The Graduate Program


The research faculty in mathematical biology is very interested in training Ph.D. students. For that purpose they have received a large Research Training Grant from the National Science Foundation. This grant provides academic year stipends so that graduate students studying mathematical biology have reduced teaching responsibilities and the grant also provides summer stipends. The Director of the Research Training Grant is Michael Reed.

The program in mathematical biology is part of the Graduate Program of the Mathematics Department. Students apply to become graduate students in the Mathematics Department, indicating their interest in mathematical biology in their applications. When they complete the requirements of the program, they receive the Ph.D. in Mathematics.

What is mathematical biology?

The faculty takes a very broad view of the field of mathematical biology and the training of graduate students. In their thesis research, students can:
  • Apply mathematics to specific important biological or medical problems.
  • Develop new analytical or computational tools for biological problems.
  • Prove theorems and develop areas of pure mathematics inspired by biology.

Many mathematical biology faculty members are both pure and applied mathematicians, and thus they are well qualified to advise students and help them formulate a program of study based on their own interests.

The breadth of research topics can be seen on the list of current graduate students interested in mathematical biology.

This video is taken from a 16-mm movie made in the 1950s by the late David Rogers. It depicts a human polymorphonuclear leukocyte (neutrophil) on a blood film crawling among red blood cells. The neutrophil is "chasing" Staphylococcus aureus microorganisms.


Training in Mathematics.

The faculty believes that all graduate students in mathematical biology should have excellent training in core mathematics. Thus each student should take a variety of graduate courses during their first two years selected from some of the following fields, analysis, dynamical systems, partial differential equations, probability, algebra, geometry, topology, statistics, discrete mathematics, depending on the student's particular interests. All students interested in mathematical biology should take Math 790-77. All students supported by the Research Training Grant are required to attend the colloquium seminar and the colloquium each week.

Sign up for Mathematics 790-77. Current Research in Mathematical Biology. The colloquium seminar is designed to introduce students to the work and career of the next colloquium speaker. Typically, RTG faculty and students study two recents papers of the colloquium speaker and two students are assigned to lead the discussion. After the colloquium, RTG postdocs and graduate students take the speaker to lunch. Each term, the colloquium has a theme, though not all speakers necessarily fit within the theme. Last year and this year the themes and organizers are as follows:

  • Fall 2011. Bio-fluid Mechanics, organized by Anita Layton and Karin Leiderman
  • Spring 2012. Applications of Geometry and Topology to Biology, organized by Jon Harer and Elizabeth Munch.
  • Fall 2012. Mathematical and Computational Neuroscioence, organized by Michael Reed and Mainak Patel.
  • Spring 2013. Cancer Modeling. Organized by Rick Durrett.

Training in Biology. The amount of training in biology that is appropriate depends on whether the student's research plan is in area (1), (2), or (3) indicated above under What is Mathematical Biology?. Students may, if they wish, take courses in a very large number of different departments and schools (see The Duke Environment).

Students supported by the Research Training Grant will normally do a project with a biologist in the summer after their second year of graduate study. Projects will be arranged by the the Director, Michael Reed, and the the members of the Biology Advisory Committee, a group of distinguished biologists at Duke. Students can be supported more than once (and earlier in their careers) if appropriate to their interests.

Responsibilities of RTG students. Graduate students supported by the Research Training Grant benefit because they have fewer teaching responsibilities and therefore can concentrate on their research program. They do have some other responsibilities, however. The RTG grant has a large number of stipends to support undergraduate research projects in mathematical biology. RTG graduate students will sometimes be asked to help faculty members mentor these projects. Each year, the TG faculty will hold a 10 day workshop in May for students from small colleges in the southeast to tell them about mathematical biology and to encourage them to go to graduate school. RTG students will occasionally be asked to assist with the workshop.

Training in Teaching and Presentation Skills. All mathematical biology students must participate in the teacher-training program of the Mathematics Department. Jack Bookman, who developed this pioneering program at Duke, helps graduate students become excellent teachers. Students also receive training in in delivering research lectures and grant writing. Excellent presentation skills are particularly important for mathematical biologists who often have to give lectures to mathematicians who know little biology or to biologists who know little mathematics.

Mentoring and Advising. All students entering the graduate program of the Mathematics Department are assigned a faculty mentor who helps them with course selection and discusses with them their career goals. Once the graduate student selects a thesis advisor these duties are taken on by the advisor. All graduate students interested in mathematical biology will be assigned a mentor who does research in mathematical biology.

Talk to Current Students. Prospective graduate students can find out what our current students think about mathematics training, teacher-training, biology training, mentoring and advising, and the atmosphere in the Department. Simply consult the list of current students interested in mathematical biology and send emails.

Financial Support.

All students admitted to the Ph.D. program in mathematics are guaranteed five years of financial support, assuming that they make satisfactory progress towards the degree. The Research Training Grant provides student funding in the form of research assistantships (open to US Citizens and permanent residents) for students pursuing research in mathematical biology. Additional (unrestricted) student support is available through fellowships, faculty research grants and departmental teaching assistantships.Thus all students, regardless of nationality, are encouraged to apply to study mathematical biology at Duke.

