Deadline: Friday, December 1, 2023

Apply through the Molecular Cellular and Computational Biophysics application.


On this page


The Biophysics Graduate Program at UCSF provides a welcoming environment for a diverse student population, including students with disabilities. We encourage students with strong backgrounds in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, computer science, or engineering to apply. Read more about our seven research areas.

At UCSF, graduate programs are separate from departments, and faculty in a department may belong to multiple graduate programs. In fact, many labs have students from more than one graduate program since research is often interdisciplinary. Graduate students in a program primarily join labs affiliated with the program, though there are also opportunities to join labs of unaffiliated faculty by requesting affiliation or through co-mentorship. Graduate programs manage the administrative structure for their graduate students, including curriculum, policies, faculty membership, qualifying exam and graduation criteria, and more. These may differ between graduate programs. For information on all graduate programs, visit the Graduate Division.

Life After Biophysics enables you to see examples of your career potential after completing the program.

Applicants interested in the Biophysics Graduate Program should apply directly through the Biophysics application.

Demographics, Admissions, Time to Degree, and Completion rates are found via PhD Program Statistics. (Admissions data shown are combined for the Biophysics and BMI programs from 2017-2019. All other data are specific to Biophysics.)


The application for fall 2024 opens on September 1, 2023.

The deadline to apply and provide all supporting materials is December 1, 2023.

The admissions committee reviews all applications and extends invitations to interview. We will be having preliminary interviews over zoom in January 19 and February 2, 2024, with admitted applicants invited for an in-person visit March 14-16, 2024. If invited to interview, your basic travel expenses will be covered by the program by either reimbursement or covering your airfare up front.

Final admissions decisions will be made by mid-February 2024.

Application process

Applications consist of four major parts. Academics (GPA and coursework), a personal statement, a research statement, and letters of recommendation. Applications are all read by a subset of the admissions committee. Select applications proceed to evaluation by the admissions committee, consisting of six faculty and three current students. Each application is read by three readers, who evaluate based on criteria described below. The committee then meets and decides which applicants to invite for online interviews based on the reader evaluations.

This year's online interviews are two days long, with introductory talks on the first afternoon, and interviews and panel discussions on the second day. This gives us a chance to meet you and you a chance to meet us. Use the two-day process to ask questions you may have about the program: faculty interests, mentoring support, financial questions, work-life balance, the curriculum, other student support resources, etc.

At the interview, faculty and student interviewers will ask you questions: for example, why you are interested in going to graduate school, why biophysics, what research are you excited about, what research have you done in the past, etc. There are two interview weekends. We are excited about every candidate we invite for an online interview, and accept the majority after these two weekends.

After interviews the admissions committee meets again and decides to whom to offer acceptance. Interviewers like to see engagement, questions, excitement, motivation, as well as to clarify aspects of the application - and report back to the admissions committee. Each candidate is discussed in order for us to arrive at the final list of accepted students, and each year we are, unfortunately, unable to accept all outstanding applicants.

Diversity Network Initiative

Launched in 2018, the Diversity Network Initiative aims to connect current and prospective PhD students from similar backgrounds (e.g., veteran status, first-gen, gender identity, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ+ identity, disability status, and more) to build a professional network and community, share experiences, and provide insight into diversity and inclusion at UCSF. The Biophysics Program invites all applicants who have been invited for interviews to participate in the Program. Regardless of whether applicants choose to attend UCSF or not, this opportunity will expand applicants’ professional networks and enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion within STEM and higher education.

This program was developed by Tetrad PhD Candidate, Roberto Efraín Díaz, and Assistant Dean for Diversity and Learner Success D'Anne Duncan.

Diversity and Allyship Breakfast

We encourage all applicants to register for the Diversity and Allyship Breakfast, co-hosted by the Graduate Division Dean's Office and the UCSF SACNAS Chapter, during the interview visit. Graduate students and the diversity dean serve as panelists to discuss the climate at UCSF, and campus diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) resources, such as the IMSD program, are highlighted.

