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Biology: MS, PhD


The graduate programs in biology at USU are highly selective, taking a small number of exceptional students each year. Students work with professors on specific research projects where they receive first-hand, active experience doing lab and fieldwork. Each student’s graduate program is tailored to their individual interests; the student’s graduate committee creates a unique plan of study based on the student’s specific research areas. The faculty in the Department of Biology are experts in a wide variety of topics in biology, such as animal behavior, biogeochemistry, developmental biology, ecology, evolution, insect biology and systematics, neurobiology, microbiology, molecular biology, physiology, plant pathology, plant systematics, signaling, toxicology, vertebrate zoology, virology, and more.


  • Climate Adaptation Science (Biology MS & PhD): The Climate Adaptation Science specialization provides students with experiences in actionable science through internship and research experiences. Program includes interdisciplinary research to identify adaptive responses to changing climate extremes and two-part internships with agency, NGO, and industry partners. In a first internship, students contribute to projects and learn the workplace cultures and science needs of the host. The internship experiences inform interdisciplinary climate adaptation research by student teams. In a second internship, students share science results and tools with the host organization and help put that science into action.

Because biology is such a broad field of research, graduates have diverse career options in all aspects of biology. Some of the options include:

  • Biomedical industry
  • Forestry
  • Researchers for government agencies
  • Research biologists
  • Conservationists
  • Non-government organizations
  • Most PhD graduates pursue positions in academia with universities. Many participate in prestigious post-doctoral programs around the world.

Admission Requirements

To be accepted to the program, applicants must have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in biology from USU. However, students with degrees in other areas may be accepted, but will have to take prerequisite courses determined by their graduate committee.

To be accepted to the program, it is recommended that applicants first contact a specific faculty member with whom they are interested in working. If the faculty member is accepting graduate students and agrees to work with the student, the student can then apply.

Application Requirements:

  • Complete the online application
  • Pay the $55 application fee. This fee will be reimbursed to you by the Department of Biology if you are accepted and enroll.
  • Have a 3.0 or higher GPA on your last 60 semester or 90 quarter credits
  • Provide transcripts of all college/university credits
  • Provide three contacts for letters of recommendation

International students have additional admissions requirements.

Admission Deadlines

The Department of Biology considers applications on a year-round basis. Applications received for fall semester by February 15 will be considered for all financial awards available. Applications received after that date will be considered for the limited amount of financial awards available at the time.

Program Requirements

Qualifying Exams:

All PhD students must pass a comprehensive exam, usually taken in their second year. The student’s graduate committee sets the material of the exam, which consists of a written and an oral component.

All master’s students must pass a comprehensive exam with either a written or an oral component, set by their graduate committee. This exam usually takes place when the student has completed a year and a half in the program.

Master's Degree Plan Option(s)

Students can receive the MS by pursuing the following option:

  • In the Plan A option, students complete graduate-level coursework and must write a thesis.

Financial Assistance

The College of Science offers the Willard L. Eccles Foundation Science Fellowship. It is an award of $22,000 per year for three years. The graduate programs committee nominates two to three candidates, and one candidate is chosen from the college each year. Selection criteria include: GPA, GRE score, letters of recommendation, and evidence of strong academic and research potential in the discipline.

The USU Diversity Fellowship in Science and Engineering is an award of $22,000 per year for two years plus $500 for travel/equipment. This fellowship is jointly administered by the School of Graduate Studies, the College of Engineering, and the College of Science. Biology candidates are nominated by the graduate programs committee. The award includes an annual stipend, full tuition remission, and a travel/equipment grant. Criteria include: academic research potential, GPA, GRE score, and letters of recommendation.

All PhD students are supported at a minimum with tuition awards, subsidized health insurance, and a monthly stipend for work performed as teaching assistants in instructional activities or research assistants in research groups.

Research Assistantships are available from the grants of major professors. They are awarded by the individual faculty members. Contact faculty members in your area of interest for additional information.

Annual contract teaching assistantships are awarded competitively. All students admitted will be considered for a teaching assistantship. The contracts are for one year and require reapplication each year. Current academic year (nine months) wages are $10,763 for students with a bachelor's degree and $11,275 for students with a master's. In addition to the workshop taught by the School of Graduate Studies, teaching assistants are required to attend the teaching assistant workshop offered by the Biology Department before beginning their initial assignment.

A limited number of summer term teaching assistantships are available. Summer term teaching assistantships are assigned by the coordinator of graduate studies and are approved by the department head. They are awarded based on departmental need, student's preference, and special circumstances. The stipends are $3,588 for students with a bachelor's degree and $3,758 for students with a master's.

A variety of funding opportunities are available on the graduate school website.

