Deadline: Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Apply through the Molecular Cellular and Computational Biophysics application.
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.
Please note that 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, please visit the Graduate Division.
Applicants interested in the Biophysics Graduate Program should apply directly through the Molecular Cellular and Computational Biophysics application.
The application for Fall 2021 opens in September 2020.
The deadline to apply and provide all supporting materials is December 1, 2020.
The Admissions Committee reviews all applications and extends invitations to interview. Our interview visits are January 21-23, and February 4-6, 2021. 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 March 2021.
The 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 two 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 bring for an on-site interview based on the reader evaluations. The program pays for all travel and accommodation expenses either by reimbursement or by arranging your airfare for you.
On-site interviews are typically three days long, with introductory talks and dinner on the first night, interviews and dinner on the second day, and fun activities with current students on the third day. This gives us a chance to meet you and you a chance to meet us. Use the on-site interview 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 on-site interview, and accept the majority after these two weekends.
After on-site 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 to arrive at the final list of accepted students, and each year we are, unfortunately, unable to accept all outstanding applicants.
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:
General and demographic information
3 letters of recommendation
A personal statement (or Statement of Purpose)
A research statement
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. The Graduate Division Website has full information on 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
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.
Personal statement: 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 personal statement is a good place to make candid statements about recommenders and prior experiences to help us to understand your application.
Also use the personal statement 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. Please also note that this is sometimes also referred to as a Statement of Purpose.
Here are some other resources that might be helpful from:
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Due to funding restrictions, we’re limited in our ability to accept international students—admission is extremely competitive.
Citizens of Mexico are invited to apply for PhD study at UCSF via our collaboration with UC MEXUS - CONACYT. Candidates must complete the UCSF application in addition to following UC MEXUS - CONACYT guidelines.
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 he or she remains 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 2020–2021 is $41,200.
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/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. Please visit Information for Prospective Students and Graduate Division Accommodations Process for more information.
Student Success at UCSF
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 by visiting our Student Success website.
Deadline: Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Apply through the Molecular Cellular and Computational Biophysics application.