Biology (Biology and Society), PhD

This concentration within the biology doctoral degree focuses on ways the life sciences shape and are shaped by society. In this interdisciplinary program, you’ll study the life sciences alongside economics, education research, ethics, history, law, philosophy, policy and their intersections.

Distinctive among programs in history and philosophy of science, science studies, and bioethics, students and faculty in the biology and society program study and collaborate with colleagues across the School of Life Sciences. As a student in this program, you will be affiliated with the Center for Biology and society and have unparalleled access to mentoring and research support.

Only at ASU will you be working directly with our award-winning faculty members on innovative research initiatives at multiple centers, including:

While your studies will begin in Arizona, you may have opportunities to travel the world and participate in research funded by Fulbright, Smithsonian Institution, USAID Fellowships, and more. You may also be contributing to national, online resources such as the Embryo Project Encyclopedia and the Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science.

The program emphasizes the development of critical thinking and analytical skills. You can tailor your degree programs to meet your specific research interests, and at the same time, receive a solid foundation in the life sciences.

Graduates often choose careers in higher education, research, administration, policy and science communication.

5 years to degree
35 students
39 faculty

Degree Overview

This  84-hour program focuses on developing independent researchers. It includes coursework, a written prospectus and its oral defense, and a dissertation, which draws on multiple disciplinary perspectives grounded in life sciences.

Prospective students need a relevant background in the areas they intend to study. This may include an undergraduate degree or equivalent expertise. Admitted candidates without relevant life sciences preparation may complete this work early in the program.

Tracks

Students may choose from four tracks within this concentration:

  • Bioethics, policy and law
  • Biology education research
  • Ecology, economics and ethics of the environment
  • History and philosophy of science

Bioethics, policy and law
This track focuses on pressing moral, policy and legal issues raised by biosciences and biomedicine, and on the methods needed to address them.

Biology education research
This track focuses on using education research to identify ways to broadly improve undergraduate biology education. 

Ecology, economics, and ethics of the environment
This track focuses on the theory and empirical methods used for understanding, analyzing, and shaping policy that steers us toward a more productive, equitable and sustainable ecological future.

History and philosophy of science
This track focuses on the conceptual foundations of science, including the epistemological and methodological assumptions that shape science.

Graduates of this program, in any of the four tracks, frequently begin careers in higher education, research and administration, science communication and other areas related to life sciences.

How to apply

One group of students will be accepted annually to start the program the following August. We encourage you to read Tips for Applying.

To apply, follow the Apply Now link.
You will be asked to:

  • Review the university standards, degree program timelines and application requirements
  • Complete the graduate admission application
  • Send official transcripts, general GRE scores and language tests (international students only)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Complete the academic record form and upload it 
  • Submit a non-refundable application fee

Deadline
Applications are accepted Oct. 1 - Dec. 15, with a preference date of Dec. 1. There is no guarantee that applications received after Dec. 15 will be reviewed.

In January, the top applicants will be invited to a recruitment event scheduled in mid- to late-February. We'll notify you of your admissions status by April 15. 

Desired qualifications:

  • Research experience 
  • Undergraduate GPA minimum 3.0 (on 4.0 scale)
  • GRE scores: 50% Verbal and 70% Quantitative 
  • International students: TOEFL score of 100, or IELTS score of 6.5

Note: We encourage you to apply even if your GRE results do not meet the desired scores. We consider all components of your application package before making a decision.

100%
We guarantee 5 years of academic-year funding as a teaching or research assistant. This includes stipend, insurance and tuition support to cover the required 84 hours for the degree.

The biology and society PhD program allowed me to build my own degree around my interests and future life goals. The individualized program meant that every day I interacted with faculty and fellow students who were doing things completely different from me. They offered diverse perspectives on my own work and I learned an enormous amount. The program gave me great foundations for multiple future career directions.
—Alexis Abboud, PhD, May 2018

Curriculum

Training in biology and society follows an apprenticeship model. Students work closely with a faculty advisor and committee to complete required coursework, research training, a prospectus, and a doctoral dissertation. The program prepares students to become independent and creative researchers. 

Required 

 Credit Hours

Core courses

3-4

Electives

68-69

Dissertation

12

Total hours required

84

Courses and electives

Training in biology and society combines seminars that introduce students to broad fields with an individualized set of electives that provide the necessary background for students’ major research projects. 

Core course (3-4 credit hours) 

  • BIO 614 Biometry or
  • BIO 620/HPS 620 Research Prospectus Writing

Electives (68-69 credit hours)

Restricted electives (30 credit hours)

Ethics — as related to life sciences. (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • BIO 516 Foundations of Bioethics
  • BIO 527 Environmental Ethics and Policy Goals
  • BIO 610 Introduction to Responsible Conduct of Research in Life Sciences
  • BIO 611 Current Topics in Responsible Conduct of Research in Life Sciences

Science policy (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • BIO 515 Science, Technology and Public Affairs
  • BIO 517 Uncertainty and Decision-making

Law — as related to science or technology. (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • BIO 691 Biotechnology: Science, Law and Policy 
  • BIO 691 Genetics and the Law
  • BIO 791 Health Technologies, Innovation and the Law
  • BIO 791 Privacy, Big Data and Emerging Technology

Additional required courses related to life sciences (9 credit hours)
These courses provide expertise in your individual research area. Any courses offered under one of the prefixes BIO, ELS, EVO, HPS, MCB, MIC, and PLB, or any courses taught by biology and society graduate faculty members fulfill the requirement. Sample courses include:

