PhD in Pathology & Laboratory Medicine

Pathology, the study of disease, integrates all aspects of biomedical science to further the understanding of disease processes and develop methods for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of disease. Our department focuses particularly on cancer, immunologic, inflammatory, and neurologic disorders. We have a strong and diverse faculty composed of core and joint members who offer multiple research and training opportunities in experimental pathology.

Current foci of research by departmental faculty and students include:

  • Disorders of brain development and normal aging
  • Disorders of cell cycle and cell signaling in the pathogenesis and progression of cancer
  • Normal and abnormal immunological responses to infectious agents and environmental toxins and to other stimuli
  • Development of immunotherapies for cancer and infectious diseases

Prospective applicants to the PhD program in Pathology must enter via the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS). This program emphasizes interdisciplinary training for the first year, after which time students will be free to transition into one of the doctoral programs offered by the Department of Pathology.

Program Overview

The doctoral program is broadly based, offers research training in both basic and clinical investigations of disease, and encourages students to integrate the two areas where appropriate in their doctoral research. The core curriculum provides course, seminar, and laboratory opportunities for students to learn the pathogenesis, morphology, and cell and molecular biology of human diseases and laboratory techniques used to study them.

Laboratories of faculty in the department and other faculty in the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences provide opportunities for doctoral dissertation research in many aspects of the pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

Students are expected to fulfill all course requirements, choose a dissertation laboratory, and begin preparatory dissertation research within four semesters. They then take the qualifying examination and, if successful, present a dissertation research proposal to their faculty committee and proceed with their research. Students in the alternative tracks follow a modified curriculum in which certain departmental requirements are substituted by requirements of the respective interdepartmental program.

Our faculty members are committed to facilitating all pathology graduate students’ efficient progress through our graduate programs, in a goal-oriented manner. The student group is enthusiastic and interactive. And our graduates pursue careers in academia, biotechnology settings, government laboratories and, if also medically trained, in clinical specialties.

Specializations

In addition to the pathology curriculum, students may choose from three additional specialized tracks:

  • Pathology—Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Pathology—Immunology
  • Pathology—Neuroscience

Specialized coursework offered through the department includes:

  • Basic and Experimental Pathology
  • Pharmacologic Intervention in Inflammatory Response
  • Inflammation Driven Pathology
  • Protein Modification and Molecular Basis of Human Diseases
  • Beyond the Bench: Skills for the Corporate Scientist

Involvement with the MD/PhD Program

  • Pathology regularly participates in evening sessions with the MD/PhD students where research opportunities within pathology are discussed.
  • Drs. Remick and Steffen serve on the MD/PhD admissions committee to review applicants and rank interviewed applicants.
  • Several faculty members in pathology serve as interviewers for the MD/PhD applicants, providing a critical component since the group struggles to find sufficient MD interviewers. Additionally, Dr. Steffen serves as the liaison between the School of Engineering and the Medical School, as he holds a faculty appointment in both schools.
  • We currently have five MD/PhD students: Terry Hseih (Remick Lab), Chad Mayer (Kurosawa Lab), Nick Woolf (Rahimi Lab) as well as Melody Lun and Nisma Mujahid who conduct their research off-site. Recent MD/PhD graduates who have defended and gone back or graduated medical school are Bryan Belikoff (Remick Lab/Defended Spring 2010), Besam Khidhir (Haber/Harvard Lab/Defended Spring 2010), David Stepien (Remick Lab/Defended Spring 2013) and Louis Vaickus (Remick Lab/Defended Spring 2010).

Program Structure

MD/PhD and PhD General Requirements

A course of study and laboratory experience extending over one to two years is followed by a qualifying examination, which is taken within one semester after completion of required coursework. The proposal for dissertation research is then developed and presented to the dissertation committee; the proposed research extends over another one to two years and is performed under the guidance of the major advisor with the help and advice of the committee.

The Director of Graduate Studies serves as a curriculum advisor to all students in the first two years of the program and approves the course registration forms. After the required courses are completed, the student’s research advisor provides direction in the choice of additional courses.

