Due to concerns and mitigation efforts related to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Graduate Council has agreed that all members may participate remotely in Qual Exams. Zoom is the preferred platform since many faculty will be offering instruction via Zoom and obtaining Zoom Pro accounts. 

Congratulations on completing your first year of graduate school! Here are the First Year Review (2018) and First Year Review (2016) that summarizes what to expect for your second year. In short, your main focus for this year will be completing much of your graduation requirements. That is:

  1. Coursework Requirements
  2. Teaching Requirements (GSI)
  3. Apply for Graduate Research Fellowships
  4. Qualifying Exams
  5. Advancement to Candidacy
  6. Second Year Forms

Additionally, you may still be interested in applying for more graduate research fellowships.

Coursework Requirements

Students are required to complete a breadth requirement (Area Requirements) and a depth requirement (Major and Minor Area). Students are to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0. Some of the courses used to satisfy Area Requirements may also be counted toward the Major or Minor Areas, but they must be taken while enrolled as a student in the program. For additional details in coursework, please visit Course Information.

Area Requirements

Students must complete the Area Requirements listed below some time during their academic career in the program. Students may apply courses taken prior to entering the program (pending approval by their Graduate Adviser) or may be selected from appropriate offerings at Berkeley or UCSF. The Area Requirements Form must be updated annually with approving signatures to the Program Administrator on the Home Campus during the Spring Semester of the first two years.

Area Semester Units Quarter Units
Anatomy, Physiology and Biology 9 13.5
Biochemistry, and Chemistry beyond General Chemistry 3 4.5
Engineering in a traditional discipline and Computer Science 7 10.5
Mathematics (beyond linear algebra and differential equations)
and Statistics
2 3.0

Major and Minor Requirements

Students must identify a Major and a Minor field in which the student will complete 16 Semester Units/24 Quarter Units and 8 Semester Units/12 Quarter Units respectively on a graded basis. This requirement is designed for students explore an area of interest in depth.

Area Semester Units Quarter Units
Major Requirements 16 24
Minor Requirements 8 12

Students who already hold a Master’s Degree or professional degree may use courses from their prior degree program toward their Minor field with approval from the Head Graduate Adviser. In this case, the Major field must be in an area complementary to the student’s prior training. Up to six (6) units of undergraduate upper division courses may be applied towards the major area of study with approval from the Head Graduate Adviser. One course with the S/U option (rather than letter-graded) is acceptable for meeting the requirements of the Major Area if the student is able to present sufficient justification for the inclusion of the course and following approval from both the student’s Graduate Adviser and the Head Graduate Adviser.

For help in designing your Major and Minor Areas, here are a few resources:

Teaching Requirements

Graduate students are required to serve as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for at least one (1) semester as part of their professional development. The requirement may be met by an appointment in any campus department, however the student must notify the group. A typical GSI assignment is 20 hours per week (50% appointment) and provides part of the student’s stipend and fees during that period. If the student is being paid on an extramural fellowship, the GSI stipend may be paid in addition to the regular stipend. For additional details in coursework, please visit Teaching Information.

To serve as a GSI, the student must:

  • Enroll in Berkeley BioE 301, Teaching Techniques for Bioengineering, or equivalent before or during the year in which they serve as a GSI.
  • Attend a Berkeley Teaching Conference held before each semester
  • Attend a Berkeley Teaching Conference for International Students held before each semester (if International Student)
  • Complete of the GSI Professional Standards and Ethics Online Course
  • If teaching at UCSF, attend and complete the UCSF equivalent of a Teaching Conference and Ethics Course

For help in finding a a GSI position:

  • Berkeley: watch for applications around May for the Fall semester, Oct/Nov for the Spring semester
  • UCSF: Talk to SarahJane or directly with the professor
  • USF: Lab-based courses available

Apply for graduate research fellowships and more

Here are a couple to get you started. Be sure to check out the Fellowships page. Following advancement to candidacy, there will be more opportunities available to PhD Candidates as well.

**US Citizens or Permanent Residents Only

In addition to fellowships, here are other opportunities you can consider:

Qualifying Exams

For general information about Qualifying Exams and the program requirements, refer to Quals and Dissertation.

Suggested Timeline

6 months out

  • Discuss the time, scope, and possible committee with your mentor

3 months out

2 months out

1 month out

  • Submit final written research proposal to committee
  • Schedule 1-2 practice talks with the BEST Coordinators at least a week before your Exam date
  • Start studying the details

1 week out – Day of

  • Make sure the room is well arranged
  • Make sure the A/V works
  • Send reminders to your committee members!


