PhD in Biodefense Curriculum

The PhD in Biodefense at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government is designed to prepare students to serve as scholars and professionals in the fields of biodefense and biosecurity. The program integrates knowledge of natural and man-made biological threats with the skills to develop and analyze policies and strategies for enhancing biosecurity. Other areas of biodefense, including nonproliferation, intelligence and threat assessment, and medical and public health preparedness are integral parts of the program.


Six required courses (18 credits): BIOD 604, 605, 609, 620; GOVT 500, 540

One additional advanced research course (3 credits): Must be approved by the program director. May be focused on qualitative or quantitative research.

Two required field seminars and 2 elective courses (12 credits) in one of three fields of specialization (International Security; Terrorism & Homeland Security; Technology & WMD)

Two elective courses (6 credits): Students should select courses from fields other than their chosen field of specialization.

Electives (9-21 credits): Students complete the remaining 72 credits through additional elective courses chosen in consultation with an advisor.

Dissertation (12-24 credits): Once enrolled in 998, students must maintain continuous registration in 998 or 999 every semester (excluding summers) until the dissertation is submitted to and accepted by the University Libraries. Students who defend in the summer must be registered for at least 1 credit of 999.


Reduction of Credit
Students who enter the doctoral program with a master’s degree or other graduate credit may have their credit reduced by up to 30 credits at the discretion of the department with the approval of the dean.

Degree Requirements (Catalog Year 2016-2017)
In addition to meeting the following requirements for this degree, students must meet the university requirements for all master’s degrees.

To receive a PhD in biodefense, students must complete a minimum of 72 credits. Students are strongly encouraged to take the core courses as early as possible because they provide the foundation for the rest of the program. The courses that students plan on taking should be approved in a program of study designed by the student and their advisor during the student’s first semester. Students may take up to 12 credits of courses outside of the Biodefense Program with prior written approval of their advisor. Consult with the graduate program director or coordinator for a list of BIOD electives and approved non-BIOD electives that can be used to fulfill some of the requirements below.


Doctoral Course Work (48-60 credits)

Core coursework (7 courses | 21 credits)

BIOD 604 – Introduction to Biodefense I: Bacterial and Toxin Agents
Covers the microbiology, pathogenesis, clinical effects, and epidemiology of bacteria and toxins that pose threats to global health or can be utilized as biological weapons. 

BIOD 605 – Introduction to Biodefense II: Viral Agents
Covers the microbiology, pathogenesis, clinical effects, and epidemiology of viruses that pose threats to global health or can be utilized as biological weapons. 

BIOD 609 – Biodefense Strategy and Policy
Introduces students to the biodefense and biosecurity strategies and policies of the United States, other nations, and international organizations. Evaluates the effectiveness of these policies in strengthening defenses, improving intelligence, increasing oversight, enhancing nonproliferation, and reinforcing norms. Examines the interaction of biodefense and biosecurity with homeland, national, and international security. 

BIOD 620 - Global Health Security Policy
Explores issues emerging from the interaction of health and security that represent novel challenges to policy makers confronting a rapidly changing international landscape. Examines the origin and evolution of the concept of health security. Analyzes strategic impact of infectious disease outbreaks, global health security case studies, global health governance, and formulation and implementation of U.S. global health security policy. 

GOVT 500 – The Scientific Method and Research Design
Grounds students in the principles of the scientific method as the framework for investigating all research questions in political science, whether qualitative or quantitative in character (or both). Focus is on sound and rigorous research design. 

GOVT 540 – International Relations
Focuses on changing structure of international politics, post-Cold War security issues, effect of globalized economy and information technology revolution, enhanced role of global corporations and nongovernmental organizations, and rise of non-security issues in emerging international agenda. 

PUAD 646 – Additional Advanced Research Course
One additional advanced research course (3 credits) chosen from GOVT 712, GOVT 717, PUAD 646, or an alternative research course approved by the program director.

