The main objective of the Computational Biology PhD is to train the next generation of scientists who are both passionate about exploring the interface of computation and biology, and committed to functioning at a high level in both computational and biological fields.
The program emphasizes multidisciplinary competency, interdisciplinary collaboration, and transdisciplinary research, and offers an integrated and customizable curriculum that consists of two semesters of didactic course work tailored to each student’s background and interests, research rotations with faculty mentors spanning computational biology’s core disciplines, and dissertation research jointly supervised by computational and biological faculty mentors.
The Computational Biology Graduate Group facilitates student immersion into UC Berkeley’s vibrant computational biology research community. Currently, the Group includes over 46 faculty from across 14 departments of the College of Letters and Science, the College of Engineering, the College of Natural Resources, and the School of Public Health. Many of these faculty are available as potential dissertation research advisors for Computational Biology PhD students, with more available for participation on doctoral committees.
The First Year
The time to degree (normative time) of the Computational Biology PhD is five years. The first year of the program emphasizes gaining competency in computational biology, the biological sciences, and the computational sciences (broadly construed). Since student backgrounds will vary widely, each student will work with faculty and student advisory committees to develop a program of study tailored to their background and interests. Specifically, all first-year students must:
- Perform three rotations with Core faculty (one rotation with a non-Core faculty is acceptable with advance approval)
- Complete course work requirements (see below)
- Complete a course in the Responsible Conduct of Research
- Attend the computational biology seminar series
- Complete experimental training (see below)
Entering students are required to complete three laboratory rotations during their first year in the program to seek out a Dissertation Advisor under whose supervision dissertation research will be conducted. Students should rotate with at least one computational Core faculty member and one experimental Core faculty member. Click here to view rotation policy.
Course Work & Additional Requirements
Students must complete the following coursework in the first three (up to four) semesters:
- Fall and Spring semester of CMPBIO 293, Doctoral Seminar in Computational Biology
- A Responsible Conduct of Research course, most likely through the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.
- Six additional courses consisting of:
- STAT 201A & STAT 201B: Intro to Probability and Statistics at an Advanced Level.
Note: Students who are offered admission and are not prepared to complete STAT 201A and 201B will be required to complete STAT 134 or PH 142 first.
- CS61A: The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs
- 3 elective courses relevant to the field of Computational Biology, one of which must be at the graduate level (see below for details)
- STAT 201A & STAT 201B: Intro to Probability and Statistics at an Advanced Level.
- Students must complete the following additional requirements prior to the completion of the program:
- Attend the computational biology invited speaker seminar series. A schedule is circulated to all students by email and is available on the Center website.
- Enroll in at least two semesters of CMPBIO 201: Computational Biology Seminar/Journal Club, which includes and supplements this seminar series.
- Complete an experimental training component. This is satisfied in one of three ways:
1) completion of a laboratory course at Berkeley with a minimum grade of B, 2) completion of a rotation in an experimental lab (w/ an experimental project), with a positive evaluation from the PI, 3) demonstration of previous training, such as:
- a biological sciences undergraduate major with at least two upper division laboratory-based courses,
- a semester or equivalent of supervised undergraduate experimental laboratory-based research at a university,
- or previous paid or volunteer/internship work in an industry-based experimental laboratory.
Students will provide a brief summary of this experience to the Head Graduate Advisor for approval before taking the QE.
Students are expected to develop a course plan for their program requirements and to consult with the Head Graduate Advisor before the Spring semester of their first year for formal approval (signature required). The course plan will take into account the student’s undergraduate training areas and goals for PhD research areas.
Satisfactory completion of first year requirements will be evaluated at the end of the spring semester of the first year. If requirements are satisfied, students will formally choose a Dissertation advisor from among the core faculty with whom they rotated and begin dissertation research.
Waivers: Students may request waivers for the specific courses STAT 201A, STAT 201B, and CS61A. In all cases of waivers, the student must take alternative courses in related areas so as to have six additional courses, as described above. For waiving out of STAT 201A/B, students can demonstrate they have completed the equivalent by passing a proctored assessment exam on Campus. For waiving out CS61A, the Head Graduate Advisor will evaluate student’s previous coursework based on the previous course’s syllabus and other course materials to determine equivalency.
