PhD Program

Physiology is the study of the function of living organisms. The Cellular and Molecular Physiology track trains future PhDs to acquire, analyze and integrate data obtained from their basic research into a physiological context to understand the molecular basis of cell function and dysfunction within the organism. With cardiovascular research and neurosciences & metabolism as main research topics, students receive a solid integrated training in basic medical sciences including biochemistry, biophysics, cell biology, molecular biology, physiology and pathophysiology. 

The PhD program will require at least four but usually not more than five years to complete. The usual PhD plan of study is detailed below. It includes 48 credit hours of supervised research and didactic coursework. Students are expected to fulfill program obligations throughout the entire year but usually do not register for courses during the summer months. Elective courses can be taken instead of some (or all) of research credit hours listed in the second year.

Please visit the Graduate School website to learn more.


The general requirements for the PhD degree are listed in the Loyola University Graduate School Catalog. Only some of those requirements are summarized here. For the PhD degree, 48 semester credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree are required (plus dissertation research supervision). The time limit to complete all doctoral work is eight years for those with a bachelor’s degree and five years for those with a master’s degree. Students are required to participate in all departmental activities, such as research seminars, journal clubs, research retreats and dissertation defenses. Attendance at these functions is mandatory, and thus the student is expected to schedule research or other activities accordingly.


The IPBS PhD program requires students to complete a core curriculum of Molecular Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Methods, Ethics, Systems Biology, Statistics, Presentation Skills and three research rotations during the first year of the program. The director of Graduate Programs will advise first-year students in choosing lab rotations and electives with the assistance of individual track GPDs.

Students in the Cellular and Molecular Physiology track continue on to complete the required coursework including Physiology, Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology and two elective courses of choice; recommended options include Excitability and Ion Transport, Signal TransductionStructure-Function of Membrane ProteinsMolecular Biology or other approved electives. Students are required to participate in the Student Journal Club during the third to sixth semesters. Students in the second, third, and fourth years of the program are required to present one formal seminar per year. Enrollment in the formal seminar course is required during the second year of the program. Additional coursework may be required (or desired) depending on the research interests of individual students. Decisions concerning additional coursework must be made with the approval of the student, the student’s dissertation advisor and/or the Graduate Program Director; a total of 48 credit hours are required for the PhD track.

Some of the information in the following sections is quoted directly from the IPBS handbook.


All students must pass a Qualifying Examination for admission to candidacy for the PhD degree. The Qualifying Examination is standardized among all IPBS tracks, and is administered at the end of the 4th semester after the required coursework is complete. The purpose of the Qualifying Exam is to evaluate the student’s competency in the following areas: 1. Hypothesis or Experimental Question. The student must have a hypothesis or experimental question which is clearly stated, testable, and well-justified. The rationale for this hypothesis or question must be clear, and the student must be able to defend his/her proposed hypothesis or question. 2. Experimental Approach. The student must present an experimental approach that is clearly described and logical. The approach must directly test the hypothesis or experimental question. Discussion of expected and alternative outcomes, potential pitfalls, and alternative approaches must be included. 3. Background Knowledge. The student must display a deep understanding of the Qualifying Exam topic and supporting literature. The student must also have broad knowledge of the general biomedical sciences and experimental approaches, especially in their specific track. 4. Oral Presentation. The student must be able to clearly articulate and describe the research proposal. The student must be able to defend his/her rationale for specific approaches and respond to critiques in a professional manner. Overall oral communication skills are evaluated in this section.

Please consult the IPBS Handbook for procedural details.


By the completion of the first year, students will have completed the three required laboratory rotations and will select a dissertation advisor and track in consultation with the Director of Graduate Programs and GPD. Students will communicate this decision with the Graduate Program Office via submission of the “IPBS PhD Track & Advisor Selection Form” (Appendix 1). Forms will also be available online at the Graduate Program website:


As soon as possible after passing the Qualifying Examination, the student should form a PhD Dissertation Committee. The student will select at least five members for his/her Dissertation Committee in consultation with the advisor. The student's advisor and three of the members must be members of the Graduate Faculty of the Integrated Program in Biomedical Sciences. It is recommended that one member is from outside the Program, including from outside the institution. The committee membership must be approved by the Graduate Program Director and communicated to the Associate Dean of the Graduate School, who will have the responsibility of officially appointing the Committee. It is strongly suggested that the Committee be formed by January 1st of the third year, and required no later than August 1st, at the beginning of the 4th year of study. In the first meeting the Committee members will select a Committee Chair different from the student's advisor. The student should schedule meetings with the Dissertation Committee at least once a year to discuss progress or changes of direction in his/her dissertation work (see “Subsequent Dissertation Committee Meetings” below). The student will initiate the Dissertation Committee form by logging into the Graduate Student Progress System (GSPS) at Once committee members are entered, the form will be approved (electronically) by the Director of the Dissertation Committee and the Graduate School. (On the GSPS form, the term “Director” refers to the Committee Chair, which is different from the student’s advisor, which should be designated as “Principal Investigator”). Electronic approval from readers on the Committee is not required at this time, but all Committee members will be required to approve the subsequent Dissertation Proposal form and sign the Dissertation Defense form. In rare circumstances, it may be necessary to change the composition of the Dissertation Committee. Because the committee is an official body appointed by the Associate Dean of the Graduate School, a student must make a formal request to the Associate Dean in writing, to add or replace any member of the Dissertation Committee. It will then be necessary to create a new committee in the GSPS, and have it approved.