Forming a Qualifying Examination Committee

Your committee will consist of four faculty members who are members of their academic senate. They must represent both the field of engineering and biology, as well as both UC Berkeley and UCSF campus. Exceptions may be considered by petition to the Head Graduate Advisers. Go here for a list of core faculty: https://bioegrad.berkeley.edu/faculty

  • Chair: Core Member from the student’s home campus
  • Member 2: Core member from opposite campus
  • Member 3:Core member from student’s home campus
  • Member 4: May be any Academic Senate member from either campus

The student’s research mentor may not serve on the qualifying committee.

To choose members for your committee, ask for suggestions from your research mentor. While you do not need to know them, it may be helpful to start fostering a relationship with them. Although members do not have to be directly in the field of your project, choose members that have different expertise that is relevant to your project. If you are having trouble contacting them, try emailing their administrator, attending their group meeting, or going to their office hours.

For insight on faculty, you can reach out to students in their labs using the Student Directory and Dissertation Labs. Additionally, you can request access from the current Webmaster to a database of student’s Quals Committees to ask for further insight.


Content of the Examination
Project Proposal

Your proposal should describe approximately 6-12 months of work. A typical proposal is about 4 pages in length and should be formatted like a grant, however this may vary at your Committee Chair’s discretion. You should plan to send your final proposal to your committee members around 3 weeks to 1 month prior to your examination date. Remember to bring physical copies to your exam for the committee members to reference.

For sample proposals, please ask older students in your lab and in the program.

Qualifying Exam

For more information about preparing for the Qualifying Exam, please reference the BioE Handbook Section 3.5 or the Qualifying Exam and Dissertation page.

  1. Get kicked out for 5-10 minutes while the Chair discusses the exam format with the committee
  2. Part 1: Research proposal talk
    • Aim for ~15-20 slides
    • Expect lots of interruptions and questions; will take 1-2 hours
  3. Part 2: The other stuff (maybe rolled into Part 1)
  4. Decision/Recommendations
    • Get kicked out of the room again for 5-10 min
    • Invited back for decision & recommendations

Advancement to Candidacy

Congratulations on passing your Qualifying Exam! You have overcome one of the biggest hurdles to your PhD. Now, as soon as possible, you will want to advance to candidacy. Once you are a PhD candidate, your non-resident tuition gets waived (international students) and more fellowship and award options are available. To advance to candidacy, you must:

  • Pass your qualifying examination.
  • Maintain the minimum 3.0 grade point average in all upper division and graduate coursework taken in graduate standing with no more than two courses having been graded as incomplete.
  • Form your dissertation committee
  • Fill out the necessary forms
  • Pay the fees associated to advancement (usually covered by your lab)
  • Submit forms to the relevant administrator at your home campus

Second Year Forms

As a second year, you have still have a bit of paperwork to fill out.

Second Year Progress Report:

  1. Annual Progress Report: Pre-Candidacy needs to be filled out near the end of your second year of the BioE program. You will need to meet with your faculty graduate advisor (or one of the head graduate advisors) to go over your progress.
  2. Program of Study: Area requirement form should also be filled out for the courses you have completed overall (see the Graduate Student Handbook for more information).
  3. Program of Study: Major and Minor form is where you list major/minor courses, your three lab rotations, and, ultimately, your GSI/teaching position.

Qualifying Exam:
By the end of the fall semester of your third year, you will need to take your qualifying exam and fill out paperwork (as usual). If you are UCSF-based, you must complete these forms at least 6 weeks before your qualifying exam. If you are Berkeley-based, you have a bit more flexibility; however, 6 weeks is a good goal. You will need to fill out the following forms:

  1. Program Internal: Constitution of Qualifying Examination Committee form  to be submitted to your home-campus administrator
  2. UCSF-based: Application for Qualifying Exam form must be filled out online through the student portal. A General Petition form (2018) needs to be filled out if one of your committee members is not on the academic senate and you wish to petition.
  3. Berkeley-based: Go to CalCentral > My Dashboard > Student Resources > Submit a Form > Higher Degree Committees Form > Qualifying Examination form; then hit the Search button thing to find ‘Doctoral’ as your committee type and follow the instructions.

Advancement to Candidacy:

  1. Program Internal: Constitution of Dissertation Committee form to be submitted to your home-campus administrator
  2. UCSF-based: Report on Qualifying Exam for Admission to Candidacy (2018) (filled out by your Committee Chair) and Advancement to candidacy – PhD form can be submitted electronically to UCSF Graduate Division.
  3. Berkeley-based: Go to CalCentral > My Dashboard > Student Resources > Submit a Form > Higher Degree Committees Form > Qualifying Examination form; then hit the Search button thing to find ‘Doctoral’ as your committee type and follow the instructions.