Graduate School of Medical Sciences
A partnership with the Sloan Kettering Institute

Physiology, Biophysics & Systems Biology

Weill Cornell Graduate School Physiology Biophysics System Biology


Physiology, Biophysics & Systems Biology graduate program at WCGS is designed to engage students with research at the forefront of biomedical engineering sciences: physiology, the functions of cells, tissues, and organs; biophysics, the application of principles of physics to biological processes; and systems, the complex interactions between components of a biological system. The outlook of the education and research program is quantitative, based on state of the art approaches in genomics, bioinformatics and computational biology, major areas of molecular and cellular biophysics (including fluorescence microscopy and single molecule imaging, crystallography, electrophysiology and membrane systems, stem cells, and computational simulations of macromolecular systems), computational and systems neuroscience, organogenesis and development, learning, memory, and behavior. These approaches make it possible to integrate, in the research activities of the program's faculty, the findings from genetics, structural biology, and cell and molecular biology with principles and representations from mathematics, computer science and statistics, physics, and engineering.

Together, these offer unprecedented insights into systems and functions of physiological components (e.g., from the cell to the heart, and from the neuron to the nervous system). This new integrative perspective, termed integrative systems biology, complements and completes the study of structure and mechanisms of the body's building blocks from their embryonic development to their mature function, in both healthy and diseased states.

The PBSB faculty members are engaged in world-class research aimed at understanding the functional mechanisms in the human body in health and disease, and represent multidisciplinary research teams with appointments in various departments, including Physiology and Biophysics, Medicine, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Radiology, Computational Biomedicine, Neuroscience, Genetics, and Cell and Developmental Biology.

Graduate students in PBSB participate in the design and evolution of these approaches and in their innovative application to state-of-the-art research in human structure and function. The course of study in the PBSB program is organized into modular courses and seminars offering education at the conceptual level, as well as in the experimental and computational tools of the component disciplines (physiology, biophysics and systems biology), and emphasizes quantitative methods and approaches. PBSB faculty pride themselves in a very distinguished and successful track record of mentoring graduate students and preparing them for a variety of scientific careers in science.

Additional information is available on the Physiology and Biophysics Department website.

Program Requirements


Applicants should have a strong undergraduate background and record of achievement in the biological sciences, including biochemistry, molecular genetics and microbiology, along with undergraduate laboratory research experience. Strong backgrounds in chemistry, physics or computer science are also encouraged.

The application requires a personal statement describing the student's background and specific interest in the PBSB program. Applicants are not required to take the General Graduate Record Examination. Applicants whose native language is not English are required to take the TOEFL examination.

See Apply Online for application procedures.

Becoming a Doctoral Candidate

The program of study is designed around a combination of didactic courses, seminars and supervised research leading to the preparation of a thesis. Each student works with a Special Committee to design an individualized program of study that reflects his/her specific background and interests. Regularly scheduled meetings with faculty ensure that the student's educational program progresses as planned.

Classroom education during the first two years consists of three core courses, two seminar course series, a responsible conduct of research course and two electives. In the first year, formal coursework is complemented by participation in journal clubs, as well as three laboratory rotations. More information about PBSB program courses is available at Courses.

The required laboratory rotations provide the opportunity to participate in the diverse research activities that are available within the program. This experience is designed to assist the student in selecting major and minor sponsors for their thesis research.

By the end of the first quarter of the second year, each student typically selects a thesis lab and major sponsor (thesis advisor). Once a thesis lab is chosen, the student selects a Special Committee consisting of the student's major sponsor and two minor sponsors chosen from among members of the Graduate School faculty with expertise in the student's thesis research area.

The Special Committee meets at least once a year to discuss research progress and future directions with the student. The Special Committee also serves as the core group of examiners for the student's Admission to Candidacy Exam (ACE) and thesis defense examination.

The ACE consists of two parts: a uniform written exam and an oral exam, which includes discussion of a written research proposal. Students are expected to take this exam by the end of June of their second year. The exam provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate that they have attained the requisite breadth of knowledge to continue in the PhD program and are prepared to undertake full-time thesis research.

After completing the ACE, the student's annual (or more frequent) meetings with the Special Committee provide the forum for the student to report on his/her progress and agree upon future research directions.

PhD Research and Degree

Thesis research is typically completed within four to six years of tenure in the program, under the direction of the student's major sponsor. The Special Committee advises the student in his/her research and oversees development of the thesis. During this time the student continues to actively participate as a student within the PBSB Program, but works full time in his/her thesis laboratory.

The culmination of the student's successful progression through the program is the final examination (the "defense") and certification by the Special Committee that the thesis represents an official piece of research that satisfies the requirements of the Graduate School for a PhD degree.

Student Handbook

To view the PBSB Student Handbook, click here.

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