Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology (BMEBT), PhD

The Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and Worcester Campuses of the University of Massachusetts offer a joint PhD degree program in Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology. The program's purpose is to offer a nationally recognized PhD that is at the intersection of biology and engineering; that will be readily accessible to individuals with a wide range of science/engineering undergraduate degrees; that will address contemporary biomedical/health research problems; and that will contribute significantly to meeting the workforce needs of allied biomedical industries.


Applicants from many different science/engineering undergraduate programs are invited to apply. Because the degree brings together biomedical engineering with biotechnology, it is designed equally for students with life sciences or engineering/physical science backgrounds. One's specific background will be of less interest in determining qualification for entrance than will be one's personal and career goals, demonstrated academic ability and research potential, and commitment to an interdisciplinary, team-work approach. Individuals applying to this program should apply to ONE of the four participating campuses.

Applications will be accepted from individuals holding appropriate bachelor's degrees or master's degrees (or the US baccalaureate equivalents from a foreign institution). Applicants should have a background in life science, physical science, or engineering. All applicants must have taken a full year (two semester or three quarter sequence) of calculus.

General Admissions Requirements 

  • Submission of the graduate admissions application form.
  • A distinguished undergraduate transcript; competitive students generally have at least a 3.0 overall GPA although lower grades can be acceptable.
  • A bachelor's degree or its equivalent, from a 4-year college or university of recognized standing.
  • Official transcripts of all graduate and undergraduate work. (Two copies of each transcript must be sent directly to the University's Office of Graduate Admissions and Records. A final transcript showing that the bachelor's degree has been awarded must be received before the student can enter the program.)
  • Three letters of recommendation.
  • Submissions of scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Combined Aptitude Test.
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL official test score) is required for international applicants. For more information regarding minimal TOEFL scores go to Graduate Admissions.

The stated interests of a prospective student must coincide to an acceptable degree with the faculty specialties represented in the program. The Biology Graduate Committee in conjunction with the Director of Graduate Programs in Biology is responsible for reviewing applications and for recommending candidates to the Dean of Graduate Studies.

Transfer Credit Policy

Applicants who have completed appropriate graduate course work at other accredited institutions may transfer the equivalent of six credits toward UMass Boston graduate degree requirements from courses in which the applicant received a grade of B or higher. These courses may be used provided that they have not been used to fulfill requirements for another degree, and were completed no more than seven years before the applicant's matriculation of UMass Boston. Transfer credit is subject to the final approval of the graduate program director and the Dean of Graduate Studies.

Costs and Financial Aid

As a public university, the costs of attending UMass Boston are moderate, especially for students who qualify as residents of Massachusetts. Financial aid is available in the form of grants, loans, and a limited number of assistantships that provide a stipend and remission of tuition.

For information about financial assistance please visit the Office of Financial Aid Services

Degree Requirements

Soon after entering the program, the student will be assigned an academic advisor, who must be a full-time member of the Biology Department faculty. Within six months, the student and academic advisor will choose an Academic Advisory Committee (AAC) and will submit this proposed committee for approval to the Graduate Program Director (GPD) in Biology and the Biology Graduate Committee, which oversees all aspects of graduate study in environmental biology. The AAC will comprise the academic advisor and two additional members in the student's area of interest. The student, in consultation with the AAC, will plan an appropriate course of study. During the first year of graduate study and until a dissertation committee has been established, the AAC will monitor the student's progress. The academic advisor and the student will provide a yearly progress report to the GPD and the Graduate Committee. The student can change his or her academic advisor or rearrange his or her AAC with the approval of the GPD. Current course work requirements are below.

Curriculum Overview

This chart gives the curriculum in tabular form. Below, each specific curricular element is described in detail. There are course equivalents at many or most of the participating University of Massachusetts campuses. Please consult there graduate bulletins for specific information.

Core Course Requirements (16 credits)

  • The core courses provide a common foundation for all students, either from life science or physical science/engineering backgrounds.

Introduction to Biomedical Engineering & Biotechnology (3 credits)

  • This course should be taken in a student's first semester in the program if possible. This team-taught introductory course emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach to current topics in the range of academic disciplines and gives students their first exposure to faculty research areas within Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology. The course, as much as possible, involves faculty from all participating campuses. Speakers from industry are also invited to present topics of contemporary importance. 
    • Course Equivalent at UMass Boston: The UMass Boston campus developed Biol 697B taught by Dr. R. Jensen "Molecular Genomics and Biotechnology" for this core, however this course is currently not offered. Bio 625, Genomics and Biotechnology, also provides exposure to the same.

Instrumentation and Laboratory Experience (3 credits)

  • This course is designed to be a practical, hands-on lab rotation course and give students exposure to cutting-edge research methodology in a number of different areas, with a balance between biomedical engineering and biotechnology areas. A team approach will be encouraged as students employ various laboratory techniques to carry out short-term projects. Students will either rotate through a number of different experimental procedures within a single investigator's laboratory or rotate through multiple faculty laboratories, learning a particular type of methodology for which the laboratory may be noted and uses frequently. The course may also provide laboratory experiences/demonstrations at sister campuses and industrial sites where faculty members have affiliations.
    • Course Equivalent at UMass Boston: Lab Research Biol 899 in the first year provides this exposure. This can be catered to the individual needs of the student and often involves lab rotations.

Mathematics (3 credits)

There are a several different courses in mathematics that can be taken to fulfill this requirement. 

Course equivalent at UMass Boston:

  • Bio 607 "Introduction to Computational Data Analysis for Biology"
  • ENVSCI 602 "Introduction to Applied Statistics"
  • ENVSCI 611 "Applied Statistics"
  • Physic 616 "Mathematical Methods for Physicists"
  • Bio 384L/ Math 384L "Game Theory"
  • Math 303* "Mathematical Biology"

Quantitative Physiology (3 credits)

There are a several different courses in quantitative physiology that can be taken to fulfill this requirement. This course presents physiology at the organ system level with a quantitative approach.

Course equivalent at UMass Boston:

  • Biol 602 "Plant Molecular Biology and Physiology,"
  • Biol 627 "Bacterial Physiology,"
  • Biol /Envsci 658 "Environmental Physiology."
  • Biol 660 "Seminar in Developmental Biology"

Bioethics (1 credit)

Current ethical issues in biomedical research are included, with a review of legal/regulatory (e.g. FDA) considerations in the development of biological products and bringing them to market. 

Course equivalent at UMass Boston:

  • Biol 650 Scientific Communication. (This course includes a Bioethics component and 1/3 of the 3 credits fulfills this requirement. The other 2/3 or 2 credits of the course are applied to the required 2 credits "Doctoral Seminar" class; see below).

Advanced Cell and Molecular Biology (3 credits)

There are a several different courses in advanced cell and molecular biology that can be taken to fulfill this requirement. Rigorous treatment of topics in advanced cell and molecular biology, illustrating applied research through examples and presenting biochemistry concepts at the cell/molecular level. 

Course equivalent at UMass Boston:

  • Biol 676, "Advanced Molecular Biology"
  • Biol 612, "Advanced Cell Biology"

Specialization Course (12 credits)

Specialization courses will help the student attain depth in focused areas. Each specialization option represents an area in biotechnology or biomedical engineering, within which are found a selection of appropriate graduate courses.

Faculty involved in each specialization will see to an appropriate combination of depth and breadth in the student's selection of specialization courses. They may announce some structure to the course selections allowed within the area. With the approval of their advisor, students will select 12 credits of course work (minimum) from within one of the specializations. Any graduate course approved by the advisor may be used to satisfy this requirement. Many specialization options will require more than 12 credits of additional course work.

Course equivalent at UMass Boston:

  • Depending on the area of specialization courses within the current Biology MCOB PhD program, the graduate programs in Green Chemistry, in Physics, in Environmental Sciences or in Computer Sciences may be acceptable to the student's AAC committee and the Biology Graduate Committee.

