Our Curriculum

The Ph.D. Program in Comparative Biology provides students with the environment, tools, and experiences to be scientists, educators, or civic leaders who can contribute at the highest levels. 

The curriculum is a novel, intensive, immersive, flexible, and field-, lab-, and collections-based program of study. The program gives students a broad knowledge of the conceptual bases, language, tools, and methods for studying life, as well as the ability to undertake and complete intensive individual investigations. Finally, by providing instruction in grantsmanship, publication, presentation, and ethics, the program prepares students to be working scientists, educators, or civic leaders who can contribute at the highest levels.

Students are required to complete a minimum of 62 credits through a combination of:

  • Core courses (3 required: Evolution; Systematics and Biogeography; and Grantsmanship, Ethics, and Communication give students a broad overview of the conceptual basis, tools, and methods for studying life;
  • Elective or immersive courses allow students to achieve a depth of knowledge in an area of interest;
  • Museum seminar series expose first year students to a broad range of research disciplines and topics;
  • Teaching assistantships at AMNH and at partner universities; in lieu of a traditional teaching assistantship, students also will have the opportunity to complete an equivalent educational project through the AMNH’s many educational outreach vehicles;
  • Directed research culminating in a dissertation, which is defended.

The normal course of study for AMNH’s Ph.D. degree will be four years. Students will earn a minimum of 62 credits through a combination of coursework, teaching assistantships, and individual dissertation research. As a distinctive strength of the program, students will be expected to work on their own research as early as the first semester of their first year, an opportunity not available in many university settings. To ensure this, students are matched to a faculty member’s research program and/or laboratory during the admission process.

In their first year, students are required to take three core courses: Evolution; Systematics and Biogeography; and Grantsmanship, Ethics, and Communication. Students will also be required to take 15 additional credits, including a special seminar series and a selection of intensive or “immersive” Elective Courses which combine lecture and lab work and are designed to give students a concentration and depth of knowledge in an area of individual interest. Supplemental courses from the AMNH’s collaborating institutions are also available.

First-year students will be required to prepare for and attend a weekly Museum Seminar Series at which presentations on a variety of scientific topics will be given by leading scientists and AMNH faculty. First-year students will earn one credit for each of two semesters of the Seminar Series.

The experience of teaching is an integral part of graduate training, especially in preparation for a career including academic service and teaching. After the first year, each student must complete mentored teaching assistantships in two courses or other educational programs. A particular strength of the AMNH graduate program is the opportunity for a student to participate in AMNH pre-college, teacher training, life-long learning, and public outreach programs with the goal of enhancing the public understanding of science.

The curriculum is designed to meet students’ individual needs, ensuring that they get instruction in relevant areas and helping to direct them in their future careers. Students can elect a curriculum focus by choosing five (or more) related elective courses. Here are some examples of possible curriculum focus areas, and the elective courses that a student could choose to fill them:

  • Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy—Vertebrate Anatomy, Paleontology, Mammalogy, Ichthyology, Ornithology
  • Systematic Theory—Invertebrate Zoology, Statistics, Informatics, Systematic Algorithms and Software, Advanced Topics in Systematic Theory
  • Conservation Biology—Invertebrate Zoology, Herpetology, Conservation Biology, Ecology, Behavioral Biology, Topics in GIS
  • Paleontology—Earth History, Paleontology, Ornithology, Sedimentary Geology, Climatology, Isotope Analysis, Topics in GIS
  • Comparative Genomics—Genomics, Informatics, Microbial Diversity, Systematic Algorithms and Software, Molecular Biology
  • Evolution of Development—Developmental Genetics, Molecular Development, Arthropod Diversity, Genomics, Informatics, Systematic Algorithms and Software

The dissertation is the bedrock and ultimate focus of a student’s graduate training, representing the credentialed attainment of expertise in the chosen area of research. It also is expected to be an original scientific contribution, one deemed worthy of publication. At the end of the second year, students are expected to submit a written and oral proposal of their dissertation research. Upon deposit of the completed dissertation, students are required to make an oral presentation and defense. Satisfactory completion of the dissertation and defense, as determined by the student’s dissertation committee (with formal approval by the Board of Trustees), will confer the doctoral degree.In the fall of the second year, students who have satisfactorily completed the coursework will be required to take a comprehensive qualifying examination. Satisfactory completion of the qualifying exam will establish a student’s doctoral candidacy in the second year.

The Richard Gilder Graduate School will provide full financial support to the core population of students matriculating in the Comparative Biology Ph.D. Program (A smaller number of additional students with outside support may also be admitted.) Each AMNH-supported student will be awarded a tuition fellowship and receive an annual stipend and research funding as well as health insurance. Family health benefits can be arranged, as needed.

Take a closer look at what we have to offer:

Core courses Evolution Systematics and Biogeography Grantsmanship, Ethics, and Communication (all three required during first year) 4 credits
4 credits
3 credits
Elective courses Student selects elective courses based on individual focus (carrying 1 credit/week class is in session)—15 credits to be completed during student’s tenure 15 credits total
Teaching Assistantship Two different AMNH courses or comparable AMNH educational projects during the course of study 6 credits total
Weekly Museum Seminar Series First-year students required to attend; other students encouraged to attend (carrying 1 credit/semester for two semesters) 2 credits
Student Symposium Students will organize a symposium on research interests/activities 1 credit
Qualifying Exam During fall of second year, leading to doctoral candidacy
Dissertation Proposal At end of second year
Directed Research Variable credits/term 27 credits
Dissertation Defense
Total Minimum Credits Required: 62