Degree Requirements & Sequence of Events

All students are required to complete a series of core courses related to the interdisciplinary nature of the program.  Students will choose the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCD) concentration or the Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B) concentration.  The Ph.D. acknowledges the value of course work as background and preparatory for research, but the primary emphasis of the program is on the development of research skills, critical thinking, the completion of a research project, and publications in peer-reviewed journals on a significant problem in the biological sciences. Given that the Ph.D. degree is centered on original research, it is expected that a student will have a minimum of two peer-reviewed publications based on original research accepted, in press, or published at the time of the Defense. The individual Major Advisor or Supervisory Committee have the discretion to require or approve a different number of publications as appropriate for the field of study.

Appropriate progression through the doctoral program requires that students meet the Progression Deadlines outlined below. If a student cannot meet a required deadline, they should submit a Request for Extension.

Failure to meet progression deadlines without approved extensions will negatively influence the ability to receive an assistanship and can result in termination from the program.

Doctoral students are required to complete a Student Progression Report at the end of each semester after final grades have been assigned and before the beginning of the next semester of graduate study. The form must be signed and dated by the student and the Dissertation Advisor and submitted to the Graduate Coordinator.

Please note: These requirements are subject to change. Students will be held to the requirements in place when they matriculate into the program.


1. Plan of Study

The program requires 72 post baccalaureate credit hours to include the following required courses:

  • 9 credit hours of required core curriculum -- BIOL 8101 Hypothesis Testing, BIOL 8102 Advanced Cellular and Molecular Biology, BIOL 8140 Evolutionary Biology
  • 3 credit hours of required core elective -- for MCD concentration: BIOL 8270 Biological Pathways and Metabolism OR for E3B concentration BIOL 8241 Environmental Biology
  • 2 credit hours of Responsible Conduct of Research RCR course -- BIOL 8260 Careers in Bioscience: Professional Development and Responsible Conduct OR GRAD 8002 Responsible Conduct of Research
  • 1 credit hour BIOL 8201 Seminar: Skills and Practice 
  • minimum of 6 credit hours of electives of the student's choosing at the 5000 or 8000 level
  • minimum of 18 credit hours of BIOL8999 Doctoral Dissertation Research

All students are required to take this core sequence of courses as shown above. Substitutions of a course for another course may be requested. All substitutions must be approved by the student's Dissertation Committee and the Program Director. A list and description of courses can be found at (Courses). Given the interdisciplinary nature of the program, students are strongly encouraged, in consultation with the major advisor and Dissertation Committee, to take elective courses in STEM-related departments including but not limited to Bioinformatics and Genomics, Nanoscale Science, Chemistry, Biophysics, Engineering, Kinesiology, Geography and Earth Sciences.


Students must enroll in 9 credit hours each semester to maintain full time status. A typical sequence of study would be:

Year 1: 

  • Fall--BIOL 8101 Hypothesis Testing (3 hours),  BIOL 8260 Careers in Bioscience (2 hours) OR other appropriate RCR course, concentration core elective if offered BIOL 8241 Environmental Biology (E3B core, 3 hours) or BIOL 8270 Biological Pathways and Metabolism (MCD core, 3 hours) --because concentration electives are offered every other year students should take this elective in either Year 1 or Year 2 when offered--BIOL 8999 Research and Thesis, or BIOL 8800 Laboratory Research Rotation if needed. 
  • Spring--BIOL 8102 Advanced Cellular and Molecular Biology (3 hours), BIOL 8140 Evolutionary Biology (3 hours) OR concentration core elective if offered BIOL 8241 Environmental Biology (E3B core, 3 hours) or BIOL 8270 Biological Pathways and Metabolism (MCD core, 3 hours) --because concentration electives are offered every other year students should take this elective in either Year 1 or Year 2 when offered--,  BIOL 8201 Seminar (1 hour), BIOL 8999 Research and Thesis, or BIOL 8800 Laboratory Research Rotation if needed.
  • Select Major Dissertation Advisor by end of 2nd semester. A Dissertation Advisor can dismiss a student at any time because of poor performance under their direction or failure to demonstrate timely progression towards the degree. If a student is dismissed by his/her Dissertation Advisor, it is the student’s responsibility to arrange for a replacement advisor within 4 months. If no faculty member has agreed to serve as the Major Advisor within the designated time period, the student will be terminated from the program. 