This breakfast was created by Tetrad alum Joselyn Del Cid and Biomedical Sciences alum Raul Torres, and further developed by Biomedical Sciences alum Melissa Spear, Biomedical Sciences PhD Candidate Ramiro Patiño, Tetrad PhD Candidate Roberto Efraín Díaz, and Assistant Dean for Diversity and Learner Success, D'Anne Duncan.

Application requirements

Prospective students can apply to only one graduate program at UCSF, with the exception of the Joint Graduate Group in BioEngineering, whose application is administered through the University of California, Berkeley.

The minimum requirement for application to the Biophysics program is a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Although the UCSF Graduate Division lists a requirement of a 3.0 GPA, exceptions are possible at the program level and we encourage applications from individuals who feel they would be a good fit for our program.

Submit the following information through the UCSF Graduate Division application:

  1. General and demographic information

  2. 3 letters of recommendation

  3. A personal statement (or Statement of Purpose)

  4. A research statement

  5. Unofficial transcripts (instructions can be found on the application)

A non-refundable application fee ($120 for US citizens and permanent residents, and $140 for international applicants) is required to finalize your application. We encourage students to seek application fee waivers based on financial need, participation in certain programs and universities, and other extenuating circumstances. More info: Fee Waivers.

Note that fee waivers must be requested and approved in advance of the application deadline. Although the normal turnaround is 2 business days, it is helpful to do it as soon as you are initiating your application (up to 3 months in advance of the deadline). Fee waivers are not seen by the Biophysics admissions committee and have no impact on your application.

Evaluation of applications

If you are interested in having a current UCSF Biophysics student give feedback and review your application before submission, contact [email protected]. This is completely optional and the admissions committee will not be informed as to whether or not you requested feedback. Additionally, check out a guide on applying to Quantitative Biology PhD programs, written by a current Biophysics student and a Biophysics faculty member.

Applications are reviewed based on the following criteria in one batch after the deadline.

Academics: We look carefully and holistically at the academic history and experience of each applicant, including any challenges you faced, which can be discussed in the personal statement. “Academic history” means much more than GPA and the name of the undergraduate school you attended. We consider GPA, the institution and its philosophy on grading, the courses you took, your major(s), extracurriculars, work history, and other components of your academic experience across undergraduate or postgraduate education that you provide in your statements.

Statement of Purpose: This is your chance to tell us about you! We are curious about your motivations, how you ended up where you are applying from, why you want to go to graduate school, why you’re interested in biophysics, what faculty you are excited about working with, and related. Use this statement to explain “gaps” in time in your application when there are not clear activities. For example, if you took a gap year what did you do in that time? Also use this statement to explain any career transitions. If you are moving from industry to a PhD, why? If you are switching fields, why? Try to think about any “unknowns” in your application and shore them up so that the admissions committee doesn’t have to guess (we don’t know!). For example, we understand that sometimes it is not possible to request a supportive letter of reference from a prior supervisor. The statement of purpose is a good place to make candid statements about recommenders and prior experiences to help us to understand your application.

Also use the statement of purpose to discuss challenges you may have experienced that affected your academics or research experience or other components of your application. We recognize that it can be challenging when applying for graduate school to have to relive prior traumatic experiences. We are not seeking detailed descriptions of trauma and do not try to “quantify” this, which is impossible. However, stating the challenges that may have affected your path to applying to UCSF, at a level of detail you are comfortable with, will help us understand your experiences. This is sometimes also referred to as a Personal Statement. Helpful resources:

Research statement: We consider prior research experience to be an important part of applying to our graduate program for two main reasons: 1) it helps us evaluate your potential as a researcher, and 2) it shows us that you have an understanding of how the intensive experience of graduate school aligns with your future career goals. Use the research statement to tell us about your prior research experience, whether it be in academic labs, industry, or elsewhere. If you'd like to gain more research experience, consider National Science Foundation: Search for an REU Site.

