The field of biology is broad and within it are multiple specializations from which students pursuing online biology graduate programs can choose. These concentrations include biochemistry, molecular biology, wildlife biology, cellular biology, and more. Regardless of the specialization chosen, students will learn about laboratory technology, biological processes, and biometry. They will conduct experiments and research to reach conclusions. Students will also hone their communication skills, as being able to write laboratory reports and interact with instructors and peers are essential skills for success as a biology PhD program student.
Online PhD programs in biology are specifically designed for students who want to pursue a career in academia or research. The programs expect students to have a foundation in life sciences prior to being admitted, so acquiring at least a bachelor's degree in a field related to biology is essential for success in graduate programs. Students who have a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field may be asked to complete certain undergraduate course work requirements prior to applying. Doctoral programs also expect students to have experience with research and laboratory work.
About Online PhD Programs in Biology
The exact classes that online biology PhD degree students will take will vary based on the students' specializations. However, all students should take classes in research, communications, graduate foundations, and critical analysis. Depending upon the major area of study, students may also take classes in molecular biology, plant biology, genetics, and immunobiology. Some programs also include classes on organizational behavior and biological chemistry. Listed below are some specific classes that online PhD programs in biology may require students to take. The classes come from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington‘s Ph.D. program in marine biology.
- Physiology and Biochemistry. Specifically, this class delves into the physiology of marine life, including animals, plants, and single-cell organisms.
- Cellular and Molecular Biology. This class focuses on the cellular makeup of marine organisms. Specific topics vary by term.
- Evolution and Diversity. As a look into the evolution of marine life forms over time, this class examines how genetics have played a role in creating diverse organisms.
- Oceanography and Environmental Science. This is a general course that explores issues, problems, and topics that are relevant to environmental science and marine biology.
- Ecology. This class provides a look into marine ecological systems and how they develop and evolve.
- Seminars. By offering varying topics, seminar classes allow students to delve into their research interests.
Many biology Ph.D. programs require students to complete a dissertation, which is a thorough research project, prior to graduating. Students typically take classes leading up to their dissertations to plan them out and conduct research. Then, students will write a report on their research and present the report to faculty members. Some examples of biology dissertation topics include the role that genes play in cancer, stem cell research, and the role of certain organisms within ecological systems. In addition to completing a dissertation, students will likely have to fulfill laboratory components before they complete their degree requirements.
Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Biology
The best students for online Ph.D. programs in biology are those who are interested in research and learning about a specific biological field. Those who wish to establish careers within academia and those who wish to teach college-level courses could benefit from a Ph.D. in this field. However, students who prefer to work as laboratory technicians or research assistants do not need to pursue a doctoral degree and may find that their interests are better-served by bachelor's and master's degrees. Students who struggle with life sciences, chemistry, and physiology may want to consider a different field as well, as biology instruction will contain some lessons and classes over those other areas of science.
Online classes require that students be organized and independent. For students that struggle with motivation, the structure of a physical classroom may be a better alternative to online biology graduate degrees. Students that have trouble with time management may also benefit from a more traditional degree. Laboratory requirements for online classes will vary, but in some cases, online students may need to access a lab in their areas. If that is not a possibility, contact your university's admissions office to get more information on how those requirements may be fulfilled.
Application & Admission Requirements
Students must have at least a bachelor's degree before applying for a graduate biology program. Typically, students need to have maintained a GPA of 3.0 during their undergraduate science course work. Students must submit transcripts, GRE test scores, and a resume or curriculum vitae to be considered for doctoral candidacy. In addition, recommendation letters are usually required, although the exact number will vary depending upon the program. Finally, students should also furnish proof of field work, thesis work, and previous research. If students pass the initial application process, they may be called in to complete an interview process.
Career Options & Job Market
Graduates from online Ph.D. programs in biology have the option to pursue careers as scientists. Exact career opportunities will vary by specialization. Students that study wildlife biology can go on to become zoologists or wildlife biologists, a career that averages $57,430 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For biochemistry students, a career as a biochemist is a possibility. The BLS reports that biochemists can bring in $79,390 annually. Microbiology students can become microbiologists, who earn around $65,920 annually, according to the BLS. And finally, graduates can establish careers in academia as post secondary instructors as well. Regardless of the profession chosen by the student, exact salary numbers will vary depending upon location, experience, and employer
Where to Find Information
- American Institute of Biological Sciences A professional association for scientists, researchers, and biology enthusiasts.
- The American Society for Cell Biology Specifically concerned with molecular and cellular biology, this association provides resources and networking opportunities.
How to Get Funding
Many professional biology associations like those listed above provide students with the opportunity to apply for scholarships, grants, or research fellowships. In addition, there are many private options that may offer help with paying for tuition. Some companies and local societies offer scholarship programs. The federal government also has financial aid programs to help graduate students afford higher education. Listed below are some resources.
- Federal Direct Stafford Loan. Provided at a fixed interest rate of 6.8%, this loan awards up to $20,500 annually for Ph.D. students.
- Federal Perkins Loan. This loan option is awarded at a fixed interest rate of 5% and is offered based on financial need. Students can earn an average of $3,500 per academic year.
- Campus-Based Aid. All accredited institutions participate in federal aid programs, however many also offer their own financial aid programs as well. Students can contact their schools' financial aid departments to learn more.
- Take science classes as an undergraduate student. These will prepare you for your graduate-level studies and will keep you from having to take additional prerequisite classes before enrolling in a Ph.D. program.
- Try to find a job or internship working in a laboratory or in biological research. This will improve your chances of being admitted into a doctoral program.
- Keep track of any research and thesis projects that you do, as admissions departments will want to see copies as part of your application package.
- If you are having trouble with the admissions process, don't be afraid to ask for help. Admissions officers are there to provide guidance and assistance with applications and enrollment.