Field of Specialization (4 courses | 12 credits)

Students in the biodefense doctoral program may pursue a field of specialization in International Security, Terrorism and Homeland Security, or Technology and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Each specialization requires four total courses - two field courses and two elective courses.

International Security Specialization (2 field courses and 2 electives):

GOVT 744 – Foundations of Security Studies
Introduces students to a selection of the original sources of the most important ideas that form the basis of security studies as a subfield of political science.

GOVT 745 – International Security
Examines interplay of international politics and international security. Discusses theoretical perspectives and analytical tools in academic field of international security, and applies theories and tools to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, strategy and defense, and arms control. How domestic issues affect defense policies, terrorism, changing nature of international conflict, and human security will be examined. 

Terrorism and Homeland Security (2 field courses and 2 electives):

BIOD 722 – Examining Terrorist Groups
Introduction to terrorism including the history and evolution of terrorism, case studies of key terrorist groups, the current nature of the terrorist threat and counterterrorism strategies. 

BIOD 725 – Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction
Examines the capabilities and intentions of terrorists to acquire and use chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. The course provides an in-depth understanding of the history of CBRN terrorism, the current challenges posed by this threat, and the range of national and international policy tools available to address this threat. 

Technology and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) (2 field courses and 2 electives):

BIOD 706 – Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons Policy and Security
Explores the causes, conduct, and consequences of the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Covers the historical, technological, normative, and strategic factors that have promoted and restrained the spread of these weapons. Addresses the motives for states to develop these weapons and the debate over the security implications of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapon proliferation. 

BIOD 760 – National Security Technology and Policy
Introduces students to the intersection of science, technology, and policy in national security. Will examine the players in the formation of science policy; the roles they play; how the types, uncertainties, and availability of data affect science policy debates; and how science policy decisions are made. Topics to be covered include weapons of mass destruction, nonlethal weapons, nanotechnology, bioengineering, energy security, and pandemic influenza. 

Courses outside of the specialization (2 courses | 6 credits)

Of the courses listed for the fields of specialization above, students must select two courses from those that are not in their chosen field.

Electives (3 to 4 courses | 9 to 21 credits)
Students complete the remaining credits through additional elective courses chosen in consultation with an advisor. These courses may be in the department of may be offered by other departments.

Dissertation (1 to 2 courses | 3 to 6 credits)

Qualifying Exam
The purpose of the qualifying exam is to determine if the student is ready to engage in dissertation research. Doctoral students are eligible to take the exam at the conclusion of coursework, provided an approved Degree Plan is on file in the department. The exam must be completed before the student takes dissertation proposal (BIOD 998).

Advancement to Candidacy
To advance to candidacy, students must complete all coursework required on their approved program of study and pass a qualifying exam.

Dissertation Research (12-24 credits)
Once enrolled in 998, students in this degree program must maintain continuous registration in 998 or 999 each semester (excluding summers) until the dissertation is submitted to and accepted by the University Libraries. Once enrolled in 999, students must follow the university’s continuous registration policy as specified in the Academic Policies section of the catalog. Students who defend in the summer must be registered for at least 1 credit of 999.

Students may apply to this degree a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 6 credits of 998 and a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 18 credits of 999. They may apply a maximum of 24 dissertation credits (998 and 999 combined) to the degree. Because of the continuous registration policy, students may be required to register for additional credits of these courses.

Before registering in BIOD 999, students must offer a successful public defense of the dissertation proposal. Students must present the results of the dissertation research to their dissertation committee in a seminar and defend their dissertation to the university community. Successful completion of a dissertation is contingent on approval of the dissertation committee and the dean.

BIOD 998 – Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Credits: 1-12
BIOD 999 – Doctoral Dissertation Credits: 1-12 (minimum of 9 credits)

Requirements may be different for earlier catalog years. See the University Catalog archives.

PhD in Biodefense Program Description and Admissions Information