Project / Directed Studies (3 credits)

As students transition from coursework to dissertation research, they undertake a capstone project course. This is designed to be a culminating experience in which the student synthesizes his/her course knowledge and experimental skills into a brief but detailed experimental study, which also involves cross-field interdisciplinary cooperation. Although in some cases this project may be done individually under the supervision of one faculty member, it is expected that students will join in a team-based, collaborative effort involving students from a number of different disciplines, post-doctoral fellows, and industry representatives; and with intercampus participation.

Course Equivalent at UMass Boston:

  • The credits for this can be embedded in either Biol 899 or Biol 672, but the spirit is requirement is that students must be involved in some multi-investigator collaborative project and the student should present this project at some national meetings or equivalent venue. Documentation of this presentation must be presented to the GPD for this requirement to be fulfilled.

Doctoral Seminar Series (2 credits)

Doctoral students will present research in progress. The seminar will emphasize not only research but also communication and writing.

Course equivalent at UMass Boston:

  • Biol 650 "Scientific Communication" (2/3 of this course or 2 credits will apply to this requirement; the remainder is applied to the Bioethics requirement above).


Students are required to participate in the teaching program as teaching assistants for at least two semesters. The teaching responsibility is intended to enhance the experience and skills of the PhD candidate.


To continue in the PhD program, the student must maintain a GPA of 3.0, and may not receive a grade of "C" in more than one course.

Written Comprehensive and Oral Qualifying Examinations

Students must pass two examinations before they undertake research at the doctoral level:

  • A written comprehensive examination to test the student's command and knowledge of four specific areas related to the student's research and acceptable to the student's AAC.

A subsequent oral qualifying examination based on:

  • The oral description and defense of the student's dissertation proposal, and comprehensive questioning focused on the four areas covered in the written exam.

The written comprehensive examination may be taken at the end of the student's first year, or after the completion of at least 18 credits of course work; and it should generally be taken by the end of four semesters or 36 credits of course work. The student will defend four areas, drawn from the array of graduate courses offered in the department or from other areas acceptable to the AAC and approved by the Graduate Committee.

A student who fails the written examination may, at the discretion of the academic advisory committee, be permitted a second and final written examination after six months. A student failing the examination a second time may either withdraw from the program, or formally petition the AAC to work toward a master's degree in biology, in biotechnology and biomedical science, or in environmental sciences.

A student cannot continue in the PhD program after a second failure of the comprehensive examination.

**Generally, within one month following the written exam, the student should submit a brief description of his or her dissertation proposal to the AAC and the GPD. Before taking the oral examination, the student should also confer with members of the AAC on the soundness of the proposal. The student should also discuss, with the individual members of the AAC, the possible deficiencies in the written exam. The oral qualifying exam should be scheduled, generally within one month following the submission of the dissertation proposal.

On successfully completing the qualifying examination, the student becomes a candidate for the PhD degree in Environmental Biology. The student is allowed up to five more years to complete and successfully defend a scholarly dissertation.

Departmental Presentation

Approximately nine to twelve months after the student's advance to candidacy, the student will present a seminar, based on his or her work in progress, to the entire department.

Dissertation Committee

After becoming a candidate for the PhD, the student must choose a dissertation advisor and committee. The dissertation committee will generally, but not necessarily, comprise the three members of the AAC and one member from outside the department. With the approval of the GPD and the Graduate Committee, faculty from outside the Biology Department or non- UMass Boston faculty will be permitted to co-sponsor a student's dissertation work.

Dissertation Defense

A final public dissertation defense will be administered by a dissertation panel comprising at least five members including:

  • The Dissertation Committee.
  • The Biology GPD or (if the GPD is already on the dissertation committee) a member of the Graduate Committee.
  • A member designated by the dean of Graduate Studies as the dean's representative.

The defense will be chaired by the student's dissertation advisor, and will be scheduled after the student has submitted an advanced draft of the manuscript to the dissertation panel and after the panel has agreed that the student is ready to defend it.

Further Information

Please consult the frequently asked questions (FAQs) at the bottom of the preceding Graduate Programs home page.

Please note: All information in this publication is subject to change. This publication is neither a contract nor an offer to make a contract.