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About The Program
The Genetics Training Program provides exceptional opportunities to students. Our mission is to train students in cutting-edge genetic and genomic research while providing professional development opportunities for successful career trajectories. The breadth of research opportunities in the program combined with our focus on students and student development makes our program and community one of the top in the nation.
The Genetics Training Program is situated within the Laboratory (Department) of Genetics at UW-Madison, but it includes a wide variety of associated faculty whose labs students can join. The training program includes over 80 faculty trainers, whose primary appointments span over 20 departments and multiple colleges. Trainers in our program share the incorporation of genetic and genomic perspectives while collectively capturing the diversity of research questions, tools, and approaches of modern scientific research. Our trainers and program can therefore provide students with a solid foundation in modern and classical genetic / genomic knowledge while exposing them to cutting-edge research experiences. The genetics research pursued on campus, along with the active engagement of our trainers in the program, provides an exceptional community. An NIH Genetics Training Grant, administered by the Laboratory of Genetics, thereby provides to its graduate students the greatest possible diversity and opportunities in modern genetics research.
The Laboratory of Genetics is the oldest and one of the finest centers of genetics in the nation. It is highly regarded for its research contributions in the areas of disease genetics, cell biology,neurogenetics, developmental genetics, gene expression, genomics, evolutionary & population genetics, and computational biology. The Laboratory consists of two departments: Genetics, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences; and Medical Genetics, in the School of Medicine. Although administratively distinct, these two departments function as one at both the faculty and student levels.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison ranks among the nation’s top universities. It regularly ranks among the top U.S. public universities in the amount of research and development funds received from all sources. Its faculty and former faculty include 11 Nobel Laureates, 45 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 7 National Medals of Science, 13 Pulitzer Prizes, 34 Presidential Young Investigator Awards, and multiple Howard Hughes Investigators.
The UW-Madison has one of the largest university biological research communities in the world, with over 700 faculty, 1,500 academic staff, 700 postdoctoral fellows, 2,500 graduate students, and thousands of undergraduates. At the same time, close-knit communities ensure a supportive but diverse environment in both research and education. Many departments at UW-Madison rank among the top in their disciplines, including the Departments of Bacteriology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Genetics, Plant Pathology, Oncology, Statistics, and others. In addition, UW-Madison fosters significant interdisciplinary collaboration and communication. Many of our students and trainers attend a broad range of seminars and community meetings that span traditional disciplines.
UW-Madison also houses a number of internationally recognized research centers and facilities, including theBiotechnology Center and the The Center for Genomic Science Innovation, the UW Carbone Cancer Center, the J. F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution, the Center for High Throughput Computing, the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, the National Magnetic Resonance Facility, Biotron, Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation, and others. Many of our trainers also participate in the Quantitative Biology Initiative that brings together quantitative biologists from campus and oversees the QBio doctoral minor that Genetics students can participate in.
The combination of outstanding research opportunities and options, investment in student scientific and professional development, and exceptional collaboration and collegiality make the UW-Madison Genetics Training Program a superb intellectual environment in which to develop and pursue careers in the biological sciences. We also value diversity in our community and foster a communal atmosphere among students and trainers. Our students have been highly successful in attaining diverse post-doctoral career opportunities in a wide variety of jobs related to biological research and investigation.
Points of interest:
The University of Wisconsin Madison is a leader in biological science research with over 700 faculty distributed over several dozen departments.
Genetics maintains an active and vigorous presence in most areas of modern genetic and genomic research, broadly defined.
The University of Wisconsin Madison offers state-of-the art facilities and technologies.
Genetics offers a competitive stipend, tuition remission, low cost of living, and comprehensive benefits.
Our faculty are outstanding researchers, but also dedicated teachers and mentors who are committed to training the next generation of geneticists.
We have a vibrant graduate student community. Students serve on department standing committees, participate in new student recruitment, plan our annual retreat, and organize social and educational events. We also value diversity in our community and welcome applicants of all backgrounds.
UW-Madison offers exceptional opportunities in professional development, including through the DiscoverPD portal that matches student interests to events and opportunities on campus.
Madison consistently ranks among the most desirable American cities in which to live offering outdoor recreation, cultural programming, sporting events, and festivals.
