Learning Outcomes for the Pharmacology PhD Program

1A. Graduate education in general | Doctoral education is the foundation of future scholarship and the primary “engine” driving the research enterprise.  It prepares future faculty and leaders in the academy as well as in many other areas of industry, government, and society in general.

1B. Pharmacology program in specific | The excellence of our Graduate Program in Pharmacology is best illustrated by the fact that our NIH-sponsored pre-doctoral T32 Training Grant has been continuously funded since 1978, making it one of the longest standing  pharmacology training programs of this type.

The philosophy of our graduate program is to emphasize state-of-the-art research approaches at all stages; and that begins with the recruitment phase. We identify candidates with excellent undergraduate academic credentials, with a strong preference for those who have participated in independent research. During the first year in the program, students must complete three formal laboratory-based research rotations. Each research rotation is intended to examine testable hypotheses, as well as to provide exposure to new laboratory techniques. At the conclusion of each rotation, a post-rotational seminar is presented to the Department. To enhance research exposure further, the Department offers a special course on Frontiers in Pharmacology to our first-year students.

During the first two years in the program, students are required to take a number of courses to prepare them for research careers in pharmacology. These include a core course in molecular and cellular biology overseen by the Graduate School, and Program core courses in Cell and Molecular Signaling and Principles in Pharmacology. Additional requirements include courses in Ethics, Biostatistics, and Reproducibility & Rigor. During  the second year, a number of electives are also available emphasizing topics such as: neuropharmacology/neurobiology and cancer biology, bioinformatics, and structural biology.

The PhD program in pharmacology trains graduate students to become proficient and successful investigators who are able to:

  • Demonstrate a basic knowledge of central concepts of the biomedical sciences.
  • Understand the historical basis as well as current concepts in the scientific discipline of pharmacology.
  • Read and critically evaluate scientific literature relevant to pharmacology, in specific, and the basic and clinical biomedical sciences, in general.
  • Formulate hypotheses based on current concepts in the field and design, conduct, and interpret their own research projects.
  • Writing: Present research results in peer-reviewed publications and in their doctoral dissertation.
  • Speaking: Communicate research results effectively through oral presentations at scientific seminars, conferences, and other venues.
  • Understand the basis of writing and submitting competitive applications for research funding.
  • Develop ancillary skills, where necessary, to obtain positions outside of scientific research.
  • Be competent in self-evaluation of acquired skills and understand how those skills may be perceived by external peers.
  • Develop a mature and meaningful Personal Development Plan (PDP) that will facilitate attainment of career objectives.

Curriculum ​Overview

The Pharmacology Training Program attempts to allow for individual flexibility while providing a common core experience for every student.

Required Courses | Students must maintain a minimum of a ‘B’ average in all required courses. In addition to course requirements, second-year students must also fulfill the Major Seminar requirement during the spring semester.

Electives | Each student is encouraged to choose electives that match his or her interests.

Rotations | With the exception of MSTP students, each student must do three research rotations in different laboratories. 


Research Rotations

Directed laboratory research in an area selected by the faculty. Students are required take three rotations lasting one academic “quarter” each, starting in the fall semester of their first year.

Research rotations are designed to introduce students to research methodologies, to teach approaches to scientific problem solving, and to provide the opportunity to explore various laboratories as potential homes for thesis research. Students should approach the research rotations with the primary goal of identifying their future thesis advisors. Research rotations also provide students with the opportunity to accumulate a variety of different research experiences.

The proposed rotation plan, a two-page formally written paper, must be submitted to the Graduate Training Committee at least two weeks prior to the start of the rotation to ensure that the proposal is appropriate. An individual faculty member cannot have more than one Pharmacology student doing a research rotation in his or her laboratory at any given time.

There are several considerations which a student should keep in mind when choosing a rotation advisor. Rotations must be performed with a member of the Pharmacology Program Training Faculty. It is the student’s responsibility to take the initiative to contact a rotation advisor and arrive at an agreement with the advisor in a timely manner.

At the completion of each required rotation, students must present a post-rotational seminar. This seminar will be presented on a predetermined Monday during the regular Departmental Seminar Series. The actual dates of the post-rotational seminar series for any given year are available from the Graduate Training Coordinator. In the post-rotational seminar, the student presents the rationale, methods, and results obtained from the rotation project, as well as an interpretation and a discussion of the rotation project results. The post-rotational presentation usually lasts anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five minutes, with five minutes at the end customarily devoted to questions from the audience.


Rotation Grades

Each rotation is assigned a letter grade. The rotation advisor assigns the initial grade following the post-rotational seminar. Based upon subsequent faculty input, the grade for the seminar may be adjusted up or down by one-half grade. Each student (with the exception of students in the MD/PhD Program) must complete at least three research rotations by the end of the first program year. Failure to do so will result in dismissal from the program. The possibility of a fourth rotation during the summer quarter between first and second year will be considered for students unable to decide upon a thesis advisor.


Preliminary Examination

At the end of the first year of study, each student will be given a written examination on a broad range of topics related to the first-year’s course work. A 70% average is required in order to pass this Preliminary Examination. The student must also achieve a grade of 70% or better on each of the questions posed by the examining committee. In case of a non-passing grade, it is entirely the option of the Training Program to allow a student to retake the entire examination or a portion thereof. Alternatively, the Program may elect to terminate the student’s matriculation. Passage of the examination is a prerequisite for taking the University Comprehensive Examination at the end of the second year of study.​