Choosing a Major & Co-Major Professor


Choosing a Major Professor

Much of the first year will be devoted to the important process of selecting a major professor. After completing research exploration rotations, students should contact their potential major professors to discuss the possibility of joining their laboratories. First-year BCB students must choose a major professor and notify the BCB program office of their choice by April 13 for the PhD.

BCB Faculty members are listed on the faculty directory page.


Students should not feel pressured to make a final decision about their future major professor until after all exploration rotations have been completed. BCB faculty are strongly encouraged to wait until new BCB students have had an opportunity to complete all scheduled rotations before making a commitment to any specific student. It is in the student's best interest to reserve a final decision until becoming fully informed about all available opportunities.

It is important for students to discuss their future graduate assistantship support with potential major professors. During the exploration rotation period, BCB students are usually supported as Research Assistants (RAs) with funds provided by the BCB program, or by Fellowships obtained by the BCB program for them. Typically, Ph.D. students receive 9 months and M.S. students receive up to 6 months of guaranteed assistantship support. After a student has chosen a major professor, responsibility for the student's assistantship funding lies with the major professor and home department. (For administrative purposes, the major professor's department becomes the student's home department.)

When a BCB faculty member agrees to serve as a student's major professor, the faculty member is expected to provide or arrange assistantship support for the remainder of the student's degree program, as long as the student remains in good standing and is making good progress toward the degree. Very few professors are able to "guarantee" a specific source of graduate assistantship support for several years. It is important, therefore, for each student to take an active role in discussing future assistantship funding with the major professor. Most students receive support as either a Research Assistant (RA) or a Teaching Assistant (TA), with funding supplied by the major professor and/or the home department. In some cases, students receive support from other sources, such as scholarships, training grants, or competitive research assistantships.

Establishing a Home Department

For administrative purposes, the major professor's department becomes the student's Home Department. After choosing a major professor, students must initiate a Request to Establish a Home Department for Students Admitted to Interdepartmental Majors form (see the Forms section) and submit it to the BCB administrative office. All BCB students should have filed their Home Department forms by May 1.

On the Home Department form, in Section II, after "Comments," the major professor must note his or her agreement to accept the student and to provide or arrange funding. The major professor should then sign the "Major Professor" line.

Choosing a Co-Major Professor

The major professor will assist the student in choosing an appropriate co-major professor. BCB requires that the major and co-major professor (one from the biological sciences and one from the computational/quantitative sciences) actively serve as joint mentors for the student. The co-major professor must be chosen prior to filing the on-line Program of Study/Committee (POSC) form. The co-major professor should also be designated as a major professor on the POSC form.

The co-major professor plays an integral role in the mentoring of BCB students. Ideally, major and co-major professors have active research collaborations, and share the responsibility for funding the student (by arranging a research or teaching assistantship). BCB PhD projects typically emerge from research collaborations between the co-major professors and the student. If this is not the case, it is still expected that the co-major professor will meet regularly with the BCB student to help guide dissertation research. The selection of a co-major professor, therefore, is an important decision and should be given careful consideration.

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