Ph.D. in Pharmacology

Students pursuing a Ph.D. in Pharmacology will enroll in the Integrated Program in Biomedical Sciences (IPBS). In the IPBS, a common first-year curriculum provides you with a broad base of graduate-level biomedical sciences course work. The first-year curriculum also exposes you to some specialized topics and to the research interests of the graduate faculty from among whom you may select a dissertation advisor at the end of the first year of the program. You will then select Pharmacology as a specialized track to pursue the relevant advanced course work and training that most appropriately aligns with your research interests and career goals. The Ph.D. track in Molecular Pharmacology & Therapeutics is dedicated to training outstanding scientists in the pharmacological sciences. After successful completion of your formal course work you will have acquired in-depth knowledge of pharmacology and basic knowledge of molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry and physiology. After completion of your research project, you will have acquired expertise in your dissertation research area, including the ability to critically evaluate the related scientific literature, mastery of a variety of laboratory procedures, skills in planning and executing an important research project in Pharmacology, and the ability to communicate results in oral and written formats. Our training will provide you with a solid foundation for successful scientific careers in a wide range of areas, including academia, government, and the pharmaceutical industry.

Financial Support

Students accepted into the IPBS are granted a Stipend from the Graduate School and also receive full Tuition Remission for 48 credit hours of coursework. In addition, beyond the 48 credit hours required for the Ph.D. degree, students receive full remission of the cost each semester for Dissertation Supervision. This remission is in effect until degree completion. This support continues as long as the student remains in good academic standing in the program.

The stipend for the 2015-16 Academic Year is $27,000, beginning in August, and is paid to the student in monthly installments. Doctoral students also receive paid health insurance coverage as long as registration is maintained.

Once the student chooses a laboratory for dissertation research, funding of the stipend continues from grant-derived sources of the Principal Investigator. As long as the student receives stipend support, the Graduate School provides full tuition remission.

Additional Information is available at the Graduate School website.

Coursework

The first year of the Ph.D. Program is designed to broaden your understanding of biomedical sciences. As part of the Core Curriculum in Biomedical Sciences, you will attend graduate level courses in Molecular Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Ethics in Biomedical Sciences , and Methods in Biomedical Sciences in the Fall semester. Systems Biology, Statistical Methods for the Biomedical Sciences, and Presentation Skills courses are taken in the Spring semester, along with Principles of Pharmacology and research rotations.

Formal coursework, including elective courses and advanced Pharmacology course work, is normally completed by the end of the second year, after which you will demonstrate your knowledge and understanding through successful completion of a Qualifying examination.

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination will consist of preparation and oral defense of a mock grant proposal on a topic different from your intended dissertation research. The purpose of the Qualifying Exam is to show that you have attained competency in the following areas:

  1. ability to formulate a hypothesis or experimental question that is clearly stated, testable, and well-justified;
  2. ability to design an experimental approach that is logical and that directly tests the hypothesis or experimental question;
  3. knowledge and understanding of the Qualifying Exam topic and supporting scientific literature;
  4. ability to clearly articulate and describe the research proposal.  Once you pass this examination you are formally admitted to candidacy in the Ph.D. Program.

Thesis Dissertation

Our graduate program is committed to training outstanding research scientists. With the mentorship of a Faculty Advisor, you will undertake an independent research project culminating in new and significant contributions to the pharmacological sciences. Major areas of research emphasis are: Cell Surface Receptors; Signal Transduction Mechanisms; Neuropharmacology; Cancer Pharmacology; Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

Selection of a Faculty Advisor will be based on research rotations conducted in the first and second semesters of your first year. After completion of at least three 6- to 8-week rotations in different faculty laboratories, a Faculty Advisor will be selected in consultation with the Graduate Program Director (GPD). Your Faculty Advisor helps you prepare for the qualifying examination, plan a written research proposal, and establish a Dissertation Committee. Throughout the duration of your tenure, your Faculty Advisor provides advice and direction on the research project, monitors your progress through program requirements, and provides any other help and counseling needed for successful completion of the program.

Oral and Written Communication

We believe that students must be able to communicate effectively, whether writing an article that describes their analysis and interpretation of their research results, writing a grant proposal, or presenting a seminar or lecture. We will help to develop the necessary skills to be able to express your thoughts in a clear, organized, and concise manner. Our Program offers many opportunities to enhance your oral and written skills through a number of formal and informal sessions. These opportunities include:

Teaching

The Molecular Pharmacology & Therapeutics Department requires our graduate students to develop teaching skills. As a senior level Ph.D. students (3rd year and beyond), you can enroll in a Teaching Pharmacology course that will enables you to give up to 3 lectures per academic year in courses determined by the Graduate Faculty of the Department of Pharmacology. The lecture topics will usually be in areas related to your dissertation research. With the guidance of a Faculty Course Director, you will learn how to organize the lecture topics, develop clear presentation materials, deliver focused informative lectures, and write and grade examination questions.

Seminars and Journal Club

An important element of our program is participation in seminars and journal clubs. The Pharmacology seminar series is held bi-monthly and is attended by faculty, students and post-doctoral researchers. Nationally and internationally recognized faculty- and student-invited scientists from a range of disciplines present seminars on the latest developments in their research. Our seminar series serves to expand our knowledge and awareness of research activities outside our department and university. You will meet informally with the speakers, joining them for lunch, to have the opportunity to inform them of your own research interests and exchange ideas.

Journal Club is held every week during the fall semester and is attended by all of the Pharmacology graduate students. You will present for discussion a recently published article from scientific journals of particular interest. Journal club provides an excellent opportunity for you and your fellow students to learn from each other, while developing your communication and presentation skills.

Research in Progress Presentations

In the Spring semester, Pharmacology students present seminars to the department on the subject of their own research projects. This serves as an excellent opportunity for you to provide the department with an update about the latest developments in your project. This helps you to improve your presentation skills and helps the faculty and fellow students in the department get to know your research interests and your progress.

Department Retreat

Our bi-annual Pharmacology retreat is held in September at the Brookfield Zoo. The goals of the retreat are to welcome and integrate new students into the department, and further promote the collegial and interactive nature of our department. The retreat program includes short presentations by faculty about their research interests and a poster session featuring the work of students and post-doctoral fellows. Complementing the scientific component, everyone has the opportunity to take a tour of the world re-knowned Brookfield Zoo.

Other Activities

While we engage in our research activities we also like to engage in several fun activities. Our yearly summer picnic is an excellent example. It is held on the site of a nearby park and provides a wonderful opportunity to have good food and drink and engage in several fun games/activities with members of the department. Our annual Faculty of the Year award dinner is another excellent example. This semi-formal event is often held in unique Chicagoland cultural sites such as the Adler Planetarium or the Museum of Science and Industry.