The student will send to the Dissertation Committee a written Dissertation Proposal which outlines the dissertation, including: Background, Specific Aims, Experimental Plan, and Bibliography. The proposal should be formulated as soon as possible after passing the Qualifying exam, and no later than August 1st, at the beginning of the 4th year. The experimental plan in the Proposal is not binding, and can be modified after consultation with the Dissertation Committee. A meeting of the Committee should be scheduled at least two weeks, but not more than a month, after submission of the document. At that meeting, the student will defend the Dissertation Proposal during an oral presentation. The Dissertation Committee must approve the Proposal with or without modifications by written vote of the members, and submit the written document to the relevant program administration office.

Students must initiate the “Ballot for Approval of a Dissertation Proposal” by logging into the GSPS ( Committee members, the Graduate Program Director and the Associate Dean will approve by electronic signature.


At least once a year, and at more frequent intervals as deemed necessary by the Dissertation Committee, the student will schedule committee meetings to evaluate his/her progress. Prior to the meeting, the student will submit a Progress Report detailing the experimental work performed since the last Dissertation Committee meeting. Each committee member will evaluate the progress, and a written report will be compiled by the Committee Chair. This report will be submitted to the Program Administrator, who will distribute it to the student, the GPD, and place in the student’s file.


The Dissertation Committee plays an essential role in monitoring and evaluating the student’s progress towards the completion of laboratory experiments, writing, and defense of the Dissertation. The Committee Chair (a person other than the research mentor) will be responsible for documentation of the student’s progress and the results of each Committee meeting. In addition to evaluating the student’s progress, the Dissertation Committee may make recommendations for supplementary didactic courses or training in special methods. These recommendations should be included in the Dissertation Committee written report.

The Dissertation Committee can, and should, encourage timely completion of the degree. In cases where progress towards completion is determined to be significantly delayed, the committee (in consultation with the Dissertation Mentor) may recommend conditions to be met and set specific deadlines. Failure to meet such deadlines could result in suspension of stipend support and/or dismissal from the program due to insufficient progress (see “Causes for Dismissal” in the Handbook).


The candidate must be registered for the term in which he/she takes the final oral examination, the Dissertation Defense. The candidate must send each Dissertation Committee member a complete written document of the Dissertation at least 4 weeks prior to the defense. All Dissertation Committee members must be present at the defense, unless the Dean of the Graduate School approves the absence. In most cases, presence of an out-of-town committee member via teleconference will be acceptable. The final revised document must be approved by all Dissertation Committee members prior to degree conferral. At least one week before the defense, a public invitation must be made to the Dean of the Graduate School, the Associate Dean of the Graduate School at the Health Sciences Division, the Dean of the Medical School, and the Health Science Division faculty and students, announcing the oral presentation of the candidate's research and its defense. This invitation can be printed as a brochure including the candidate’s curriculum vitae, publications, dissertation abstract, and the constitution of the Dissertation Committee. A 45 minute public oral presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer period, after which a closed examination with the candidate and the Dissertation Committee members will be held. The candidate must successfully defend his/her document and must demonstrate solid background knowledge of the corresponding field of inquiry. Successful completion of the oral examination requires approval by the Chair of the Committee, and at least three of the other voting Committee members. The student will make any modifications requested by the Committee, and submit the final copy of the Dissertation to the Associate Dean of the Graduate School at the Health Sciences Division within a month following the oral defense.

In case of failure to get approval of the Dissertation by the Committee at the oral examination, the student may request to schedule a second examination, which must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School, with input from the Associate Dean of the Graduate School at the Health Sciences Division. The Graduate Program Director will initiate the Thesis/Dissertation Defense form by logging into GSPS at and will be instructed to submit a pdf of the approved (paper) Dissertation Defense Form. Electronic approvals of the Graduate School will follow.

During the first year, students become familiar with all potential research mentors in the Research Rotations and gain hands-on research experience during three, 10-week research rotations. Students will be provided with a desk and study space in the research environment of one of the Physiology Graduate faculty for each rotation. The faculty member sponsoring the laboratory rotation and the student participant will plan and implement various laboratory research experiences during the 10 weeks. Ensuring adequate time for coursework will also be an important consideration in planning activities of the rotation. At the end of the sixth or seventh week of each rotation, students are required to give a 15-minute presentation to the Physiology Graduate faculty on some aspect of their experience in the research laboratory. The first-year student’s goals are to: 1) maintain a high level of academic achievement, 2) begin to narrow research interests and, 3) choose a potential thesis adviser.


