M.D./Ph.D. in Pharmacology

Students who are interested in a combined career in medicine and research may be enrolled in a dual M.D./Ph.D. degree program. The first two years are spent taking courses in the medical school, after which they will move into the graduate school and take graduate level courses and commence the dissertation research phase of the curriculum. It may take up to four years to earn the Ph.D. degree. After successful completion of their dissertation, the final two years are devoted to clinical training at the medical school.

The M.D./Ph.D. Program in Molecular Pharmacology & Therapeutics is dedicated to training students to become outstanding scientists in the pharmacological sciences. The graduate school phase of the M.D./Ph.D. program includes formal coursework and an independent research project that culminates in a doctoral dissertation. After successful completion of their formal course work students will have acquired in-depth knowledge of pharmacology and basic knowledge of molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry and physiology. After completion of their research project, students will have acquired expertise in their 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 research careers in a wide range of disciplines in academia, health sciences, and government.


During the first two years in the graduate school phase of the M.D./Ph.D. program students will be taking classes in the medical school as part of the normal medical school curriculum. After successful completion of the first two years of medical school, you will be required to complete graduate level courses in Methods in Biomedical Sciences, Ethics, Statistics, and Receptor Pharmacology. This formal coursework is normally completed by the end of the third year, after which you will demonstrate your knowledge and understanding through successful completion of a Ph.D. 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 will be formally admitted to candidacy in the Ph.D. Program.


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, usually conducted between the Spring and Fall terms of the first two years of the M.D./Ph.D. program. After completion of at least two 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 preliminary examinations, plan a written research proposal, and establish a Dissertation Committee. Throughout your tenure as a graduate student, 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. Your Dissertation Committee provides further guidance in your dissertation research and in the writing of your dissertation document.


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:


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. Faculty and student invited scientists from outside Institutions, recognized nationally and internationally, 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. Students will have the opportunity to meet informally with the speakers, joining them for lunch, and to inform them of your own research interests and ideas.

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


In the Spring semester, senior Pharmacology students will present a seminar to the department on their own research projects. This is an excellent opportunity for students to provide the department with an update about the latest developments in their projects. As a result, students get to improve their presentation skills and the faculty and students in the department get to know the research interests and progress of our graduate students. Although during the first year of the graduate phase of the program students may not have yet selected a laboratory for their dissertation they will also have the opportunity to present a seminar to the department. They will present a literature review on a topic of their choice in collaboration with a mentor of their choosing.


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.


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 usually held in unique Chicagoland cultural sites such as the Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry.