Training Program in Pathogenesis and Host—Pathogen Interactions (HPI)

The Training Program in Pathogenesis and Host–Pathogen Interactions (HPI) is an interdepartmental teaching and research program that currently involves the participation of faculty from multiple disciplines within the Boston University School of Medicine. Applicants must apply for admission to the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS) through the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. Students are admitted to the HPI training program through the Department of Microbiology after they have completed the core PiBS curriculum. They then follow a program specifically designed for HPI students. The program of study includes a literature-based curriculum, prominent guest speakers, and spirited journal clubs as well as extensive hands-on laboratory training. Small class size and extensive interaction with the faculty provide students with the opportunity to customize their training according to their specific scientific interests.

Students may choose any of the HPI faculty, irrespective of departmental affiliation, for their research training. Particular areas of expertise within the research community include:

  • bacterial gene regulation
  • bacterial-host cell interactions
  • diphtheria toxin entry
  • viral-host cell interactions
  • HIV transcription and replication
  • biology of adaptive immune responses
  • host defense and innate immune responses
  • vaccine development

Please see the individual faculty research descriptions for a more complete picture of ongoing research programs.

Admissions

Students enter the HPI Training Program through the Department of Microbiology. Students must apply for admission through the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS), Division of Graduate Medical Sciences of Boston University School of Medicine. Departmental preference should be noted on the application. Application information and forms are available through the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. Any further inquires can be addressed to the program.

Financial Aid

All PhD and MD/PhD students are eligible for full financial aid. Financial aid consists of a stipend, tuition, activity fees, and health insurance. For the 2014–2015 academic year, the stipend for entering students will be $31,000 and will be $32,000 for students who have passed their qualifying exams.

Students are also eligible to compete for support from outside sources, such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. While in graduate school, students are also eligible to apply for internal research and travel awards.

Coursework

The curriculum for students in HPI offers flexibility in training and is designed with the interests of the student and his/her prior background and training in mind. Formal coursework emphasizes breadth and depth in various areas of microbiology, immunology, molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry. Formal coursework is normally completed within the first two years with the majority usually completed in the first year. Students should consult with the director of graduate students for program-specific coursework.

Seminars and Journal Clubs

During the Fall and Spring Semesters, the HPI Training Program and the Immunology Training Program sponsor a weekly seminar series featuring nationally or internationally recognized scientists. Students are encouraged to attend seminars and to join the speakers over an informal lunch. In this way, students are exposed to leading-edge concepts in rapidly advancing fields and are to discuss the science driving these advances. Making connections with invited speakers is also important for networking for postdoctoral positions or other jobs after completion of doctoral studies. Students are also expected to attend seminars offered by a variety of divisions and departments throughout the Medical and Charles River Campuses. Students are also encouraged to attend a variety of seminars offered by our neighboring institutions such as Harvard Medical School, Tufts Medical School, MIT, Brandeis, and Massachusetts General Hospital, to name a few. Students are expected to give at least one formal seminar a year.

Two student-led journal clubs are available to HPI students as part of the Trainee Seminar Series held at 12 p.m. on Mondays. Journal clubs are held on a rotating basis with trainee research seminars.

Teaching

Teaching is an integral part of the learning process. In order to provide students with some teaching experience, all students in the Department of Microbiology must serve as a teaching assistant at least once in either the Medical School MS 220 DRx course or in one module of a Foundation in Biomedical Sciences (FiBS) course.

Qualifying Exam

Students complete three 10-week rotations during his/her first year. Two of the rotations serve as the basis for the qualifying exam. The qualifying exam is given in two phases. Phase 1 usually takes place at the end of the Fall Semester in the second year. It is based on the first two rotations and consists of a written summary and a 30-minute oral presentation in a closed session with the Qualifying Exam Committee. Phase 2 takes places after completion of the third rotation usually at the end of the Spring Semester of the second year. It can be based on any of the three rotations except for the rotation in phase 1. Phase 2 consists of three parts: an abstract and a 5–7 page proposal on the student’s dissertation research, a 30–45 minute open research seminar, and a closed oral examination with the Qualifying Exam Committee.

Laboratory Research

Research is the central part of the graduate student’s training and as such most of the time spent in graduate school is devoted to original laboratory research. This is carried out in the laboratory of a faculty member chosen by the student who serves as the student’s mentor and scientific advisor. A Research Advisory Committee composed of faculty scientists provides additional expertise and guidance to the student. The committee meets regularly with the student to help direct the course of research. Students are expected to publish the results of their original research in refereed scientific journals.

Dissertation—PhD Program

As part of the PhD requirements, a written dissertation describing the student’s research accomplishments must be submitted and defended.