Current Graduate Student Profiles
Meet our current graduate students!
6th Year, Harrison Lab
Audrey is originally from Boise, Idaho and got her bachelor degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Western Washington University.
Her interest in UW-Madison stemmed from the quality of the department and the prospect of whom she’ll work aside with. She is excited to be apart of a field where UW-Madison is highly regarded, while having fun an welcoming environment to be around. Currently, she is researching the transcription factor dynamics in the early drosophila embryo with a career goal of continuing genetic research with an emphasize on engaging a public audience. Audrey believes it is critical to articulate the importance of their work to a general audience to help demystify and normalize scientific inquiry.
When not working in the lab, Audrey enjoys spending time exploring Science hall due to the rumors of it being haunted with ghost sheep. She also enjoys textile arts, gardening, and playing roller coaster tycoon.
6th Year, Perna Lab
Jaime is from Downey, California. He got his undergraduate degree from California State University, Long Beach in Molecular Cellular Biology and Physiology. His current research focuses on investigating the genome response of facultative anaerobes in varying oxygen environments. The goal of this is to advance the understanding of the response to oxygen availability beyond E. coli K-12.
Jaime’s ultimate career goal is to be an astrobiologist or space biology researcher ideally at NASA. When not in lab, Jaime enjoys doing science outreach in astronomy and astrobiology. Additionally, he does outreach on behalf of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a Solar System Ambassador. His favorite spot on campus is Observatory Hill since it has a great view of the lake and sometimes the northern lights over Canada are visible.
His advice to prospective PhD students is to not join a lab simply because it is the “hottest” research at the time, but to make sure you follow what you are passionate about. You’ll be spending about 5 years with the research; you want to make sure you’re interested. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, everyone here is willing to help and support you. Finally, be sure to find balance in your life; life isn’t just about lab, enjoy time with family, friends and pets.
6th Year, Pelegri Lab
Trevor is from Springville, Utah and is finishing up his 2nd year here at UW. He earned a bachelor degree in Biology from Utah Valley University in Orem. His choice to come to UW was influenced by an undergraduate research advisor that attended UW-Madison to complete their own PhD and highly enjoyed their experience.
Trevor’s research focuses on principles in developmental genetics applied to conservation. They use a surrogate system to replicate somatic cell nuclear transfer in Danionin fish, and systematically assess how the cytoplasm of an egg interacts with a nucleus that comes from another Danionin species. Specifically, they examin mitochondrial-nuclear interactions and how the interplay between the two contributes to development. His career goal is to work for a conservation group using developmental genetics to increase genetic variability in populations of endangered species. He would also love to teach as well.
When not in lab, Trevor enjoys spending time with my wife and daughters, ages 7 and 9, and our little shih tzu dog, Scooter. To relax, I enjoy a variety of video games as well as playing guitar.
5th Year, Gasch Lab
Auguste graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Growth & Structure of Cities and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She chose to come to UW because of the great conversations she had with faculty, current students, and other prospective students when she visited. Through her PhD research, she hopes to gain experience that will help her contribute to a better understanding of human health and disease In the future she can see herself enjoying teaching, being part of a research team, writing or editing biology content, or a combination of these roles.
Auguste’s research is focused on better understanding an RNA-binding protein (RBP) that is implicated in aneuploidy tolerance in yeast. She is particularly interested in how this protein fits in a broader network of RBP-directed post-transcriptional regulation to influence RNA fates. Outside of the lab Auguste enjoys cooking and eating with her husband, playing music, spending time by the water, and going to Allen Centennial Gardens.
UW-Madison Genetics Training Program Overview
Genetic research is among the most important contemporary areas for both fundamental discovery and advancement of human health. Understanding how functional information is encoded in a genome, how genetic differences across individuals influence phenotypic variation including disease susceptibility, and how cellular and developmental mechanisms are influenced by mutation and evolution is central to the mission of NIH, and NIGMS in particular. The promise of personalized medicine and patient genome sequencing is driving an even greater demand for expert geneticists who can interpret genetic information. The Genetics Training Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) combines an established tradition of excellence in training generations of genetics researchers with a forward-looking vision of the changing landscape of career opportunities and trajectories. Our mission is to train the next generation of genetic researchers in rigorous, responsible, cutting-edge research that addresses modern questions in genetics and genomics, while preparing students for diverse careers that leverage that training.