Diane Alston, PhD, North Carolina State University
Professor, Department Head
Area: Entomology, integrated pest management
Office: LSB 340
Phone: (435) 797-2516

Michelle Baker, PhD, University of New Mexico
Associate Dean, Professor
Area: Aquatic ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry, water quality and hydrology
Office: ESLC 245
Phone: (435) 797-7131

Noelle Beckman, PhD, University of Minnesota
Assistant Professor
Area: Plant-Microbe Interactions
Office: LSB 334
Phone: (435) 797-4115

Scott Bernhardt, PhD, Colorado State University
Professional Practice Assistant, Professor
Area: Public Health/ Industrial Hygiene
Office: VSB 114C
Phone: (435) 797-3721

Erin Bobeck, PhD, Washington State University
Assistant Professor
Area: Behavioral neuroscience
Office: VSB 327
Phone: (435) 797-2489

Monica Borghi, PhD, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies
Assistant Professor
Area: Plant Physiology, Flower metabolomics
Office: LSB 331

E.W. “Ted” Evans, PhD, Cornell University
Area: Population biology, community ecology
Office: BNR 201
Phone: (435) 797-2552

Carl Farley, MSPH, University of Utah
Senior Lecturer
Area: Industrial Hygiene and Safety and Ergonomics
Office: BNR 302C
Phone: (435) 797-2566

Sara Freeman, PhD, Emory University
Assistant Professor
Area: Neuroendocrinology
Office: BioTech 309
Phone: (435) 797-0670

Susannah French, PhD, Arizona State University
Professor and Associate Department Head
Area: Physiological ecologist
Office: BNR 357
Phone: (435) 797-9175

Shana Geffeney, PhD, Utah State University
Assistant Professor
Area: Molecular Ecology

Zach Gompert, PhD, University of Wyoming
Associate Professor
Area: Evolutionary Genetics & Genomics
Office: LSB 343
Phone: (435) 797-9463

Charles Hanifin, PhD, Utah State University
Associate Professor
Area: Evolutionary Ecology of Vertebrates
Phone: (435) 797-1780

Nancy Huntly, PhD, University of Arizona
Area: Evolutionary & Community Ecology
Office: NR 314
Phone: (435) 797-2555

Justin Jones, PhD, Utah State University
Associate Professor
Area: Recombinant Spider Silk Proteins
Office: Bio innovations bldg. 205D
Phone: (435) 797-9292

Karen Kapheim, PhD, University of California
Assistant Professor
Area: Evolutionary Genomics, Behavioral Ecology
Office: LSB 339
Phone: (435) 797-0685

Frank Messina, PhD, Cornell University
Area: Ecology and Evolution of Insects
Office: LSB 324
Phone: (435) 797-2528

Claudia Nischwitz, PhD, University of Idaho
Associate Professor
Area: Plant Pathology
Office: LSB 330
Phone: (435) 797-7569

James Pitts, PhD, University of Georgia
Professor and Co-Director of Graduate Studies
Area: Evolution ecology, natural history of Hymenoptera
Office: GEOL 301
Phone: (435) 797-8872

Ricardo Ramirez, PhD, Washington State University
Associate Professor
Area: Entomology a& Pest Management
Office: VSB 329
Phone: (435) 797-8088

Norah Saarman, PhD, Yale University
Associate Professor
Area: Evolutionary Ecology and population genomics
Office: LSB 333
Phone: (435) 797-0831

Alan Savitzky, PhD, University of Kansas
Area: Evolutionary biology and conservation of amphibians and reptiles
Office: BNR 303
Phone: (435) 797-1909

Robert Schaeffer, PhD, Dartmouth College
Assistant Professor
Area: Agroecology, Chemical Ecology, Microbial Ecology
Office: LSB 341
Phone: (435) 797-0442

Lori Spears, PhD, Utah State University
Assistant Professor
Area: Invasive Species, Insect Ecology
Office: VSB 328
Phone: (435) 797-0354

John Stark, PhD, University of California – Berkeley
Area: Soil microbiology, ecology, and biogeochemistry
Office: VSB 331
Phone: (435) 797-3518

Kimberly Sullivan, PhD, Rutgers University
Associate Professor
Area: Ornithology, behavior, population ecology
Office: BNR 333
Phone: (435) 797-3713

Becky Williams, PhD, University of California
Associate Professor
Area: Chemical Ecology
Office: BEERC 221B
Phone: (435) 797-1787

Carol von Dohlen, PhD, University of Maryland – College Park
Professor, Assistant Department Head, and Co- Director of Graduate Programs
Area: Phylogenics and systems of homopterans
Office: BNR 353
Phone: (435) 797-2549

Joseph Wilson, PhD, Utah State University
Associate Professor
Area: Insect Evolutionary Ecology
Office: Sci-Tech 234 (Tooele)
Phone: (435) 797-9953

Molly Womack, PhD, Colorado State University
Assistant Professor
Area: Evolutionary Development, Morphology, Sensory Ecology
Office: LSB 335
Phone: (435) 797-0913

Professional Organizations, Honor Societies, and Clubs

Under the broad discipline of biology, there are many professional organizations specific to different areas of research. Students are encouraged to become members of organizations that are relevant to their area of study.

Biology Graduate Student Association: 

Labs, Centers, Research

Center for Advanced Nutrition: The CAN provides a multi-disciplinary venue for the discussion, discovery, and dissemination of information about the biological, physiological, and psychological mechanisms of proper nutrition. The scope of discovery is broad and falls into four distinct but overlapping focus areas: bioactive foods, nutrition and the brain, ingestive behavior, and personalized nutrition.

Center for Integrated BioSystems: The CIB leads a progressive, interdisciplinary effort in research, core services, and education serving agriculture and life sciences. The CIB is where the first hybrid animal, a mule, was cloned, and was named one of “30 Awesome College Labs” by Popular Science magazine. The CIB has a research program with several active projects in diverse areas of life science that encompass plant, animal, and microbe functional genomics.

Ecology Center: The Ecology Center is an administrative structure in the university that supports and coordinates ecological research and graduate education in the science of ecology and provides professional information and advice for decision makers considering actions that affect the environment. The Ecology Center at USU has had a string of directors known nationally and worldwide as premier scientists in the field of ecology, and students graduating with a degree in ecology are able to make important contacts with influential faculty that can help them go on to prestigious post-doctoral programs and faculty positions at universities around the world.

Energy Dynamics Laboratory: EDL bridges the gap between academia and industry, confronting the challenges of prototyping, deployment, and commercialization of enabling technologies for renewable and advanced energy systems. USU researchers originate projects to derive energy from non-fossil fuels, such as biofuels, wind, and solar power. With EDL’s collaboration, research develops through pilot projects to commercial application.

Energy Laboratory: This lab seeks to develop solutions to America's most intractable energy problems through scientific and technological innovation. It provides a cohesive framework permitting faculty, students, and partnering institutions to focus on contemporary energy-related research issues.

Environmental Quality Laboratory: The EQL is located at the Utah Water Research Lab and is equipped for analyses of organic and inorganic constituents in air, water, and soil. The EQL consists of chemistry, microbiology, radiological and analytical instrumentation laboratories, two constant-temperature rooms, and research project areas.

Institute for Antiviral Research: The IAR is comprised of a recognized team of scientists representing a spectrum of disciplines, who are researching ways to control viral diseases. The IAR has been involved with the pre-clinical development of several FDA-approved drugs, including Tamiflu, which was recently used to combat H1N1. The main areas of emphasis are respiratory diseases such as influenza and infections caused by emerging viruses, including West Nile virus.

Institute for Natural Systems Engineering: The INSE is a recognized leader in the development, testing, and application of multi-disciplinary assessment methods for aquatic ecosystems and instream flow assessment methodologies.

Intermountain Herbarium: The Intermountain Herbarium serves as a primary source of information on the flora and fungi of the Intermountain region, both native and introduced, and fosters increased understanding and appreciation of the floristic diversity of the area.

Metabolic Engineering Laboratory: Research areas in this lab include the discovery and identification of bioactive natural products, biosynthetic mechanisms of pharmaceutically important compounds, characterization and development of biocatalysts for structural modification, as well as improvement of useful enzymes using protein-engineering approaches. Combinatorial biosynthesis of novel biologically significant compounds for drug discovery is also being investigated.

Synthetic Biomanufacturing Center: SBC uses the chemical makeup present in single-cell organisms to transform raw materials into environmentally friendly products, such as low-cost bioplastics, biodiesel, light energy, and pharmaceuticals.

USDA ARS Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory: The Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory identifies toxic plants, and its interdisciplinary teams of chemists, geneticists, pathologists, physiologists, plant and range scientists, toxicologists and veterinarians provide an interdisciplinary approach of applied and basic research to develop solutions to intoxication.

Utah Botanical Center: The UBC, located in Kaysville, Utah, is home to research and demonstration projects focused on sustainable living in the Intermountain West. Studies of water conservation, horticulture, water quality enhancement, wetland ecology, integrated pest management, urban forestry, agriculture, fish and wildlife, highway enhancement, and storm-water management combine to make the center a living laboratory.

Water Initiative: Utah State University supports a broad community of students and faculty engaged in water education, research, and outreach. The USU Water Initiative provides an overarching umbrella for the activities of this community aimed at fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and collegial sharing of ideas related to water across the departments and colleges of USU.



Academic Advising

Anthony Sterenchak
Graduate Programs Coordinator
Office: BNR 117E
Phone: (435) 797-1770

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