About the Watson School
Since 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has been a global leader in research and education. The international scientific community at CSHL provides a unique and stimulating atmosphere for doctoral research—an environment where students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty work side-by-side. The Watson School of Biological Sciences (WSBS) was founded on the belief that with well thought-out mechanisms, enthusiastic involvement of faculty, and highly motivated students, an innovative curriculum could be provided that would allow students to earn a doctoral degree in a shorter time than in traditional programs without compromising the quality of their training. The curriculum is designed to train students to become scholars and independent thinkers.
Our mission is to:
- Prepare the best and the brightest students to face the ever-changing cutting edge of biological and biomedical research with the necessary skills to become leaders in science and society.
- Enable students to complete their PhD in approximately four years from matriculation, while maintaining the highest standards of excellence.
- Reduce the time to graduation considerably, compared to the national average.
- Impart a broad, multi-disciplinary, representation of the biological sciences.
- Teach students how to think independently and critically focusing on the principles of scientific reasoning and logic.
- Educate ethical biologists who can communicate effectively with all audiences.
- Emphasize that learning is a lifelong process that goes hand-in-hand with outstanding research.
- Facilitate the pursuit of significant, independent thesis research.
To accomplish these goals, the following unique features drive the program:
- Separate course work and laboratory rotations into separate phases in the first year of training.
- Extensive student mentoring through a “two-tier” mentoring program.
- Financial support from the program, which serves to uncouple the funding source from graduate education.
- A student body with diverse ethnicities, nationalities, and educational backgrounds.
- A unique environment, which includes a world-class scientific Meetings and Courses program, providing the opportunity to meet and learn from leaders in science.
Advances in biology depend on multidisciplinary approaches, in which knowledge and technology from diverse areas intersect to inspire new discoveries. Today, the breadth of accumulated knowledge about biology is immense-far more extensive than any individual can assimilate. Thus, our curriculum is designed to train self-reliant students to become scholars who, under their own guidance, can acquire and assimilate the knowledge their research or career demands require.
The curriculum takes advantage of the unique and flexible environment of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and includes the following features:
- approximately four to five years from matriculation to Ph.D. degree award
- broad representation of the biological sciences
- first year with course work and laboratory rotations in separate phases
- emphasis on the principles of scientific reasoning and logic as well as the importance of ethics and effective communication
- continued advanced course instruction throughout the graduate curriculum
- supportive two-tier mentoring and guidance
Watson School Ph.D. students progress rapidly from coursework to laboratory rotations to doctoral research – all within the first year of the program. The program consolidates the core courses into the Fall Term of the first year, culminating in the Integrated Fall Term Exam. During this time, students have no research responsibilities, allowing them to devote their full attention to intensive course instruction and seminars. In the winter and spring of the first year, students perform three six-week laboratory rotations, take a Topics in Biology course, and teach at the Dolan DNA Learning Center. In May, students select their thesis research mentor and prepare for the qualifying exam, which takes place in late June or early July. Once students pass their qualifying exam, they focus exclusively on their thesis research.
The core courses of the curriculum are:
Scientific Reasoning and Logic
In this core course students (1) acquire a broad base of knowledge about the biological sciences, (2) emphasize application of the scientific method, and (3) learn to think critically. The modules include gene expression, development, protein structure, neuroscience, and cancer biology. The course culminates with a mock grant study section.
Scientific Exposition and Ethics
This core course covers the fundamental elements of scientific exposition—writing skills and public speaking—and ethics. The ability to communicate effectively and to appreciate ethical issues in the sciences are essential for biologists. Students are introduced to non-research scientific careers, such as publishing, writing, and law.
Specialized Disciplines Courses
A series of core courses providing students with an in-depth consideration of key research areas, focusing on understanding experimental approaches and practical applications. The courses include Systems Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology, Genetics & Genomics, and Cancer.
Topics in Biology Courses
Intensive one-week courses focused on topics outside the main research areas of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, such as Evolution, Microbial Pathogenesis, Physical Biology of the Cell, and Immunology.
CSHL Elective Postgraduate Courses
The program of postgraduate courses at the Laboratory provides training in interdisciplinary subjects that are either new or so specialized that they are not adequately treated by most universities.
These are short, intensive courses aimed to get all students to a similar level of proficiency in a defined topic in preparation for the core courses. Current bootcamps cover molecular and cell biology and quantitative biology/programming.
After the first year, students focus on laboratory research. In the second year, students defend their doctoral thesis research proposal. Advanced instruction continues with the annual Topics in Biology courses and elective postgraduate courses. Students are awarded the Ph.D. degree after successful completion of their dissertation and defense of their thesis research.
Thesis Proposal and the Thesis Advisory Committee
In January of the second year, students defend a written doctoral thesis research proposal. The proposal includes a clear outline of goals and specific aims and describes the broader scientific context and debate surrounding the proposed research. After successful oral defense of the research proposal, a thesis advisory committee consisting of the research mentor, academic mentor, and the thesis research proposal examining committee is constituted to guide the student with his or her doctoral research.
Dissertation Preparation and Defense
With the approval of the thesis advisory committee, each student prepares a written thesis on his or her original research. To defend the thesis, students present a public seminar and are subsequently examined by the thesis committee and an additional examiner external to the Laboratory. A satisfactory defense and fulfillment of all curricular requirements results in the granting of the Ph.D. degree. The Watson School of Biological Sciences graduate program is designed so that students can complete their doctoral studies in approximately four years. If, at four years, a student and thesis committee agree that more than four and a half years are required to complete the doctoral program, the student and thesis committee may petition for an extension.
Curriculum at a Glance
The Watson School Ph.D. program is committed to the success of its students. To promote a high level of student achievement, the faculty and administration take an active role in mentoring and supporting students.
A special feature of the Watson School program is its two-tier mentoring program. Students select two dedicated faculty mentors to guide them in their graduate studies. The academic mentor monitors the student’s progress and provides advice about laboratory selection or career paths. The thesis research mentor takes on the major mentoring role with respect to the student’s professional development during the course of the thesis research. These two mentors provide the student with advice from different viewpoints both during the course of the thesis research and in the student’s future career.
If students need academic assistance, either at the recommendation of faculty or through their own self-assessment, tutoring is offered at no expense. Likewise, students with undergraduate degrees in non-biological sciences, such as physics, engineering, and mathematics, are encouraged to come to CSHL several weeks before the start of the Fall Term to review their background in molecular biology. Tutors, recommending readings, and other support measures are provided free of charge.
CSHL exposes students to a variety of scientific careers, from traditional academic research careers to non-research careers in science writing, education or administration. Through informal discussions or targeted career development opportunities, students gain valuable experience that will help them refine and prepare for their future careers.
The first-year course Scientific Exposition and Ethics invites a number of professionals to speak about their scientific careers outside of the lab. Guest lecturers have included authors of popular science books, columnists for major newspapers and magazines, policy advocates, and lawyers for the Innocence Project, among many others.
Students gain teaching experience as part of the Watson School first-year curriculum. Students work with educators at CSHL’s DNA Learning Center, helping with course development and teaching laboratory classes.
CSHL’s extensive Meetings & Courses Program, available to all Watson School students at no cost, allows students to hear the latest research in a wide variety of scientific fields and to meet scientists from around the world. Watson School students may be invited to attend select Banbury Meetings at CSHL, giving them access to leaders in scientific research, ethics and policy.
The Bioscience Enterprise Club (BEC) provides information for students interested in non-academic scientific careers through an extensive series of seminars and workshops. The topics cover a wide range of non-academic and non-research careers, from biotechnology and intellectual property to scientific publishing, non-profit administration, and venture capitalism. BEC also works with local biotechnology start-up companies to offer on-campus recruiting interviews.
The Career Development Program (CDP) provides students with information about careers in academia, including the job search and transitioning to an independent position. The CDP hosts workshops on preparing for a chalk talk, an integral part of the academic job search, and “Getting to Know Your Faculty,” a series in which CSHL faculty members share stories of their careers and highlight their philosophies toward identifying interesting scientific questions, lab management, work-life balance, and what it takes to be successful.
Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) is a network of scientists building a more supportive, collaborative, and equal scientific community for all. We provide a platform for professional development and empowerment through mentorship, career planning, and educational opportunities tailored toward issues disproportionally affecting women. WiSE is open to all members of the CSHL community.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Watson School of Biological Sciences is institutionally accredited by the New York State Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Education, a nationally recognized accrediting agency, located at 89 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12234, (516) 474-1551.
Institution name: COLD SPRING HARBOR LABORATORY
Program title: Biological Sciences
Program codes: 21709 (Ph.D.), 21710 (M.S.)
HEGIS code: 0401.00
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (including the Watson School of Biological Sciences) does not discriminate in its education programs and activities, including in employment and admissions, on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, age, religion, creed, veteran status, genetic information or citizenship status or any other factors prohibited by law. If you have questions or wish to file a discrimination complaint, contact:
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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
One Bungtown Road — Luke Building
Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11725
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- Student Bill of Rights
- Rights of Reporting Individuals (pdf)
- CSHL Student Code of Conduct Policy (pdf)
- 2017 Campus Climate Survey Results (pdf)
- Incident Report Form (pdf)