Electives: Of the three electives, students are required to choose one course in each of the two following cluster areas:
- Cluster A (Biological Science): These courses are defined as those for which the learning goals are primarily related to biology. This includes courses covering topics in molecular biology, genetics, evolution, environmental science, experimental methods, and human health. This category may also cover courses whose focus is on learning how to use bioinformatic tools to understand experimental data.
- Cluster B (Computational Sciences): These courses are defined as those for which the learning goals involve computing, inference, or mathematical modeling, broadly defined. This includes courses on algorithms, computing languages or structures, mathematical or probabilistic concepts, and statistics. This category would include courses whose focus is on biological applications of such topics.
In the below link we give some relevant such courses, but students can take courses beyond this list; for courses not on this list, the Head Graduate Advisor will determine to which cluster a course can be credited. For classes that have significant overlap between these two clusters, the department which offers the course may influence the decision of the HGA as to whether the course should be assigned to cluster A or B.
See below for some suggested courses in these categories:
Second Year & Beyond
At the beginning of the fall of the second year, students begin full-time dissertation research in earnest under the supervision of their Dissertation advisor. It is anticipated that it will take students three (up to four) semesters to complete the 6 course requirement. Students are required to continue to participate annually in the computational biology seminar series.
Students are expected to take and pass an oral Qualifying Examination (QE) by the end of the spring semester (June 15th) of their second year of graduate study. Students must present a written dissertation proposal to the QE committee no fewer than four weeks prior to the oral QE. The write-up should follow the format of an NIH-style grant proposal (i.e., it should include an abstract, background and significance, specific aims to be addressed (~3), and a research plan for addressing the aims) and must thoroughly discuss plans for research to be conducted in the dissertation lab.
Click here for more details on the guidelines and format for the QE.
Click here to view the rules for the composition of the committee and the form for declaring your committee.
Advancement to Candidacy
After successfully completing the QE, students will Advance to Candidacy. At this time, students select the members of their dissertation committee and submit this committee for approval to the Graduate Division. Students should endeavor to include a member whose research represents a complementary yet distinct area from that of the dissertation advisor (ie, biological vs computational, experimental vs theoretical) and that will be integrated in the student’s dissertation research.
Click here to view the rules for the composition of the committee and the form for declaring your committee.
Meetings with the Dissertation Committee
After Advancing to Candidacy, students are expected to meet with their Dissertation Committee at least once each year.
Computational Biology PhD students are required to teach at least two semesters (starting with Fall 2014 class), but may teach more. The requirement can be modified if the student has funding that does not allow teaching. Starting with the Fall 2019 class: At least one of those courses should require that you teach a section. Berkeley Connect or CMPBIO 293 can count towards one of the required semesters.
Dissertation projects will represent scholarly, independent and novel research that contributes new knowledge to Computational Biology by integrating knowledge and methodologies from both the biological and computational sciences. Students must submit their dissertation by the May Graduate Division filing deadline (see Graduate Division for date) of their fifth–and final–year.
Students will be required to present their research either orally or via a poster at the annual retreat beginning in their second year.
The Computational Biology Graduate Group provides a competitive stipend (the stipend for 2020-21 is $37,750) as well as full payment of fees and non-resident tuition (which includes health care). Students maintaining satisfactory academic progress are provided full funding for five to five and a half years. The program supports students in the first year, while the PI/mentor provides support from the second year on. A portion of this support is in the form of salary from teaching assistance as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) in allied departments, such as Molecular and Cell Biology, Integrative Biology, Plant and Microbial Biology, Mathematics, Statistics or Computer Science. Teaching is part of the training of the program and most students will not teach more than two semesters, unless by choice.
Due to cost constraints, the program admits few international students; the average is two per year. Those admitted are also given full financial support (as noted above): stipend, fees and tuition.
Students are also strongly encouraged to apply for extramural fellowships for the proposal writing experience. There are a number of extramural fellowships that Berkeley students apply for that current applicants may find appealing. Please note that the NSF now only allows two submissions – once as an undergrad and once in grad school. The NSF funds students with potential, as opposed to specific research projects, so do not be concerned that you don’t know your grad school plans yet – just put together a good proposal! Although we make admissions offers before the fellowships results are released, all eligible students should take advantage of both opportunities to apply, as it’s a great opportunity and a great addition to a CV.
