Prospective Graduate Students

The Biology Department's graduate program is large and diverse.  Our normal complement of graduate students is over 100 in any given year. field Our students come from countries around the world.  Many have recently completed honours degrees and some are mature working scientists returning to university. Some students from developing countries are faculty members in their home institutions.

Dalhousie University is located in Halifax, a city virtually surrounded by the sea.  Within Halifax, several theatres, numerous art galleries, museums, a symphony, athletic events and activities sponsored by the city's seven universities and colleges provide a diversified cultural life. 

Near the city are excellent locations for camping, photography, canoeing, scuba diving, sailing, hiking, skating, and cross-country skiing.

Dalhousie has an enrolment of about 10,000 students. Biology, a major department on the campus with over 30 full-time faculty members and about 100 graduate students, is located in an eight storey building.

Research facilities include 650 m2 of holding area for live animals, 400 m2 of wet labs and growth chambers with piped-in sea water, a greenhouse and several growth chambers. We have facilities and up to date equipment for tissue and organ culture and research, including transmission and scanning electron microscopes, fluorescence and confocal microscopes, and ultracentrifuges. Many graduate students work in our centralized facility for molecular genetics (Marine Gene Probe Lab).   

The department has its own central stores, a photographer, a diver and access to research vessels for marine and oceanographic studies.  Excellent libraries are available, as is the opportunity to establish research contacts in other institutions located in or near Halifax.

The graduate students have an active student organization (BOGS) and they participate in a number of committees to aid in the administration of the department.

The following is a summary of the application process and relevant information required for application to the Biology Graduate Studies Programme.  The section covers:

Admission to Graduate Studies (what you require and how you apply, find a supervisor, application deadlines)

Graduate Studies Research Streams (research areas you can study)

Scholarships and Other Funding (your funding sources)

Thesis-Based Programme (what you will do) Tuition, Differential and Other Fees (what you will pay)

Admission to Graduate Studies

Detailed information on the application process for graduate studies can be found at the Faculty of Graduate Studies web page, Admissions Information.  We accept as many qualified students into our graduate programme as we can accommodate with a supervisor and funding.  You may apply on line but all documents relevant to your application should be sent directly to the Biology Department:

Application for Graduate Studies
Department of Biology
Faculty of Science
Dalhousie University
PO Box 15000
Halifax, NS  Canada   B3H 4R2

Questions regarding the application process may be directed to the above address or email

Admission to the graduate studies programme depends on:

  1. The student's academic acceptability and research records.  Our criteria for academic acceptability are those required by Faculty of Graduate Studies:
    • MSc applicants must have a minimum of an overall B (3.0) average in their last two years of study and a BSc Honours degree or its equivalent;

    • Students from universities that do not offer an honours programme require a four year degree or must complete a recommended course of study;

    • Mature students who have a three-year degree but have research experience may be accepted under certain circumstances;

    • Most honours students are accepted to an MSc and can switch to a PhD in their second year if an application to do so is approved at their Admission to Candidacy (ATC) examination.

  2. Identification of a suitable supervisor.  To be accepted in the graduate program, you must identify a potential supervisor, and the supervisor must agree to support your research and contribute towards your stipend if necessary.  Before applying, applicants are strongly urged to contact prospective research supervisors.

    • Students canl find out what research is being conducted in the department by looking at the webpages of individual faculty. Then can then contact a potential supervisors, express their interests and inquire whether the professor will be taking on graduate students in the next academic year.  It is recommended students do this before applying. The student then formally applies for admission to graduate studies.
    • Students may send in an application without having a supervisor in mind.  In that case, the student's file is directed to faculty within the department, or to adjunct faculty, who might be interested in taking on and supporting the student.
    • Sometimes a student will have full funding for a research project independently, say through an organization in which they're working. Such a student must still identify a suitable supervisor and meet the academic requirements (above).  

  3.      Availability of funding to support the student and his/her research.

    • All students accepted into graduate studies in the Department of Biology must have a source of scholarship funding in place.

The admissions process

All applications must be accompanied by:

  • official academic transcripts from all universities and colleges attended;
  • two letters of reference;
  • a letter outlining your past research experience, general research interests and/or a research project of the type you wish to pursue;
  • the names of two potential thesis supervisors, should be included in your application.

In addition

  • The results of the TOEFL , or other equivalent English as a second language test, are required if your language of undergraduate study was not English.
  • The submission of Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores is recommended if you have not graduated from a Canadian university. See FGS regulations for list of acceptable tests and mimimum scores.
  • The abstract from a previously completed thesis and/or copies of papers published or in preparation are optional submissions that would aid the Graduate Admissions Committee (GAC) in evaluation of applicants.

Applications are considered by the Graduate Admissions Committee (GAC) which consists of a minimum of three faculty members and one graduate students.

Application Deadlines

Start of Program Application deadline
  Canadian             International*
September 1 June 1** April 1**
January 1 Nov 15 

Aug 31

May 1 Feb 28   Dec 31

* International students should apply as early as possible to allow sufficient time for visa processing
** Applications (Canadian and International) should arrive by March 15 to be assured of consideration for the Dalhousie Scholarship.

Graduate Studies Research Streams

Our students tend to fall within three streams of research:

  • Populations: ecology, evolution, behaviour, conservation
  • Cell & molecular biology: genetics, cell death, neurobiology, proteins
  • Organisms: development, physiology, anatomy

A majority of graduate students are in the population biology stream, and many of those in the other two streams work on marine subjects.  Thesis projects range from genomics to open ocean studies of large vertebrates, and include research studies with large socio-economic components, both in the developing and developed world.

