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How to Choose a Graduate Program in Genetics

Dear Prospective Graduate Student:

Applicants, advisors, parents and teachers want to know how to assess the quality of a Genetics Graduate Program. The University of Arizona Genetics Graduate Interdisciplinary Program has fared well over the years in various genetics graduate program rankings and evaluations.  However, it is also useful to focus on more qualitative issues. Because most of you will be making choices about where to apply and enroll during the next few months, I want to suggest to you some guidelines that may assist you in evaluating which genetics graduate program is appropriate for you. I will also assess the University of Arizona GIDP in Genetics’ strengths in this context. I hope that you find my comments helpful in your decision process.

Interdisciplinary Values 

GIDPs transcend departmental boundaries by facilitating cutting edge teaching and research where traditional disciplines interface. The fusion of ideas, techniques, and expertise from the traditional academic fields provides for the evolution of modern and imaginative methods of research.  The Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs are an integral part of the Mission Statement of the University of Arizona, and student enthusiasm for the programs is one of their strongest characteristics. Outstanding research and educational facilities attract the best and brightest students. In 2006, GIDPs produced 11% of all Ph.D. degrees at the University of Arizona. Faculty participating in GIDPs develop strong partnerships with academic and research institutes campus-wide, state-wide and nationally. Currently, 661 faculty from 14 colleges and 108 departments are actively involved in GIDPs at the University of Arizona. This strong network of cooperative relationships signifies the Intellectual Fusion put into practice through The University of Arizona’s Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs.

History, Reputation and Values

Examine the history, reputation and values of the schools you are considering. Reputation is an amorphous concept, difficult to define, even more complex to measure.  Part of a school's reputation centers on what those who know it well say about it.  Speak directly with our students, graduates, faculty, and staff.  Examine the values of the various schools.  For almost 20 years, the University of Arizona Genetics GIDP has educated, cultivated and encouraged the development of students in the field of genetics to be leaders in the scientific professions, in both the academic and industrial arenas, and contributors to the public good.  Over 30 doctorates in Genetics precede you; they teach, work in research laboratories, and are employed in biotech companies and have earned reputations of excellence.  Their efforts and accomplishments serve as a strong foundation for you to build upon.


Third, consider the quality of the school's faculty and leadership, for they set the intellectual climate and standards of a school.  The faculty of the University of Arizona Genetics Graduate Interdisciplinary program is distinguished, including nationally recognized teachers and scholars, such as Bruce Walsh (Genetics and Analysis of Quantitative Traits; Evolution and Selection of Quantitative Traits);   Fernando Martinez (Director of the BIO5 Institute); Michael Hammer (Chief Scientist of Family Tree DNA, which provides the testing for The Genographic Project); Joyce Schroeder, and Cari Soderlund.

New additions to our faculty include Tom Doetschman, Cell Biology and Anatomy, and Sue Kim, Basic Medical Sciences, UA College of Medicine – Phoenix and Investigator at The Translational Genomics InstituteWherever you attend graduate school to study genetics, you will read the texts and articles by these exceptional faculty.  At Arizona, you will have the opportunity to study with them, become involved in their research projects, and to develop intellectual partnerships that will foster your personal and professional development.

Genetics GIDP Chair Melanie Culver was elected chair of Genetics in 2012.  The administrative team of the Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs is comprised of seasoned managers and professionals with decades of experience, who approach institutional concerns with sensitivity, intelligence and dedication to the highest ethical standards.  Full time Program Coordinator Lori Taylor works with Genetics students to ensure their compensation is handled accurately and promptly, the appropriate forms are filed with the Graduate College at the right times, and your tenure at UA is as procedurally smooth as possible.  Faculty and staff of all levels share a strong commitment to the University of Arizona and our students.

In addition to the full time faculty, we urge you to get a sense of the nature and quality of the speakers and visiting faculty who enhance a vibrant educational experience.  At Arizona, our outstanding academic reputation and stimulating environment enables us to attract a wide range of distinguished visitors and lecturers.  Recent speakers and visiting faculty have included  Keith Cheng, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pathology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Pharmacology; Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation, Penn State College of Medicine; John M. Butler, Ph.D., Project Leader, Human Identity DNA Measurements Group, National Institute of Standards and Technology; and Alfred G. Knudson, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., Senior Advisor to the President, Fox Chase Cancer Center.


