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Doctorate of Biological Education

Contact: Dr. Lauryn Benedict, 970-351-3364 (telephone), Lauryn.Benedict@unco.edu (e-mail).

University catalogs:  http://unco.smartcatalogiq.com/


Make new discoveries and participate in the creation of novel information with leading educators and scientists at the School of Biological Sciences at UNC!  This unique program leads to a Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Biological Education.  Become a multifaceted scholar and educator with a solid background in biology and teaching of biology by working closely with our faculty to develop and advance your skills in teaching and research.  This degree program is offered at the main UNC campus in Greeley, Colorado.

How does this degree program work?

The degree program specializes in training biologists to be experts in their disciplines and outstanding college biology teachers. This is accomplished through the completion of course work, a dissertation research project, and a supervised teaching experience. Before beginning this program, you should identify a potential faculty research mentor (or mentors) from among the doctora research faculty in the School of Biological Sciences.  Together with your research mentor, you will develop a program of research that focuses on your interests and complements the expertise of the faculty, culminating in the production of the PhD dissertation. All dissertations represent rigorous research in biology or biology education.

In the Ph.D. degree program, you will develop expertise in the concepts, reasoning, and skills of doing science and you will develop expertise in the principles and methods of teaching biology (e.g., pedagogy).  Your training will give you a well-rounded skill-set and the expertise to seek a career as an independent scientist, a college biology teacher, or both!  For this reason, our Ph.D. degree is awarded in the area of Biological Education.  The graduates of our doctoral program have found employment in teaching and research positions.  Many of our students have multiple job offers even before they graduate, and we can do the same for you!

Who is this degree program for?

This degree is appropriate for inquisitive and motivated students who already possess a Bachelor's and/or Master's degree in the sciences and who want the requisite training appropriate for a professional career in teaching, basic and applied research, advocacy, government, biotechnology or other advanced scientific positions. After completing their Ph.D.s, many of our graduates have accepted postdoctoral positions in related fields, academic positions in higher education, and advanced positions in government and private industries. 

Degree requirements

This degree requires completion of 64 credits of study, including both scheduled classes and one-on-one courses tailored to individual needs and programs.  The UNC catalogs contain the official descriptions and requirements of all programs at the University of Northern Colorado. In addition, Ph.D. students are required to develop and teach a full semester course under the supervision of our faculty. The degree culminates with the presentation of the student’s research in a public defense of the dissertation. Chapter(s) from the student’s dissertation are expected to be published in peer-reviewed journals.

Applying to the program

In addition to information about yourself and your academic history, applicants are asked to provide letters of recommendation, a CV or resume, and a letter of intent. The following sections offer advice on how to maximize the impact of those documents.

Reference letters

What letters should include

Letters of recommendation (also called letters of reference) are extremely important to your application. Choose the people that you ask to write these letters thoughtfully. Letter writers should be able to comment on your potential for successful graduate work from a position of experience. Typically, they will be academic faculty or work supervisors that have knowledge of your academic or scholarly performance and other attributes relevant to success in graduate school.

A good letter of reference will be printed on letterhead stationery and include the following:
  • A statement of how the person knows you and for how long
  • An indication of the person's professional expertise
  • Comments on your intellectual strengths, motivation, creativity, time-management skills, work ethic, collegiality, and ability to handle stress and work independently
  • Comments on your writing and verbal communication skills
  • An assessment of your potential and abilities relative to others at your level of education and experience
Some tips on how to make it easy for your recommender to write the best possible letter:
  • Ask each potential recommender if they are willing to act as a professional reference on your behalf.  If they decline your request, move on. 
  • Be sure to let each potential recommender know the deadline for submission of the recommendation, and allow sufficient lead time for them to write and submit a strong letter.
  • Provide your recommender the list of expectations (above) for what should be included in the letter.
  • Supply a copy of your curriculum vitae or resume to each recommender to refresh their memory about your past education and achievements. This is particularly important if you haven't been in touch with them for a while.
  • Supply a copy of your letter of intent to each recommender. This will help them to understand why you are applying to graduate school and what you want to do with your advanced education.

Your curriculum vitae or resume

You may choose to provide either a curriculum vitae or a resume. This document should summarize your preparation and experience relevant to graduate study in biological sciences. A curriculum vitae is most appropriate for applicants with career goals in academia, while a resume might be more appropriate for currently working professionals. CVs and resumes will be reviewed equivalently and with reference to the career goals that you outline in your letter of intent. Find specific advice about what to include on a CV or resume here.

The letter of intent

What your letter should include

At a minimum, your letter of intent should include the following:

  • Your academic experience, interests and preparation
  • Background qualifications for the program
  • Your career goals and how this degree will help you to achieve those goals
  • The names of faculty members with whom you are interested in working
  • A statement indicating whether or not you are seeking a graduate teaching assistantship (see below)
In addition to the required components of the letter of intent (listed above), you may choose to add more information that you believe is important for the Graduate Committee who evaluates applications to consider in reviewing your application.  For example, some applicants may feel it is useful to explain anomalies in their transcript that co-occurred with significant life events.

In addition to communicating your goals and qualifications, your letter of intent also serves as an example of your communication skills. Prepare your letter carefully, editing it for logical flow, grammar and spelling, and succinct prose.

Funding options to pay for school

There are several options available to you for obtaining living expenses and tuitionwhile pursuing your graduate education. These are:

  • Graduate teaching assistantship (TA): A teaching assistantship is the most common mechanism used by UNC biology graduate students for earning an income while working on a degree. Teaching Assistantships pay a stipend and cover tuition costs. See this page for more information.  Teaching responsibilities vary, but students typically teach undergraduate laboratory sections in an area related to their program of study. 
  • Graduate research assistantship (GRA): Research assistantships are available through individual faculty members (typically the research mentor) who have obtained external grant funding to pay a student to work on one of their research projects. Contact individual faculty members to inquire if they have GRA funding available.
  • Scholarships: These are typically awarded based on merit. To be eligible for most scholarships, you must have completed the financial aid application with the University, even if you don't expect to receive financial aid of any other type.