- National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (app deadlines in Oct)
- Hertz Foundation Fellowship (app deadline Oct)
- National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (app deadline in Dec)
- DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (Krell Institute) (app deadline in Jan)
UPDATE, 6/25/2020: CCB is waiving the GRE for Fall 2021 admission (this admission cycle). The GRE is not required and will not be a deciding factor in review/admission.
PLEASE NOTE: The application deadline is Monday, November 30, 8:59 PST/11:59 EST
We invite applications from students with distinguished academic records, strong foundations in the basic biological, physical and computational sciences, as well as significant computer programming and research experience. Admission for the Computational Biology PhD is for the fall semester only, and Computational Biology does not offer a Master’s degree.
We are happy to answer any questions you may have, but please be sure to read this entire page first, as many of your questions will be answered below or on the Tips tab.
IMPORTANT: Please note that it is not possible to select a specific PhD advisor until the end of the first year in the program, so contacting individual faculty about openings in their laboratories will not increase your chances of being accepted into the program. You will have an opportunity to discuss your interests with relevant faculty if you are invited to interview in February.
Minimum requirements for admission to graduate study:
- A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution.
- Minimum GPA of 3.0.
- Undergraduate preparation reflecting a balance of training in computational biology’s core disciplines (biology, computer science, statistics/mathematics), for example, a single interdisciplinary major, such as computational biology or bioinformatics; a major in a core discipline and a combination of interdisciplinary course work and research experiences; or a double major in core disciplines.
- Basic research experience and aptitude are key considerations for admission, so evidence of research experience and letters of recommendation from faculty mentors attesting to the applicant’s research experience are of particular interest.
- GRE – the GRE has been waived for Fall 2021 admission (this year’s admission cycle). Previously taken exam scores may be submitted, but GREs (general or subject) will not be a determining factor for admission and may not even be reviewed.
- TOEFL scores for international students (see below for details).
ALL materials, including letters, are due November 30, 2020 (8:59 PST). More information is provided and required as part of the online application, so please create an account and review the application before emailing with questions (and please set up an account well before the deadline):
- A completed graduate application: The online application opens in early September (9/15/20) and is located on the Graduate Division website. Paper applications are not accepted. Please create your account and review the application well ahead of the submit date, as it will take time to complete and requests information not listed here.
- A nonrefundable application fee: The fee must be paid using a major credit card and is not refundable. For US citizens and permanent residents, the fee is $120; US citizens and permanent residents may request a fee waiver as part of the online application. For all other students the fee is $140 (no waivers).
- Three letters of recommendation, minimum (up to five are accepted): Letters of recommendation must be submitted online as part of the Graduate Division’s application process. Letters are also due November 30, so please inform your recommenders of this deadline and give them sufficient advance notice. It is your responsibility to monitor the status of your letters of recommendation (sending prompts, as necessary) in the online system.
- Transcripts: Unofficial copies of all relevant transcripts, uploaded as part of the online application (see application for details). Scanned copies of official transcripts are strongly preferred, as transcripts must include applicant and institution name and degree goal and should be easy for the reviewers to read (print-outs from online personal schedules can be hard to read and transcripts without your name and the institution name cannot be used for review). Do not send official transcripts to Grad Division or Computational Biology, they will be discarded.
- (Highly recommended) Applicants should consider applying for extramural funding, such as NSF Fellowships. These are amazing opportunities and the application processes are great preparation for graduate studies. Please see Financial Support tab.
- Read and follow all of the “Application Tips” listed on the last tab. This ensures that everything goes smoothly and you make a good impression on the faculty reviewing your file.
The GRE requirement is waived for the Fall 2021 admission cycle. The GRE general test is not required. GRE subject tests are not required. While we do not encourage anyone to take the exam, here’s information about reporting scores for tests taken previously: the UC Berkeley school code is 4833; department codes are unnecessary. As long as the scores are sent to UC Berkeley, they will be received by any program you apply to on campus. GRE scores will not be a determining factor for application review and admission and may not even be reviewed by the admissions committee.
Adequate proficiency in English must be demonstrated by those applicants applying from countries where English is not the official language. There are two standardized tests you may take: the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). TOEFL minimum passing scores are 90 for the Internet-based test (IBT), and 570 for the paper-based format (PBT). The TOEFL may be waived if an international student has completed at least one year of full-time academic course work with grades of B or better while in residence at a U.S. university (transcript will be required). Please click here for more information.