  • Molecular Biochemistry (BMSC 410; 4 credits)
  • Cell Biology (BMSC 412; 4 credits)
  • Methods in Biomedical Science (BMSC 416; 1 credit)
  • Ethics Course (BMSC 405; 1 credit)
  • Research Rotation (2 credits)

10 Didactic Credits, 12 Total


  • Systems Biology (BMSC 414; 3 credits)
  • Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology (NRSC 410; 3 credits) *or elective
  • Biostatistics  (BMSC 402; 2 credits)
  • Communication Skills (BMSC 418, 1 credit)
  • Research Rotation (two, 10 weeks, 3 credits)

8 Didactic Credits, 12 Total

*NRSC 410 is required for the Physiology and Neuroscience tracks

During the second year, students are exposed to a rich array of Cellular Physiology topics: the Excitation & Transport, Cellular Signaling and Membrane Protein courses. However, in consultation with their adviser and the program director, students may substitute other elective courses. Students are required to participate in the formal seminar course and also have the opportunity to take additional elective courses if desired. At the end of the second year, students also must pass a Qualifying Exam. The second-year student’s goals are to: 1) maintain a high degree of academic achievement, 2) pass the Comprehensive Exam, 3) make substantial progress in their dissertation research, 4) begin formulating their dissertation proposal, and 5) set-up their dissertation committee by January 1st of their 3rd year.


  • Advanced Elective: Excitability & Ion Transport (PIOL 470; 3 credits)* or substitute elective
  • Research (PIOL 412; 4 credits)
  • Student Journal Club (PIOL 446, 456 or 468; 0 credits)
  • Research Seminar (PIOL 416, 1 credit)**

3 Didactic Credits, 8 Total

*Offered every other year (odd years)

**Research seminar may be taken during either the Fall or Spring semester but not both. Students will consult with their GPD and Seminar Series Director before enrolling in this course.



  • Physiology (PIOL 401; 3 credits)
  • Structure/Function of Membrane Proteins (PIOL 472; 3 credits)* or substitute elective
  • Research (PIOL 412; 3 credits)
  • Student Journal Club (PIOL 446, 456 or 468; 0 credits)

6 Didactic Credits, 9 Total

*Offered every other year (odd years)

27 Didactic Credits, 41 Total Credits



  • Qualifying Exam***
  • Dissertation Research (full-time)
  • Start formation of Dissertation Committee (by January 1st of their 3rd year, no later than August 3rd of 3rd year)

***For detailed information on the Qualifying Exam, please consult the Graduate student Handbook at

Other suggested electives:

  • Signal Transduction (PHAR 410; 3 credits)
  • Molecular Biology (BMB 417; 3 credits)

During the third year, students continue dissertation research and select a Dissertation Committee. Students will write, present and defend their dissertation proposal/outline in a public seminar attended by their Dissertation Committee. The third-year student’s goals are to: 1) maintain a high degree of academic and ethical standards, 2) select a Dissertation Committee, 3) have dissertation proposal/outline formally approved/submitted and 4) substantially increase the intensity of their dissertation research.

Students will complete 48 credit hours by graduation; the additional credit hours are reserved for Year 3 in case additional courses are desired; otherwise, they can be met with research hours.


  • Dissertation Supervision (PIOL 600)
  • Presentation of Dissertation Proposal
  • Research Seminar (PIOL 416, 0 credits)*
  • Student Journal Club (PIOL 446, 456 or 468; 0 credits)


  • Dissertation Supervision (PIOL 600)
  • Research Seminar (PIOL 416, 0 credits)
  • Student Journal Club (PIOL 446, 456 or 468; 0 credits)


  • Dissertation Research (full-time)

*Research seminar may be taken during either the Fall or Spring semester but not both semesters during the year. Students will consult with their GPD and Seminar Series Director before enrolling in this course.

During the fourth year, students continue dissertation research and periodically (about every six months) meet with their Dissertation Committee to assure timely completion of degree requirements. Students are required to present one formal research seminar in which they present their dissertation research to the Physiology graduate faculty. This seminar may be in conjunction with the student’s final defense. By the end of the fourth year, students are expected to be close to completing and defending their dissertation research.

The fourth-year student’s goals are to: 1) maintain a high degree of academic and ethical standards, 2) maintain a high intensity of dissertation research, 3) periodically meet with their Dissertation Committee and, 4) prepare to complete/defend their dissertation research.


  • Dissertation Supervision (PIOL 600)
  • Research Seminar (PIOL 416; 0 credits)*
  • Student Journal Club (PIOL 446, 456 or 468; 0 credits)


  • Dissertation Supervision (PIOL 600)
  • Student Journal Club (PIOL 446, 456 or 468; 0 credits)


  • Dissertation Research (full-time)

*Research seminar may be taken during either the Fall or Spring semester but not both semesters during the year. Students will consult with their GPD and Seminar Series Director before enrolling in this course.