Program Overview

The SSPB curriculum is designed to provide students a strong foundation in the life sciences and the skills needed to integrate biological inquiry with rigorous, quantitative mathematics and physics. For more information, please refer to the Graduate Handbook.


SSPB has developed a unique set of core courses to provide students foundational knowledge in systems, synthetic, and physical biology. Students are required to complete the core lecture courses by the end of their second year in residence.

Students in the program are also required to complete a course on Responsible Conduct of Research (UNIV 594), 4 semesters of our graduate seminar course (SSPB 550), and one semester of a teaching assistantship (SSPB 599).

During their first semester, all students must register for Introduction to Research (SSPB 575) and participate in research lab rotations. Upon joining a research lab, students register for Graduate Research (SSPB 800) each semester.


Students are required to accumulate at least 9 credit hours of courses that cover Advanced Topics in SSPB and 6 credit hours of Open Elective Courses. It is recommended that at least one of the courses in Advanced Topics apply quantitative concepts from computer science, physics, and mathematics or statistics to biological problems, and at least one focus on biology within the sub-area where each student is pursuing their dissertation research. The approved advanced elective courses list is provided can also be found in the Graduate Handbook.


SSPB is a highly interdisciplinary field, which necessitates the development of foundational knowledge in diverse areas, such as:

  1. Molecular Biology (Introductory Biology and either Cell Biology, Genetics or Biophysics)
  2. Biochemical Reaction Kinetics (Biochemistry, Bioreaction Engineering, or equivalent),
  3. Physical Chemistry or Thermodynamics or Statistical mechanics,
  4. Ordinary Differential Equations, and
  5. Statistics.

Prior to matriculating in the SSPB program, only a small number of our students have formal training in all of these subject areas because students have pursued diverse undergraduate studies. When students are missing formal training in one or more of these topics, they are required to take equivalent background courses during their first year at Rice, which are listed in the Graduate Handbook.