The Application Deadline is 8:59 pm Pacific Standard Time, November 30, 2020. The application will lock at 9pm PST, precisely. All materials must be received by the deadline. While rec letters can continue to be submitted and received after the deadline, the committee meets in early December and will review incomplete applications. TOEFL tests should be taken by or before the deadline, but self-reported scores are acceptable for review while the official scores are being processed.
It is your responsibility to ensure and verify that your application materials are submitted in a timely manner. Please be sure to hit the submit button when you have completed the application and to monitor the status of your letters of recommendation (sending prompts, as necessary). Please include the statement of purpose and personal statement in the online application. Please DO NOT send paper résumés, separate folders of information, or articles. They will be discarded unread.
The Computational Biology recruitment visit date will be posted here. Should we switch to online interviews due to the ongoing pandemic, we will try to have a visit day later in the Spring (before April 15).
Top applicants who are being considered for admission will be invited to visit campus for interviews with faculty. Invitations will be made by mid-January. Students are expected to stay for the entire event, arriving in Berkeley by 5:30pm on the first day and leaving the evening of the final day. In the application, you must provide the names of between 7-10 faculty from the Computational Biology website with whom you are interested in conducting research or performing rotations. This helps route your application to our reviewers and facilitates the interview scheduling process. An invitation is not a guarantee of admission.
International students may be interviewed by phone, as flights are often prohibitively expensive.
Tips for the Application Process
Uploaded Documents: Be sure to put your name and type of essay on your essays (Statement of Purpose [2-3 pages], Personal Statement [1-2 pages]) as a header or before the text, whether you use the text box or upload a PDF or Word doc. There is no minimum length on either essay, but 3 pages maximum is suggested. The Statement of Purpose should describe your research and educational background and aspirations. The Personal Statement can include personal achievements not necessarily related to research, barriers you’ve had to overcome, mentoring and volunteering activities, things that make you unique and demonstrate the qualities you will bring to the program.
Letters of Recommendation: should be from persons who have supervised your research or academic work and who can evaluate your intellectual ability, creativity, leadership potential and promise for productive scholarship. If lab supervision was provided by a postdoc or graduate student, the letter should carry the signature or support of the faculty member in charge of the research project. Note: the application can be submitted before all of the recommenders have completed their letters. It is your responsibility to keep track of your recommender’s progress through the online system. Be sure to send reminders if your recommenders do not submit their letters.
Extramural fellowships: it is to your benefit to apply for fellowships as they may facilitate entry into the lab of your choice, are a great addition to your CV and often provide higher stipends. Do not allow concerns about coming up with a research proposal before joining a lab prevent you from applying. The fellowships are looking for research potential and proposal writing skills and will not hold you to specific research projects once you have started graduate school.
Calculating GPA: Schools can differ in how they assign grades and calculate grade point averages, so it may be difficult for this office to offer advice. The best resource for calculating the GPA for your school is to check the back of the official transcripts where a guide is often provided or use an online tool. There are free online GPA conversion tools that can be found via an internet search.
Faculty Contact/Interests: Please be sure to list faculty that interest you as part of the online application. You are not required to contact any faculty in advance, nor will it assist with admission, but are welcome to if you wish to learn more about their research.
Submitting the application: To avoid the possibility of computer problems on either side, it is NOT advisable to wait until the last day to start and/or submit your application. It is not unusual for the application system to have difficulties during times of heavy traffic. However, there is no need to submit the application too early. No application will be reviewed before the deadline.
Visits: We only arrange one campus visit for recruitment purposes. If you are interested in visiting the campus and meeting with faculty before the application deadline, you are welcome to do so on your own time. *Note that for Fall 2020, campus is closed to visitors.
Name: On the online application, please capitalize the first letter of your first and last name. DO NOT use all caps or no caps. And please double check that you have entered your first and last names in the correct fields. This is our first impression of you as a candidate, so you do want to get your name correct! Be sure to put your name on any documents that you upload (Statement of Purpose, Personal Statement).
California Residency: You must have lived in California previously, and be a US citizen or Permanent Resident, to be a resident. You are not considered a resident if you hope to enter our program in the Fall, but have never lived in California before or are here on a visa. So, please do not mark “resident” on the application in anticipation of admission.