PhD in Physiology

Physiologists examine the complex functions of living organisms to sustain life at the cellular, molecular and systemic levels. Learn about physiology Ph.D. degree programs, prerequisites, graduation requirements and career options. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Will I Study in a Ph.D. Program in Physiology?

Physiologists engage in a broad range of research that sheds light on how different systems in the human body or other living organisms function, such as the endocrine, sensory and motor systems. Advances in the understanding of the human genome are leading to new areas of physiological research, including how genetics influences human behavior.

Before narrowing a research focus, Ph.D. candidates participate in laboratory rotations in which they become familiarized with a variety of areas of study within physiology. There are a number of concentrations offered through the Ph.D. program, including reproductive science and sport physiology. Typical required coursework for doctoral students includes:

  • Molecular biochemistry
  • Cell biology
  • Systems biology
  • Methods in biomedical science
  • Cellular and molecular neurobiology
  • Molecular biology
  • Biostatistics
  • Excitation and ion transport
  • Biomedical science ethics

Common CoursesCell biology, biomedical science ethics, molecular biology, excitation and ion transport
Admissions RequirementsBachelor's degree in a related field, GRE scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation
Program RequirementsLab studies, dissertation w/ oral defense
Career ChoicesResearch associate, assistant professor, bacterial physiologist, research analyst
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 13% for Exercise Physiologists and 15% for Postsecondary Teachers*
Median Salary (May 2018) $49,270 for Exercise Physiologists and $82,550 for Biological Science Postsecondary Teachers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Prerequisites?

Applicants to Ph.D. programs in physiology are typically required to have earned a bachelor's degree in a related science, such as chemistry and biology. Along with a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation and transcripts, you will likely be required to submit GRE general and subject test scores. Prerequisite coursework generally includes calculus, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, and biology.

What Are the Requirements?

Typically after two years, once you have taken required coursework and engaged in a variety of lab studies, you will generally take qualifying exams to advance to Ph.D. candidacy. The written and oral qualifying exams will likely involve proposing a successful dissertation topic, hypotheses, and experimental approaches.

When you pass your qualifying exams, depending on the university you attend, you may have requirements to fulfill in addition to completing your dissertation, such as teaching undergraduate courses. Finally, you will need to perform an oral defense of your dissertation, which should be an original contribution to your area of research, before a doctoral committee.

What Are My Career Options?

Physiologists most commonly perform research in the medical sciences. They may work for biomedical research firms, pharmaceutical companies, medical centers or universities. In academics, these biological scientists typically have careers that include research, publication, and teaching.

In addition to human physiology, they may pursue the study of other living organisms, such as metabolism of insects or the reproductive physiology of mammals. Some job titles in physiology can include:

  • Postdoctoral research associate
  • Lab head, integrated physiology, and animal modeling
  • Assistant professor
  • Research scientist
  • Lecturer
  • Bacterial physiologist
  • Statistical modeling
  • Research analyst
  • Technology development representative

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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