Some students have worked in multiple labs, whereas others have worked solely in one or concentrated primarily on independent study - there is no single “best” way to have prior research experience. In the statement, we would like to know what questions you attempted to answer (even if you didn't answer them), the goals of your research, your specific contribution to projects, information about any publications or future authorship expectations, and anything else you think may be important about your experience. It is important to indicate what your independent contributions to a project were, both in terms of experiments and intellectual contributions. Tell us about what your lab experience was like. Did you go to conferences? Did you present at lab meeting? Write a thesis? We want to know as much as possible.

We recognize that COVID may have impacted access to research opportunities. It will help application readers understand your experience if you discuss how COVID has affected your research trajectory.

Reference letters: We request you submit three confidential letters of reference on your behalf. These letters should ideally come from prior supervisors who can speak to your potential, independence, research experiences, and character. Coworkers or teaching faculty can also be strong letters but the most valuable are often from research supervisors. Encourage letter writers from industry to discuss their thoughts on your transitioning to an academic setting.

When considering who to ask for reference letters, it is useful to ask if they can write a “strong” letter on your behalf. If there are specific things you would like them to write about, ask them to include these in the letter - this doesn’t mean writing the letter for them, rather asking them to discuss something that would strengthen your application. Reference letters are evaluated in coordination with other application materials both as an assessment of you as a future scientist and to help us understand you better.

GRE exams

The general GRE and subject GRE exams are not required. Even if GRE scores are submitted as part of the application, our admissions committee does not have access to them and does not consider them in the admissions process.

International applicants

In addition to the information listed above, international applicants must submit TOEFL scores to institution code 4840. Exemptions to this requirement are available. Details: minimum scores and exemptions.

Once you have been granted admission to UCSF, any transcripts you submitted in support of your application from institutions outside of the U.S. must be evaluated by World Education Services (WES), an accredited third-party credential evaluation service.

It is the student's responsibility to provide UCSF with an official WES transcript evaluation report. Your program cannot do this for you.

Deadlines: We require the WES evaluation to be submitted to UCSF by the mid-point of the first term the student is enrolled.

Submitting your evaluation: Request that WES send your completed evaluation electronically directly to UCSF. Do not send physical copies of your WES evaluation through the mail.

Translations: International transcripts that are translated into English from another language may be used only to make preliminary admission decisions. WES does not translate documents and requires precise, word-for-word translations when your academic documents are not issued in English. Be sure to allow enough time for your institution to translate and provide your documents to WES in English.

Due to funding restrictions, we’re limited in our ability to accept international students—admission is extremely competitive.

Student funding

All students admitted to the Biophysics Graduate Program are supported by funding that covers tuition and fees, as well as a stipend for living expenses.

UCSF commits this support for the entire period of a graduate student’s PhD training, as long as they remain in good standing. Typically it takes five to six years to earn a PhD degree.

Of particular importance to students is the annual stipend they receive for living expenses, which is part of this total.

The graduate student stipend for 2023–2024 is $47,039.67.

UCSF gathers support for graduate student funding in the basic sciences from the following sources, with the majority coming from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through faculty grants and training grants.

  • National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health Structural Biology Training Grant
  • National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) of the National Institutes of Health Complex Biological Systems Training Grant

All matriculated students are encouraged to apply for pre-doctoral fellowships.

Sources of PhD student support

  • Faculty grants
  • Federal training grants (NIH)
  • UCSF Graduate Division funds
  • UCSF Chancellor's Office funds
  • Internal fellowships
  • External fellowships
  • Endowment gifts for program support and scholarship
  • UCSF School of Pharmacy and UCSF School of Medicine funds

Student Disability Services (SDS)

UCSF is committed to ensuring access to graduate education for all students. Early communication with the relevant administrators is critical to a successful partnership in arranging accommodations. SDS is the appropriate and confidential office for seeking accommodations and will coordinate communications and procedures with you and the graduate faculty and programs. More info: Information for Prospective Students and Graduate Division Accommodations Process.

Student Success

Success in graduate school requires care and attention to all aspects of your life: health and wellness, community, career development, personal and professional relationships, and security and safety. UCSF is committed to providing a full range of resources and services to help you succeed. Learn more about these resources at Student Success.

Deadline: Friday, December 1, 2023

Apply through the Molecular Cellular and Computational Biophysics application.