Year 2:

  • BIOL 8140 Evolutionary Biology (3 hours), concentration core elective if offered BIOL 8241 Environmental Biology (E3B core, 3 hours) or BIOL 8270 Biological Pathways and Metabolism (MCD core, 3 hours) --because concentration electives are offered every other year students should take this elective in either Year 1 or Year 2 when offered. Electives to be selected by students in consultation with their major advisor and Dissertation Committee; BIOL 8999 Research and Thesis.
  • Establish Dissertation Committee by end of 3rd semester and complete and submit the Appointment of Doctoral Committee (submit to Graduate Program Director). 
  • Program of Study/Curriculum Contract approved by Dissertation Committee (complete and submit both parts to Graduate Program Director) 
    • Plan of Study for MCD concentration or Plan of Study for E3B concentration. Plan of Study MCD or Plan of Study E3B form may be requested from the Biology Graduate Coordinator
    • Curriculum Contract Page 2 The curriculum contract page 2 includes the 5 areas of study for the written component of the Qualifying Exam:
      • two areas associated with the required Ph.D. core curriculum (see list of 50 Core Area Choices)
      • one area of the student’s specific research interest and thesis research
      • one area selected by the student’s Major Advisor or Dissertation committee typically related to elective coursework and thesis research concentration of the student
      • one area selected by the student typically related to elective coursework and thesis research concentration of the student.

Year 3: 

  • Completion of Electives. BIOL 6800 Tutorial (2 hours) is recommended for students who wish to receive the non-thesis Master's degree while continuing to complete their Ph.D. (see below #7). 
  • Advancement to Candidacy:
    • The dissertation proposal defense may occur together OR separately from the oral Qualifying Exam to be determined in consultation with the Major Advisor.
    • Qualifying Examination. The Qualifying Exam consists of two parts -- a written portion (taken first), followed by an oral portion (taken only after passing the written portion). The written portion of the Qualifying Exam must be taken by the end of the 5th semester of study. Upon successful completion of both written and oral parts complete the Report of Qualifying Exam ... for Doctoral and/or Master's Students (complete and submit to Graduate Coordinator). The oral component must be taken by the end of the semester after the Committee announces the student passed the written component, typically by the end of the 6th semester.
    • Dissertation Research Proposal and Defense. Submit and defend a written proposal and have Dissertation Committee approve the written dissertation proposal by no later than the end of 6th semester of study.  Proposal Defense for Doctoral Dissertation and/or Master's Thesis (complete and submit to Graduate Coordinator). Signature sheet for Dissertation Proposal defense (complete, attach to dissertation thesis proposal, and submit to Graduate Coordinator)
  • BIOL 8999 Research and Thesis.
  • Ph.D. students may choose to receive the non-thesis M.S. degree while continuing to work toward the doctoral degree provided they have successfully achieved Advancement to Candidacy and completed at least 30 hours of coursework, including two hours of Tutorial BIOL 6800.  Obtaining the non-thesis M.S. requires dual enrollment in the Ph.D. and M.S. programs.  Doctoral students can apply for enrollment in the M.S. program after entering the Ph.D. program.  

Years 4 onward:

  • BIOL 8999 Research and Thesis. After Advancement to Candidacy and completion of 72 hours, students may submit an academic petition to enroll in GRAD 9800 for 3 credit hours each semester. This enrollment will maintain full time student status. This enrollment will decrease the student fees charged each semester.
  • No registration during the summer is required EXCEPT if the student will defend the Dissertation since enrollment in 1 credit hour is required in the term/session of graduation. BIOL8999 1 credit hr is only offered with the Graduate Program Director as the Instructo of Record.
  • The student is required to meet with the Dissertation Committee once a year after Advancement to Candidacy. This provides the Committee with an opportunity to give input for the student’s research and spot deficiencies, if any, in his/her course of conducting dissertation research.
  • Each dissertation is expected to be a significant scientific contribution based on independent and original research, resulting in publications in national/international peer-reviewed journals by the time of the dissertation defense.

A Dissertation Major Advisor can dismiss a student at any time because of poor performance under their direction or failure to demonstrate timely progression towards the degree. If a student is dismissed by his/her Dissertation Advisor, it is the student’s responsibility to arrange for a replacement advisor within 4 months. If no faculty member has agreed to serve as the Major Advisor within the designated time period, the student will be terminated from the program. The student must notify the Graduate Coordinator of the new Major Advisor using the Appointment of Doctoral Committee form


2. Proportion of courses open only to graduate students and electives.

All the basic core courses and seminar courses are open to graduate students only. Lab rotations are restricted to doctoral students. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the program, students are strongly encouraged, in consultation with the major advisor and Dissertation Committee, to take elective courses in STEM-related departments including but not limited to Bioinformatics and Genomics, Nanoscale Science, Chemistry, Biophysics, Engineering, Kinesiology, Geography and Earth Sciences. 