We have maintained one of the oldest and largest NIH training grants in Genetics for over 45 years:
- Continuously funded since 1975
- The program hosts ~50-55 students, with class sizes of 8-12 students
- The training grant funds students for 1-2 years of training. All students receive a stipend during their course of training
We have had great success preparing students for diverse careers that leverage a PhD in genetics.
- Of students funded by the T32 training grant in the last 15 years:
- 97% remain in science-related fields, including:27% currently in postdoctoral positions
- 18% leading academic labs
- 18% in human clinical genetics and genomics (80% of those board certified)
- 20% in the biotech industry
- 9% in science education and administration
- 7% in other careers leveraging a doctorate in genetics (including an analyst for the Center for Disease Control, an NIH program officer, and a professional scientific editor).
- 97% remain in science-related fields, including:27% currently in postdoctoral positions
We offer a diverse set of trainers who are active in the program and serious about mentoring
- Includes 70 trainers in 22 departments and 4 colleges, with breadth of research tools & topics
- Research in the program is highly collaborative
- 90% of trainers have published with another lab in the last 5 years
- 33% (49% of those with NIH funding) share at least one grant with another PI
- Trainers are committed to training students
- 87% of trainers have graduated a student in the last 10 years
- 89-93% of their students and postdocs, respectively, remain in science today
- Trainers actively participate in the program
- 73% serve on at least one genetics thesis committee
- 33% teach a required course or participate in a required workshop
- Nearly all have participated in recruiting, retreat, our seminar series, or other events
We have an outstanding cohort of engaged students:
- 100% of Genetics students from the last 10 years published manuscripts (2.9 papers on average, with 1.6 first-authored papers on average per student)
- Students are active in programmatic activities, governance and professional development
- We strive to maintain a vibrant community that values diversity and inclusion in all senses, which enables the best scientific training, research, and innovations.
In the fall semester of the first year, each new graduate student attends a comprehensive series of talks given by faculty who have space for graduate students in their research laboratories. Based on these talks, each program admission student then spends four weeks in the labs of three (or four if needed) professors whose work seems especially interesting to them. The student, in agreement with the professor, will then choose one of those options as the thesis lab. Arranging these lab rotations is an important first step of each student’s program. During the first semester, all students also take one of several required courses, Advanced Genetics 701.
In the second semester, program admitted students will get settled in their thesis lab and all students will take the required course Advanced Genetics 702 and complete other elective coursework if desired. At the end of the second year, the student becomes “certified”. Certification is a planning process in which the student, their mentor, and their chosen faculty committee decide if additional courses are recommended to prepare the student for a chosen research area. The student and the mentor select a certification committee of three to five faculty members from fields related to the student’s research interest. This committee will guide the student through the remainder of his or her graduate training. Over the summer of their first year, students take a writing course, in which they prepare an NSF Fellowship application.
Although the first year of study emphasizes formal course work, graduate students begin research activities in the laboratory of their supervising professor as soon as possible and to devote an increasing portion of their time to independent work as their career progresses. Students must pass an oral examination of a thesis proposal by the end of the second year. By that time, students will also have assisted in the teaching of one or more of the general undergraduate survey courses in genetics as part of their training. A brief summary of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in genetics is shown below:
Core course work: Integrated Advanced Genetics for Graduate Students (Genetics 701 & 702), two roundtable methods and logic courses where students meet weekly with the invited Colloquium speaker, and four seminar courses. Students are also required to take at least one additional high-level course in genetics or genomics, and can choose additional courses based on interests and recommendations of their thesis committee.
Minor course work: Students can choose to do an external minor as an add-on to their Genetics PhD, or choose to meet the UW requirement for a minor by using the Genetics major course requirements (called a ‘distributed’ minor).
Other requirements: One semester of teaching assistant experience (second year), Writing Course, Oral Thesis Proposal Defense (by the end of second year), coursework in Responsible Conduct in Research, annual meetings with the thesis committee, and finally successful oral defense of the Ph.D. thesis.
