PhD in Computational Biology & Bioinformatics

Program of Study

During the first year, the student’s program is under the direction of an initial guidance committee composed of members of the admissions committee. Students take appropriate courses in mathematics and also join the molecular biology graduate students in the course BISC 502a, Graduate Molecular Biology. Before the end of the first year, the student must form a guidance committee consisting of an advisor and four other faculty members, including at least one from another department. Thereafter, the student’s program of studies and dissertation are under the direction of the permanent guidance committee and the dissertation committee.

Screening Procedure

The screening examination should be taken by the end of the second semester in the program. If the student fails the examination, the department, at its discretion, may permit the student to take it again during the next semester. The screening examination consists of written examinations on topics including molecular biology, mathematical probability, and statistics.

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination should be taken within two semesters following successful completion of the screening examination. The written portion of the Qualifying Examination consists of a dissertation proposal. This document should include: introduction, statement of the problem, literature survey, methodology, summary of preliminary results, proposed research, references, and appendix (including one or two fundamental references). The oral portion of the Qualifying Examination consists of presentation of the Ph.D. dissertation proposal. The student must demonstrate research potential.

Course Requirements

The student must complete, with no grade lower than a B, a minimum of 60 units of courses carrying graduate credit and approved by the guidance committee. The required courses include: BISC 502a, CSCI 570, MATH 505a, MATH 541a, MATH 578ab, and MATH 650. An additional 6 units of elective courses will be taken in consultation with the student’s advisor. Students must register for a minimum of 4 units of dissertation research (BISC 794ab).

Transfer of Credit

No transfer of credit will be considered until the screening examination is passed. A maximum of 30 units of graduate work at another institution may be applied toward the course requirements for the Ph.D. A grade of B- or lower will not be accepted and, at most, two grades of B will be accepted. A Ph.D. candidate may petition the department for transfer of additional credit, after he or she passes the Qualifying Examination.


Following passage of the screening examination and approval of a dissertation topic by the guidance committee, the student begins research toward the dissertation under the supervision of the dissertation committee. The primary requirement of the Ph.D. is an acceptable dissertation based on a substantial amount of original research conducted by the student.

  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • University of Southern California
  • Allan Hancock Foundation Building
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0371