3. Grades required.

A student must maintain a cumulative average of 3.0 in all course work taken for graduate credit. Lab rotations and the doctoral dissertation research will be graded on a Pass/Unsatisfactory basis and therefore will not be included in the cumulative average. An accumulation of two C grades will result in termination of the student's enrollment in the graduate program. If a student makes a grade of U in any course, enrollment in the program will be terminated.


4. Amount of transfer credit accepted.

Only courses with grades of A or B may be accepted for transfer credit. Courses graded as IP/P cannot be transferred. Only courses appropriate for the program and curriculum in which the student is enrolled may be transferred. This should be determined by the student's Dissertation Committee and approved by the Graduate Program Director before the request is submitted to the Graduate School. This rule applies whether the courses were taken at UNC Charlotte or elsewhere. Graduate Academic Petition for transfer of credit is available online on the Graduate School website. No Research and Thesis credit hours may be transferred from one program into another regardless of whether they were earned at UNC Charlotte or another university. 

For PhD program students who completed graduate level coursework post-baccalaureate (non-degree seeking) student at UNC Charlotte or another univeristy: A maximum of 6 credit hours may be transferred.

For PhD program students who completed graduate level coursework at another univeristy enrolled in a MS program but did not complete the degree: A maximum of 6 credit hours may be transferred. 

For PhD program students who completed graduate level coursework at UNC Charlotte or another univeristy and did complete and earn the MS degree: A maximum of 30 credit hours may be transferred.

For PhD program students who transferred from our MS program into the PhD program without earning the MS degree: ​

  • Meet with the Graduate Program Director to discuss the transfer process and required academic petitions.
  • A maximum of 30 credit hours may be transferred.
  • Students may remian dual enrolled in the two programs and earn the non-thesis MS degree as long as students enroll in Tutorial BIOL6800.
  • Submit a Graduate Academic Petition to late withdraw from any Research and Thesis credit received while in the Master's program.  

5. Laboratory research rotations.
Laboratory research rotations allow the student to sample areas of research and become familiar with program faculty. Although not required, each student student can enroll in up to three rotations, each of two hours of course credit, before the end of the 3rd semester of the program. Each rotation will consist of a minimum of 4 weeks, and there is no expectation that the work done during the rotation will result in a publication. Incoming students should establish roations with individual faculty prior to beginning the program.

The purpose of a laboratory rotation is to learn and perform techniques associated with the lab, and to potentially identify a Dissertation Advisor. A typical rotation will involve 5-10 hours per week in the laboratory for a minimum of 4 weeks. Generation of sufficient data to result in publication of a manuscript is not an expectation of a rotation experience. A student must meet with the sponsoring faculty member to determine what will be done during the rotation, i.e. techniques to be learned and identification of the project to be completed. At the end each rotation, the student must write a one page synopsis of the rotation to be signed by the sponsoring faculty member and turned in to the Graduate Coordinator. At the end of rotations, the student must identify a Dissertation Advisor. A rotation does not guarantee placement in a laboratory. It is the student's responsibility to identify a Dissertation Advisor to remain in the program.


6. Departmental seminars. Graduate students are required to attend all seminars sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences.


7. Research Presentation. Each student is required to make a 20-minute presentation after entering his/her 2nd year or after Advancement to Candidacy on his/her research. This requirement may be fulfilled by one of the following options: (1) at a departmental seminar or (2) an equivalent scientific meeting or conference oral presentation or (3) an open thesis proposal defense. In the case of option 3, the student’s proposal defense will be announced and deemed open to all students and faculty. After presenting, the question section will be closed except to the student’s Major Advisor and Dissertation Committee members.  The chosen format of the 20 minute presentation must be approved by the student’s Major Advisor and Dissertation Committee. The Graduate Program Director will work out the logistics with the department seminar coordinator concerning the arrangement of students’ presentations.


8. Advancement to Candidacy. A student advances to candidacy after passing both the written and oral components of the Qualifying Examination and following defense and approval of the dissertation research proposal by the student’s Dissertation Committee and the Dean of the Graduate School.


9.  Obtaining the Non-thesis M.S. while completing the Ph.D. degree. Ph.D. students may choose to receive the non-thesis M.S. degree while continuing to work toward the doctoral degree provided they have successfully completed the Candidacy Exam and completed at least 30 hours of coursework, including two hours of Tutorial BIOL 6800 culminating in a written assignment developed in consultation with the student’s major advisor.  Obtaining the non-thesis M.S. requires dual enrollment in the Ph.D. and M.S. programs.  Doctoral students can apply for enrollment in the M.S. program after entering the Ph.D. program. 


