni, attend workshops for professional development, think about postdoctoral avenues, and explore potential careers. The many mentors and University resources available to you at Stanford Biosciences will help you think about and develop your future throughout your graduate education.