Course offerings in genetics are numerous and varied. Beyond our graduate core curriculum, Genetics courses include:
Advanced Genomic and Proteomic Analysis, Advanced Microbial Genetics, Animal Developmental Genetics, Biology & Genetics of Filamentous Fungi, Cancer Genetics, Clinical Genetics, Comparative and Functional Genomics, Evolutionary Genetics, Evolutionary Systems Biology, Genomic Science, Human Genetics, Population Genetics, Prokaryotic Molecular Biology, Regulatory Mechanisms in Plant Development, and Human Cytogenetics.
Further courses in areas such as molecular and organismal biology, population genetics, quantitative biology, and bioinformatics are offered by allied departments, in addition to a wide array of seminar series.
For more details, see the Graduate School’s statistics about the Ph.D. program in Genetics.
Types of Admission
Students may be admitted to UW Genetics through either of two tracks: rotation (in which a student rotates in 3 or more labs prior to joining one) or direct admission (in which a student is admitted to join a specific lab). The admission track(s) through which we can consider a prospective student depend upon funding availability, and also upon the number of potentially appropriate labs for them. Most of our domestic students do rotations while supported by our NIH training grant. Due to more limited non-federal funds, about two thirds of our international students instead join the program via direct admission.
Our program’s rotations are shorter than most – just four weeks long. The goal is not to finish a research project but rather to get a clear impression about interacting with a potential faculty mentor and doing research in their lab. A big advantage of this system is that the vast majority of our rotation students join a lab by December of their first year and begin their thesis research. This quick start helps reduce our time to graduation.
With direct admission, a prospective student is accepted based on an agreement with a specific faculty mentor who commits to providing their funding. The student would typically join this lab in late August upon beginning their PhD program, with the intention of completing their thesis research with the sponsoring faculty mentor. A conversation about direct admission can be initiated by either an applicant or a faculty mentor.
All prospective applicants may benefit from contacting potential faculty mentors by e-mail, including before they apply to the program. Through such interactions, applicants can confirm that this lab is accepting students and provides a good fit for them. Such interactions are particularly important for prospective students who may be interested in direct admission, including international applicants and those with more targeted research interests.
For admission to graduate study in genetics, the student should have earned a grade average of B or better and completed a B.S. or B.A. degree in a recognized college or university. There are no specific requirements in supporting fields, but students are encouraged to acquire adequate background in mathematics, physics, and biology. There is no formal language requirement for the Ph.D. in genetics.
The Genetics Graduate Program Admissions Committee takes a holistic approach to reviewing applications. The GRE is no longer required; however, students who have taken the exam are welcome to supply scores, which may be considered in the holistic application review. The GRE Biology or related subject test is not required, but applicants may provide scores if available. Official GRE scores should be sent to UW- Madison using code 1846. If your native language is not English or your undergraduate instruction was not in English, you are also required to submit TOEFL scores. Undergraduate research experience is also strongly recommended in order to be competitive.
Complete Applications must be received by December 1, although early submission is encouraged. Midyear admissions are not considered. Most students admitted are selected during February and March.
Successful applicants to the UW Genetics PhD program usually have at least one year of research experience at the time of application. Such research may be in genetics or a related field. Successful applicants have generally completed an undergraduate genetics course or have equivalent knowledge from courses or other sources. Particular points of emphasis in the admissions process include the statement of purpose (see the following section for criteria) and recommendation letters from research advisors (letters from all recent research advisors should be provided). UW Genetics also places a high priority on continuing to increase multiple facets of diversity in our program and our field in general.
How To Apply
Application components include:
- Personal, Academic and Background Information
- Statement of Purpose/ Reason for Graduate Study
To write the most effective personal statement, we suggest addressing these questions:
What is your personal motivation to become a geneticist?
What makes it clear that you will thrive in a research-intensive PhD program?
What have you discovered and personally gained from your past research experience?
Which areas of genetics research interest you the most?
Why is UW Genetics the right fit for you?
Are there specific genetics trainers who you might like to work with?
See our Research Areas section to learn about our faculty and labs.
- Three Letters of Recommendation
The three letters should be from research mentors and professors and should address your potential to perform Genetics research at the PhD level, in addition to your aptitude and performance in intellectual and creative pursuits pertinent to scientific research.
- Unofficial transcripts
Unofficial transcripts will be accepted for the admissions process. However, if you are offered admission you will be required to send official transcripts to the department.