10. Dissertation.

The doctoral program of study must include a minimum of 18 credit hours of Doctoral Dissertation Research. The student must complete and defend a dissertation based on a research program approved by the student's Dissertation Committee which results in a high quality, original and substantial piece of research and publications accepted in peer reviewed journals. The student must orally present and successfully defend the dissertation to the student's Dissertation Committee in a defense that is open to the public.

Given that the Ph.D. degree is centered on original research, it is expected that a P.D. candidate will have peer-reviewed publications based on original research accepted, in press, or published at the time of the Defense. The individual Major Advisor or Dissertation Committee have the discretion to require or approve a different number of publications as appropriate for the field of study.

Choosing a Dissertation defense date should be made in consultation with the Dissertation Committee. The final version of the Dissertation should be given to each Committee member and the Graduate Coordinator at least three weeks prior to the public defense, unless a Committee member indicates that his/her copy may be provided with less time. Reprints, proofs, or copies of publication(s) reporting results described in the dissertation shall be included in the dissertation as part of the appendix. Except for unusual or extenuating circumstances, publication(s) of original work must be in review, press, or in print by the time of the dissertation defense.


11. Teaching Every student must obtain skills in teaching at least once. This requirement is satisfied by being a Teaching Assistant for one course section.


12. Time limits for completion. All requirements for the degree must be completed within nine years after first registration as a doctoral student. The student must achieve Advancement to Candidacy within six years after admission to the program and complete all requirements within six years after Advancement to Candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. These time limits are maximums; students will typically be expected to complete all the degree requirements in five years.


NOW I AM READY TO GRADUATE WHAT DO I NEED TO DO?

1. See Graduate Coordinator at the end of the semester/summer session BEFORE you plan to graduate to review the process and consult your Degree Works file to ensure all milestones and courses are correct. View the Graduation Checklist for the appropriate semester.

2.  Apply for Graduation. To apply to graduate with a graduate doctoral, master's or graduate certificate degree: Log into my.uncc.edu, select Banner Self-Service, Student Services, Student Records, and Online Graduation Application. Click "Continue" if this is the first time a graduation application has been submitted, or "Create a New Application" if one has been submitted previously. After completing all sections, click the "Submit" button.

  • This is due by the 8th instructional day of the semester in which you will graduate. If you change your graduation date, you will need to resubmit.

3. Change of IP grades to P. For individualized instruction courses, such as Research and Thesis BIOL8999, an “IP” grade is received up until the semester in which a student graduates. During the semester in which a student graduates, those grades need to be changed. A copy of your Degree Works audit page will list all such courses which need a grade change. Take the print out to your Advisor and have he/she make changes to each course in the Banner system. If there are additional courses to be changed, consult with the Graduate Coordinator. 

4. Dissertation Oral Presentation and Defense

  • Each Dissertation is expected to be a significant scientific contribution based on independent and original research, resulting in publications in national/international peer-reviewed journals by the time of the dissertation defense. It is expected that a Ph.D. candidate will have a minimum of two peer-reviewed publications based on original research accepted, in press, or published at the time of the Defense. The individual Major Advisor or Dissertation Committee have the discretion to require or approve a different number of publications as appropriate for the field of study.
  • Choosing a Dissertation defense date should be made in consultation with the Dissertation Committee. Work with Ms. Ruthie Mosier in the departmental office to obtain a suitable room on campus. Work with Ruthie Mosier to print our at least 10 copies of your dissertation presentation announcements and display them prominently around Woodward. Notify the Graduate Program Director with the date, time, and location of the defense. 
  • The final version of the Dissertation should be given to each Committee member and the Graduate Coordinator at least three weeks prior to the public defense. Complete the initial thesis format appointment by the Graduate School deadline (see Graduation Checklist). If all Committee members and the program coordinator agree to accept a copy with less time, the final version may be submitted up to at least two weeks prior to the public defense. The Dissertation Oral Presentation and Defense must occur at least one week before the deadline set by the Graduate School for the submission of the approved dissertation (see Graduation Checklist). Students are strongly encouraged to schedule the dissertation defense well in advance of the stated deadline, to ensure sufficient time to incorporate revisions to the dissertation required by the Dissertation Committee.
  • If one of your Committee members must attend the defense remotely please complete the Remote Participation Approval form. Approvals must be made well in advance of the defense.
  • Successful completion of Dissertation Oral Presentation and Defense. Defense Report for Doctoral Dissertation and/or Master's Thesis by each committee member (complete and submit to Graduate Program Director).  
  • Submit copy of final Dissertation to the Graduate School. Submission and ETD Signature - Dissertation/Thesis. The Dissertation/Thesis Submission Form combined with the ETD Form to accompany your dissertation or thesis submission and the student and committee acknowledgment of electronic document submission.