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Graduate Studies in Mathematical Biology

Program Description

The program offers outstanding opportunities for interdisciplinary work in the application of mathematics to biology and medicine. Students can study a variety of biological topics including:

  • Biofilms and materials
  • Biological fluid dynamics
  • Cell biochemistry and physiology
  • Ecology
  • Epidemiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neuroscience
  • Organ physiology
  • Population dynamics

The program also includes training in fundamental techniques of applied mathematics, including:

  • Numerical and computational methods
  • Ordinary and partial differential equations
  • Asymptotic and perturbation methods
  • Dynamical systems theory and bifurcation theory

Several graduate courses are offered in mathematical biology and students are encouraged to take applicable courses outside mathematics. Mathematical biology and applied mathematics students are encouraged to take four semesters of the special problems/journal club course. This course is designed to expose students to mathematical research early in the graduate career, as well as to develop the ability to read journal articles.

For the special problems area, students select a faculty advisor and work in small groups to research a problem in the advisor's research area. Throughout the semester, students research the problem, develop a model and generate results. At the end of the semester, students write a report and give a presentation to the math-bio group.

We have a weekly Math Biology Seminar and several Special Interest Groups and journal clubs that meet regularly to focus on specific areas of biology.

The Oral Exam

(From the Graduate Bulletin) Research Proposal: The student makes a presentation of a background topic related to their proposed research or directly on their preliminary research. The student proposes the plan for the rest of the Ph.D. research and demonstrates they have the requisite background by answering questions related to the presentation/proposal/ background topic. Some supervisory committees require a written research proposal and/or as with the coursework exam, a written syllabus of the topics covered on the exam.

The Mathematical Biology Group has the following requirements for the written project proposal which accompanies the oral exam. The project proposal will fit the NSF format of no more than 15 pages including figures and tables, plus additional pages for literature cited. It should include mathematical and biological background to motivate the central question, preliminary results or research on one or more projects, and a future directions section outlining the structure of the proposed thesis. The student may discuss the ideas and content with their advisor and committee, but not receive their direct feedback on the writing. The proposal should be submitted to the committee at least one week in advance of the exam.


The Mathematical Biology program is located on the third floor of the newly renovated Cowles Building (LCB). Every graduate student has a graphical workstation on their desk, and the computational facilities include a network of Silicon Graphics and Sun workstations and multiprocessor computers.

The Mathematical Biology program maintains strong ties with the University's School of Medicine and the Departments of Biology and Bioengineering. These departments are internationally recognized for the excellence of their research programs.

Mathematical Background

While we anticipate that many applicants to this program will have strong training in undergraduate mathematics, people with strong quantitative backgrounds in other sciences or engineering are encouraged to apply. The program currently includes students with backgrounds in mathematics, physiology, biochemistry, fluid dynamics, computer science, resource management, and physics.

Those students with deficiencies in their mathematical backgrounds will have the opportunity to take those necessary courses during their first year of the program. After core courses in differential equations, applied mathematics, and numerical methods, students will design their program of study to follow their individual interests and needs.

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