What if I'm not sure? That is not unusual. Most students go to graduate school to earn the Ph.D. because they love mathematics, but very few know exactly what they want to work on. You may be driven to study pure mathematics or you may be excited by seeing mathematics in action in the real world, but you may be unsure whether you want to specialize in applications to economics, or biology, or physics, or computer science. That's fine.

During your first two years of graduate study you will take lots of courses, attend lots of seminars and talk to lots of mathematicians and mathematics graduate students. Because of this immersion, you will know much much more about mathematics and applied mathematics than you do now and you will choose what is right for you. You can decide as late as your third year that you want to do mathematical biology. Or, perhaps if you came to Duke intending to specialize in mathematical biology you will decide in your third year that you want to do something else. That's ok too. Such mid-course corrections are not unusual. Our faculty will help you to figure out what you want and then will help you achieve your career goals.

How do I apply?

This part is easy. You simply go to the application information for graduate study in mathematics at Duke, where you will find directions and a discussion of the admissions process and financial support. You can also email directly Michael Reed, Director of the Research Training Grant Program or Tom Witelski, Director of Graduate Studies.

Recent Ph.D.s & Current Graduate Students Interested in Mathematical Biology

Ph.D. in 2014

* Indicates support from the NSF Research Training Grant

 

Miles Crosskey *

webpage
Advisor: Mauro Maggioni

Thesis: Atlas Stimulation - A Numerical Scheme for Approximating Multiscale Diffusions Embedded in High Dimensions

 



Sean Lawley *

webpage
Advisor: Michael Reed and Jonathan Mattingly

Thesis: Stochastic Switching in Evolution Equations

 



HwaYeon Ryu *

webpage
Advisor: Anita Layton and James Nolen

Thesis: Feedback-Mediated Dynamics in the Kidney- Mathematical Modeling and Stochastic Analysis

 



Ioannis Sgouralis

webpage
Advisor: Anita Layton

Thesis: A Dynamical Nephrovascular Model of Renal Autoregulation

 

Ph.D. in 2013

* Indicates support from the NSF Research Training Grant



Shishi Luo

webpage
Advisor: Michael Reed

Thesis: Probabilistic Methods for Multiscale Evolutionary Dynamics

 

Elizabeth Munch *

webpage
Advisor: John Harer

Thesis: Applications of persistent homology to time varying systems

Ph.D. in 2012

* Indicates support from the NSF Research Training Grant



Tiffany Kolba *

webpage
Advisor: Jonathan Mattingly

Thesis: A Generalized Lyapunov Construction for Proving Stabilization by Noise

 


Sarah Schott

webpage
Advisor: Mark Huber

Thesis: TPA - A New Method for Approximate Counting

Ph.D. in 2011

* Indicates support from the NSF Research Training Grant

 

Matt Bowen *

webpage
Advisor: David Schaeffer

Thesis: A Spectral Deferred Correction Method for Computing the Cardiac Two-Cycle

 




Richard Hahn *

webpage
Advisor: Sayan Mukherjee

Thesis: Probability Models for the Targeted Borrowing of Information

 


Kevin Gonzales

webpage
Advisor: David Schaeffer

Thesis: Modeling Oscillations in the cAMP-PKA Network Within Budding Yeast

Current Students Interested in Mathematical Biology

* Indicates current support from the NSF Research Training Grant

 

Erin Beckman
ebeckman@math.duke.edu
webpage
Advisor:

"Mathematical biology."

 

 

Rotem Ben-Shachar * (Program in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics)
rotem.ben.shachar@duke.edu
webpage
Advisor: Katia Koelle

"I am interested in understanding the range of disease severity that occurs from dengue infections. I use multi-scale models of nonlinear differential equations to understand how dengue dynamics at the within-host and population levels impact the risk of severe disease."

 

 

Michael Casey

webpage
Advisor: Mauro Maggioni

"I am currently interested in incorporating more geometric methods in biological modeling, particularly in problems with a strong biophysics flavor. Past projects have included numerical simulations of swarm dynamics (fish, birds, wildebeests, etc.) under natural selection, and geometric models of the motion of cilia."

 

 

Shalla Hanson
s-hanson@math.duke.edu
webpage
Advisor: Michael Reed

"Mathematical biology."

 

 

Jeffrey LaComb *
jeffrey.lacomb@duke.edu
webpage
Advisor: Michael Reed

"My main mathematical interests are in Analysis, Geometry, and Topology. Some biological applications I find interesting are ecology and the treatment of diseases."

 




Yi Li

webpage
Advisor: Anita Layton

"I work on numerical methods for computing fluid motion driven by immersed interfaces."

 

 

Colbert Sesander * (Program in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics)
colbert.sesanker@duke.edu
webpage
Advisor: John Harer

"I'm currently developing methodology to understand the mechanisms of entrainment in circadian clocks. I also work on numerical techniques to explore the parameter space of systems biology models."

 



Ezgi Temamogullari

webpage
Advisor: Michael Reed

"Mathematical biology."

 



Chi Zhang *

webpage
Advisor: