The Master’s Program in Physical Biology is designed for students who have backgrounds in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and engineering, and who are motivated to pursue training in biophysical research that emphasizes theoretical, computational, and experimental methods. The training faculty in the program includes faculty members from multiple departments at USC who have research programs in areas including structural biology, neuroscience, membrane biophysics, cellular biophysics and theoretical biophysics. Students are usually admitted to the program on the research-based thesis track; however, in special circumstances applications to the non-thesis track will be considered.
Applicants to the program will normally have earned a bachelor’s degree and completed course work in mathematics (including calculus), physics, chemistry and biology. To be considered, applicants must complete a USC Graduate Admissions application and submit either GRE or MCAT test scores, a brief personal statement explaining the reasons for applying to the program, a brief statement regarding previous laboratory experience, official transcripts from all academic institutions previously attended, and three letters of recommendation. Foreign applicants are required to submit results from a TOEFL or IELTS examination. In the personal statement, applicants must specify whether they are applying to the thesis- or non-thesis track and the reasons for that choice. Normally, admission will be in the thesis track and a recommendation to admit an applicant will require Executive Committee approval of an agreement between an applicant and a faculty member who will serve as mentor of the thesis project. The agreement shall specify the general research area of the thesis. Prior to submission of a formal application, applicants may submit basic documentary information to determine how their credentials compare to expectations for admission.
The Physical Biology Master’s program participates in Progressive Master’s Degree Programs and seeks applications from qualified students (undergrad.usc.edu/programs/progressive/).
Continued enrollment in the program requires an average GPA of at least 3.0, and a “Pass” or “Credit” in all non-graded courses. At any time, after evaluating a student’s progress, the MBPH Executive Committee, at its discretion, may require a student to pass a screening examination to be eligible to progress to the third or later semester of graduate study. If a student fails to achieve these metrics or pass a screening examination, the Executive Committee will make a recommendation as to whether or not to place the student on probationary enrollment with a defined remediation sufficient to remedy the deficiency or to recommend the student withdraw or be dismissed from the program.
A three-member Guidance Committee will advise each student and monitor the progress of thesis work of each student in the thesis track. The Guidance Committee shall consist of at least:
- the student’s adviser who shall chair the committee and be a tenure-track member of the Graduate Committee;
- the student’s thesis mentor, if not the same faculty member as the adviser;
- one (or two) additional members of the Graduate Committee.
Passing the final examination requires: 1) submission of an acceptable thesis document describing the work of the thesis, and 2) an oral defense of the thesis. The Thesis Committee will administer the final examination. The composition of the Thesis Committee and the Guidance Committee may be the same. The thesis document shall be distributed to the student’s Master’s Thesis Committee and a copy provided to the Graduate Program Office at least two weeks prior to the oral examination. If the document is not provided by that date, then the oral examination shall be rescheduled to accommodate this requirement. Final acceptance of the document and passage of the oral examination requires the unanimous recommendation of all members of the Thesis Committee. If the student does not pass the examination on the first attempt, at its discretion the Executive Committee may grant a second opportunity to pass the examination according to policies in the USC Catalogue.
Final Examination. A comprehensive examination replaces the thesis defense. The Executive Committee shall appoint a member of the Graduate Committee to supervise the final examination process (the “Examination Supervisor”). The examination shall be on a topic approved by the Examination Supervisor and shall consist of: 1) a document discussing the topic in sufficient detail, and 2) passing an oral examination on the substance of the topic. The document shall be submitted to the Examination Supervisor at least two weeks prior to the oral examination. If the document is not provided by that date, then the oral examination shall be rescheduled to accommodate this requirement. To qualify as the final examination, all the faculty of the Graduate Committee shall be invited to attend the presentation with notice given at least two weeks in advance and at least three members of the Graduate Committee or alternates selected by the program director shall attend.
During and following the presentation, faculty members may pose questions relevant to the presentation to determine if the student has mastered an appropriate breadth and depth of knowledge of biophysics. The Examination Supervisor shall then receive reports from faculty attending the presentation, usually within a week, and make a recommendation to the Graduate Committee as to whether or not the student passed the examination. Unless a member of the Graduate Committee objects, the recommendation shall be considered accepted. If an objection is received a decision shall be made by a secret ballot vote with two thirds of those voting in favor of passage required for passage of the examination. If the student does not pass the examination on the first attempt, at its discretion the Graduate Committee may grant a second opportunity to pass the examination according to policies in the USC Catalogue.