  • BIO 522 Populations: Evolutionary Ecology
  • BIO 530 Scientific Teaching
  • BIO 570 Fundamentals of CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) Science
  • BIO 578 Environmental Leadership and Communication
  • BIO 591 Ecosystem Services Lab
  • BIO 591 Embryo Project Editing Seminar
  • BIO 591 Embryo Project Illustration
  • BIO 615/HPS 615 Biology and Society Lab
  • HPS 520 Masters of Nonfiction
  • HPS 591 Literary Nonfiction

Research (12 credit hours)

  • BIO 792 Research

Free electives (38-39 credit hours)

  • Additional research, seminars and reading courses

Dissertation (12 credit hours)

  • BIO 799

Total: 84 hours

Core course (3-4 credit hours) 

  • BIO 614 Biometry or
  • BIO 620/HPS 620 Research Prospectus Writing

Electives (68-69 credit hours)

Restricted electives (30 credit hours)

Quantitative methods or statistics (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • COE 502 Introduction to Data Analysis
  • DCI 691 Introduction to Measurement Theory & Practice
  • DCI 691 Introduction to Quantitative Research Design & Methods
  • EDP 554 Analysis-of-Variance Methods
  • PSY 531 Multiple Regression in Psychological Research 

Learning, educational or psychological theory (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • DCI 691 Advanced Pedagogy in STEM Education

Discipline-based education research (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • BIO 532 Recent Papers in Discipline-Based Education Research
  • BIO 598 Biology Education Research

Additional required courses related to life sciences (9 credit hours)
These courses provide expertise in your individual research area. Any courses offered under one of the prefixes BIO, ELS, EVO, HPS, MCB, MIC, and PLB, or any courses taught by biology and society graduate faculty members fulfill the requirement. Sample courses include:

  • BIO 522 Populations: Evolutionary Ecology
  • BIO 530 Scientific Teaching
  • BIO 570 Fundamentals of CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) Science
  • BIO 578 Environmental Leadership and Communication
  • BIO 591 Ecosystem Services Lab
  • BIO 591 Embryo Project Editing Seminar
  • BIO 591 Embryo Project Illustration
  • BIO 615/HPS 615 Biology and Society Lab
  • HPS 520 Masters of Nonfiction
  • HPS 591 Literary Nonfiction

Research (12 credit hours)

  • BIO 792

Free electives (38-39 credit hours)

  • Additional research, seminars and readings courses

Dissertation (12 credit hours)

  • BIO 799

Total: 84 hours

Core course (3-4 credit hours) 

  • BIO 614 Biometry or
  • BIO 620/HPS 620 Research Prospectus Writing

Electives (68-69 credit hours)

Restricted electives (30 credit hours)

Ecology (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • BIO 598 Ecosystem Ecology
  • BIO 598 Population and Community Ecology
  • BIO 521 Landscape Ecology

Environmental or Natural Resource Economics (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • BIO 591 The Economics of Conservation
  • BIO/AML/SOS 691 Mathematical Natural Resource Economics
  • SOS 512 Environmental and Resource Economics

Environmental Ethics or Environmental Policy (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • BIO 527 Environmental Ethics and Policy Goals

Additional required courses related to life sciences (9 credit hours)

These courses provide expertise in your individual research area. Any courses offered under one of the prefixes BIO, ELS, EVO, HPS, MCB, MIC, and PLB, or any courses taught by biology and society graduate faculty members fulfill the requirement. Sample courses include:

  • BIO 522 Populations: Evolutionary Ecology
  • BIO 530 Scientific Teaching
  • BIO 570 Fundamentals of CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) Science
  • BIO 578 Environmental Leadership and Communication
  • BIO 591 Ecosystem Services Lab
  • BIO 591 Embryo Project Editing Seminar
  • BIO 591 Embryo Project Illustration
  • BIO 615/HPS 615 Biology and Society Lab
  • HPS 520 Masters of Nonfiction
  • HPS 591 Literary Nonfiction

Research (12 credit hours)

  • BIO 792

Free electives (38-39 credit hours)

  • Additional research, seminars and readings courses

Dissertation (12 credit hours)

  • BIO 799

Total: 84 hours

Core course (3-4 credit hours) 

  • BIO 614 Biometry or
  • BIO 620/HPS 620, Research Prospectus Writing

Electives (68-69 credit hours)

Restricted electives (30 credit hours)

History of science (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • BIO 518/HPS 516 History of Biology
  • BIO 591 Embryo Project
  • HPS 511 History of Science
  • HPS 598 Studying Science: Theory and Methodology

Philosophy of science (3 credit hours)
Sample courses include:

  • BIO/HPS/PHI 598 Philosophy of Biology and Medicine Advanced
  • HPS 512 Philosophy of Science
  • HPS 591 Human Well-Being and Sustainability

History of science or philosophy of science (3 credit hours)

  • Select a second course from either of the two areas above

Additional required courses related to life sciences (9 credit hours)
These courses provide expertise in your individual research area. Any courses offered under one of the prefixes BIO, ELS, EVO, HPS, MCB, MIC, and PLB, or any courses taught by biology and society graduate faculty members fulfill the requirement. Sample courses include:

  • BIO 522 Populations: Evolutionary Ecology
  • BIO 530 Scientific Teaching
  • BIO 570 Fundamentals of CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems) Science
  • BIO 578 Environmental Leadership and Communication
  • BIO 591 Ecosystem Services Lab
  • BIO 591 Embryo Project Editing Seminar
  • BIO 591 Embryo Project Illustration
  • BIO 615/HPS 615 Biology and Society Lab
  • HPS 520 Masters of Nonfiction
  • HPS 591 Literary Nonfiction

Research (12 credit hours)

  • BIO 792

Free electives (38-39 credit hours)

  • Additional research, seminars and readings courses

Dissertation (12 credit hours)

  • BIO 799

Total: 84 hours

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