Please include in detail your research experiences including number of months worked, work experiences, publications and posters, honors, awards, and interests.
- Test Scores
The Genetics Graduate Program Admissions Committee takes a holistic approach to reviewing applications. The GRE is no longer required; however, students who have taken the exam are welcome to supply scores, which may be considered in the holistic application review. The GRE Biology or related subject test is not required, but applicants may provide scores if available. Official scores will need sent to UW- Madison, use code 1846. If your native language is not English or your undergraduate instruction was not in English, you are also required to submit TOEFFL scores.
- Supplemental Application
- $75.00 Application Fee
Application fee waivers may be considered for applicants who have a financial need or have participated in specific inclusion-focused training programs. Applicants should first review the Graduate School Fee Waiver application information and instructions. If you are not eligible via the Graduate School, you may request a fee waiver from Genetics. Please complete this form.
Steps to complete your application:
Students accepted into the Ph.D. degree program initially receive financial aid from either an NIH training grant or graduate school fellowships. In later years, support may be derived from a research assistantship. Genetics students also receive funding from competitive fellowships such as the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and from cross-disciplinary UW training programs that include Genome Sciences, Computation and Informatics in Biology and Medicine, Biotechnology, and the Biology of Aging and Age-Related Diseases. Support is awarded on a continuing basis, subject to availability, provided that satisfactory progress is maintained toward completion of the Ph.D. requirements. Limited financial aid is available to international students.
We strive to maintain an inclusive, supportive, and diverse community that enables our world-class education, research, and collegiality. We care about our students, and we make every effort to see that they develop both intellectually and personally during their stay with us. Furthermore, we instill in our students a value of our community and in supporting each other during graduate school. We strongly believe that such collegiality fosters and supports diversity – in our student body, creative ideas, and scientific innovations.
The UW-Madison Genetics Training Program invites applications from students of diverse backgrounds who are interested in genetic research and training. We especially seek qualified underrepresented minorities to the program and campus. Beyond simply recruiting students, we aim to provide diverse mechanisms of support to ensure that students are empowered to express and develop to their full potential. Please contact the Graduate Program Manager, Martha Reck, email@example.com, for questions you might have about our program and initiatives.
Living in Madison
Madison is a great place to live and it is rated highly for it’s bikeability, food, overall liveability, and more. Settled between four lakes and acting as both the state’s capital and home to the largest university in Wisconsin, the city boasts wonderful recreational activities while also serving as a cultural hotspot featuring art, music, theater, and a vibrant nightlife. Madison is considered a hidden gem of American small cities and it is surprisingly affordable. Using a cost of living comparison tool, here’s how Madison shapes up next to some other popular cities that host Genetics PhD programs:
Berkeley, CA is 133% more expensive
Seattle, WA is 91% more expensive
Cambridge, MA is 80% more expensive
Los Angeles, CA is 72% more expensive
San Diego, CA is 59% more expensive
Tempe, AZ is 7% more expensive
Chicago, IL is 6% more expensive
Raleigh, NC is 2% more expensive
East Lansing, MI is 9% less expensive
Baltimore, MD is 12% less expensive
St. Louis, MO is 19% less expensive
Being an affordable city means that your stipend can go further here allowing you to take advantage of so much that Madison has to offer. You can learn more about life in Madison by visiting our graduate student life page.
If you would like to check your application status you may do so by logging into My UW. Every effort is made to check documents off of your application checklist in a timely manner, however, please allow 3-5 business days for updates to occur. If you have forgotten your NetID or password, assistance is available here.
If you have specific questions about the program, please contact Graduate Program Manager, Martha Reck, firstname.lastname@example.org or Program Director, Nicole Perna, email@example.com. If you have specific questions about a specific faculty member’s research and lab, please see our list of all Genetics PHD mentors. You can find their contact information by clicking on their image.
Meet us at a conference!
The Genetics PhD Program will have a booth with other UW biosciences in the exhibit hall during SACNAS 2023! Stop by!
Attending the conference: Professor and Program Director, Nicole Perna; Professor, Ahna Skop
The Genetics PhD Program will have a booth in the exhibit hall during ABRCMS 2023! Stop by!
Attending the conference: Professor and Program Director, Nicole Perna; Graduate Program Manager, Martha Reck