Please examine the curriculum, including the size of the classes, their availability and the quality of the research laboratories where you will be trained.  Remember that the most important element in your education is the strength of the core curriculum, the basics that all geneticists should know.   Do not choose a school because of the lure of boutique-like courses in highly specialized fields in which you may lose interest.  Most students, no matter how focused and directed, change and grow in a genetics graduate program.  Your interests and life direction will evolve in ways that are difficult to anticipate now.  Thus, the strength of your overall education and the commitment of the institution to your development as a scientist are critical areas to examine.

At Arizona, we channel tremendous resources and intellectual energy into the first year curriculum.  You will also have the opportunity to work in at least three laboratories to get a feel for the type of research that will comprise your thesis.  

Arizona's research laboratories offer a rich array of opportunities.  You can work on the genetics of bacteria, plants, insects, rodents and human beings.  These projects have implications for control of infectious disease, feeding a hungry world, understanding basic developmental processes, and understanding human genetic disease in animal models.

Quality of the University

Please consider the quality of the University as a whole. In 2001, the National Science Foundation ranked the University of Arizona as one of the top fourteen public research universities in the country (measured by level of research funding), with outstanding graduate programs and nationally recognized colleges and departments of Medicine, Fine Arts, Business, Philosophy, Anthropology, Psychology and Geosciences, among others.

The Genetics GIDP derives great intellectual strength and interdisciplinary perspective from the diverse academic resources of the University of Arizona.  In addition, excellent library facilities and computer resources, world class museums, good health services and insurance benefits, and a wealth of cultural activities -- from opera to basketball games -- are available to you as a member of the University of Arizona community. The life of a great university becomes part of your life as a graduate student at the University of Arizona, from lectures by Nobel Laureates to the thrills of national basketball and softball championships to stargazing on the University Mall with renown astronomers. Click here and choose from one of the many tours of the University.


Also consider the quality of the student body and the nature of student life. The intellectual power and wide ranging experiences of your fellow students will elevate and inform your education. 

At the University of Arizona Graduate College, the students bring to the educational process outstanding intellectual abilities, impressive academic credentials and very diverse personal experiences. Your fellow students will inspire, motivate and befriend you. 

We encourage students to share their various work, educational and cultural experiences with the genetics graduate program community.  The demanding educational experience at the University of Arizona is characterized by a collegial rather than a competitive environment, and is highlighted by the informality and friendly atmosphere found in the Southwest.  Students play an integral part in the governance of the Graduate College through the Graduate and Professional Student Council, which promotes the academic, economic, and social aims of graduate and professional students of the University of Arizona and advocates on their behalf, as well as graduate student representation on GIDPAC.


Students in the program can pursue a Ph.D. in Genetics with a specialization in Genomics. They can be supported by fellowships offered by the Genetics Program or by any other University of Arizona's graduate education and research grants for predoctoral studies.  The Genetics GIDP has also received four prestigious Science Foundation Arizona fellowships in the past two years.

There are additional fellowship/scholarship opportunities available for specific purposes such as travel to scientific conferences, including the Herbert E. Carter Travel Award exclusively for students of graduate interdisciplinary programs.


Please consider the environment of the genetics graduate programs you are considering. The research laboratory facilities are an important consideration.  Many Genetics GIDP faculty have their research laboratories in the Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building, shown below.

Top researchers from diverse disciplines are working together in the open laboratories and research "neighborhoods," sharing cutting-edge instrumentation and core research services in the new facility. The flexible design of the lab spaces and offices ensures quick adaptation to changes in technology and research priorities.  Offices and modular workstations, along with three conference rooms, casual break rooms and outdoor terraces on each floor provide additional interaction space.

The Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building is also a science education center for the Arizona community, providing a venue for the public to participate in events that enhance interest in and awareness of issues in the biosciences. The events draw visitors from around the state and the world to interact with faculty and graduate students, including researchers, bioscience industry leaders, politicians, teachers and students.

Even though recent state budgets have forced the UA to re-examine its spending allocations, it has received a $170 million allocation for critical maintenance and building renewal projects.  The University remains committed to ensuring that Genetics graduate students are learning and researching in state of the art facilities.

Please feel free to contact the Genetics program chair, Melanie Culver or (520) 626-3775. We welcome your interest, offer encouragement as you begin the admissions process and wish you success in your genetics graduate program career.



Graduate Coordinator, Genetics GIDP 520-626-1452

Last updated 10 Feb 2015