Scholarships and Other Funding

Students are normally provided with a basic stipend during the course of their MSc or PhD programmes.  There is usually a scholarship in place before a student is accepted.  The current Biology graduate student scholarship rate is between $12,000 - $13,000 over and above tuition and other fees (excluding health/dental plan costs).  Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply for external awards listed with the Faculty of Graduate Studies.  A scholarship can come from any number of sources:

  1. External Awards (administered by Dalhousie University)
    NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada)
    CGS – Canada Graduate Scholarship
    PGS – Post Graduate Scholarship
    IPS – Industrial Post Graduate Scholarship
    NSHRF (Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation) – Student Research Awards
  2. President’s Awards
    The President’s Award will cover the tuition (but not differential or other fees) of students starting a PhD program who have a full scholarship from NSERC (PGSD or CGSD), SSHRC (Doctoral or CGSD), CIHR (Doctoral or CGSD), or Killam (Doctoral), for the first two years of study.
  3. Killam Scholarships
    Killam Scholarships (pre doctoral) are prestigious scholarships awarded to students with the very finest records.  Exceptional students are nominated by the Graduate Admissions Committee.  These scholarships (2013/14 rates) are worth $20,000 for MSc students and $25,000 for PhD students.
  4. The Dalhousie Scholarship
    The Biology Department can provide a Dalhousie Scholarship to some graduate students.  The Dalhousie Scholarship consists of a Faculty of Graduate Studies Scholarship (FGS Scholarship) and a contribution from the supervisor's research funds.  All applicants with a minimum GPA of 3.7 (on a 4.3 scale) are automatically considered for the Dalhousie Scholarship.

Supervisor’s Funds
In many instances, the student’s scholarship is sourced solely from the research funds of the supervisor.  The supervisor must guarantee the availability of funding before taking on a graduate student.

External Funding (not administered by Dalhousie University)
Some students bring their own awards from their home countries (Kuwait, Mexico) other sponsoring agencies throughout the world (WWF) and Canada (FRNTQ) or from their workplaces (NRCC, BIO).

Teaching Assistants
All awards may be supplemented by payment for teaching assistantships, generally $1,500-$2,000 per year.  Contact the Teaching Assistant Coordinator for information on the availability of positions.

Thesis-Based Programmes

Our programmes are largely thesis-based.  They have the following components:
  • Courses - MSc students must take a minimum of four, half-credit (one term) graduate-level classes, while PhD students with an MSc, must take two, half-credit classes.  These include two compulsory classes: BIOL5700, "Communications skills for scientists", and BIOL5705, a class in which the student takes three,one-month-long modules out of a list of about 15-20 offered by faculty and adjuncts.  PhD students with MSc degrees are sometimes allowed to substitute other classes for these if they can show evidence of equivalent experience.

  • Teaching Assistant (TA) Experience - Graduate students must serve as a TA in at least two undergraduate classes and are paid extra above their scholarship.  PhD students with MSc degrees are sometimes excused from this requirement if they can show evidence of equivalent experience.

  • Admission to Candidacy (ATC) Examination - For this examination, usually taken between 4-8 months from the start of the program, the student prepares a written research proposal for the thesis and defends it orally before her/his supervisory committee and other examiners.  Students can apply to transfer from the MSc to PhD at the ATC exam.

  • Preliminary Examination for PhD students - For the Preliminary Examination, normally taken by PhD students 18-30 months after the start of the programme, the student prepares a critical review essay and also a progress report on his/her research.  A fair proportion of the critical review essays have been published in refereed journals.  The student defends these documents in an oral examination before her/his supervisory committee and another examiner.

  • Thesis Defence - Both MSc and PhD students defend their theses in public before their supervisory committee and an external (external to Dalhousie University) examiner.  In the case of an MSc, the external examiner does not usually attend the examination.

Tuition, Differential and Other Fees

Tuition and Incidental Fees
The annual tuition, athletic, and other incidental fees for 2012-2013 are between $8,891 and $9,236 for full-time MSc and PhD students, respectively.  Tuition and other fees are updated yearly on the Dalhousie Graduate Studies website.

Differential Fees
A differential fee of $5,505 ($1,835/term) (2012/13) is required of all new full-time international students.  Normally, international MSc students pay differential fees for two years and PhD for three.

Health Care Coverage
Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) Health and Dental Plan – This is available to all Dalhousie students (Canadian and International).  It is mandatory for those students who do not have an alternative medical/dental plan. Check the website to determine your eligibility to opt out of this plan.  The cost is $253/year (2012/13).

International Student Health Plan
The International Student Health Plan is mandatory if you do not hold an MSI card or have health coverage from their home country.  The 2012/13 cost per year is $491/year per individual or $1,227 for a family.  International students must have a valid MSI card in order to opt out of the plan in September.

Nova Scotia Health Card (MSI)
MSI is a provincially-funded program which provides hospital and medical care free of charge.  It does not pay for prescription drugs or other health benefits covered under the DSU plan above.  MSI coverage is available to all Canadian students and to most international students after 12 months.* If you do not currently hold a NS Health Care card, you must apply to receive this coverage. .

* International students who have secured positions as teaching or research assistants in a Dalhousie University department are eligible to apply for MSI immediately and do not have to wait 12 months. To obtain an application and determine eligibility please call the MSI office at 902-496-7008.  Once you receive your MSI card, you can contact Health Plan Administration the ISD office and inquire about opting out of the International Student Health Plan.


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