Laboratory rotations are performed in the first year of study to:

  • Acquaint students with research opportunities in the program
  • Teach a variety of approaches to research and teach specific research methods
  • Permit choice of a laboratory for dissertation research. The dissertation research advisor should be chosen and preliminary work in the area of research begun early in the second year of study

There is an emphasis on integration of basic experimental and clinical aspects of pathology in the program. Students are encouraged to attend research and clinical seminars and discussions at the Medical School.

Sample Curriculum


This is an example of a typical curriculum.

First Year Fall
  • FIBS, Modules I, II & III
  • PA 710 Principles of Basic and Applied Pathology
  • MS 700 Biostatistics
  • Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)
First Year Spring
  • FIBS, Module IV
  • PA 700 Basic and Experimental Pathology
  • PA 801 Special Topics
  • PA 900 Lab Rotations
  • RCR
Second Year Fall
  • BI 755 Biochemistry A
  • PA 801 Special Topics
  • PA 901 Pathology Research
  • RCR
Second Year Spring
  • BI 782 Molecular Biology
  • MI 715 Medical Immunology
  • PA 800 Pathology Seminar
  • RCR
Years 3–5
  • Directed Studies

Responsible Conduct of Research requires participation in four sessions of two hours each, usually one session per semester, and results in an NIH certificate. Information can be found at RCR Program Basics.

See Specific Curriculum Requirements.

Qualifying Exams

Pathology PhD graduate students are eligible to take this compulsory examination after successfully completing the required coursework.

  • Occurs at the end of the second year for PhD students (third year for MD/PhD)
  • There are two exam periods each year: January–February and May–June
  • Tests the student’s ability to research a scientific area
  • Allows the faculty to assess the student’s accrued knowledge and understanding of the biomedical sciences
  • Consists of written and oral components

The qualifying examination has two parts:

Written (computer-typed) examination—6–8 hours

Morning and afternoon sessions consist of essay-type questions based on the individual coursework, directed readings, critique of selected publications, experimental design, and evaluation of pathology seminars. The study instructions are provided by the individual members of the examination committee no more than two months prior to the examination. The students are responsible for contacting the committee members. None of the suggested study material/publications can be brought to the exam. The answers will be submitted anonymously to the examiners for grading. Copies of past exam questions are available. All candidates will provide a list of their coursework and grades to the examination committee.

Upon passing the written exam, students will proceed to the oral examination, which will take place 7–10 days after the written exam.

Oral examination—1 ½–2 hours

Students will present a 10- to 15-minute summary of their thesis/grant proposal and be prepared to describe and discuss all pertinent methodologies involved. The choice of presenting either a grant or thesis proposal will be guided by the major advisor and may include preliminary results. The candidates are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the scientific concepts in the proposed research area and critically analyze any preliminary results obtained. Familiarity with the relevant literature is expected. The students are encouraged to work closely with their thesis advisors to prepare their exam presentation.

Exam evaluation: Pass/Fail/Conditional Pass. In the event of a conditional pass, the examining committee will define the appropriate corrective steps and a time frame for completing these steps.

After passing the qualifying examination the graduate student will proceed with selection of the thesis committee.

Current members of the committee are: Dr. K. Blusztajn, Dr. I. Delalle, Dr. D. Remick, Dr. B. Slack (Committee Chair). Alternate members are: Dr. N. Rahimi and Dr. J. Sharon

PhD Thesis/Dissertation Committee

Composition

The student’s primary research advisor; at least three pathology graduate school faculty members (primary or secondary appointment); additional faculty members from any department, to bring the total membership to five

Responsibility

Act as consultants to the student in design, performance, and interpretation of the experimental work that will make up the dissertation; participate in the committee meetings; and approve the final draft of the dissertation after the student defends it. At least two meetings, and a period of one year of work by the student, are required between the proposal and the Defense. At each meeting, the next meeting should be scheduled.

Positions and Duties

Student
  • Schedule, reserve a room for, and remind committee members of each meeting.
  • Prepare and deliver to committee members a complete, written proposal at least one week before the first meeting and written progress reports at least one week before subsequent meetings.
  • Submit the final thesis draft, approved by both Readers, to all committee members at least two weeks before the Defense.
Chair

Member of the pathology faculty who has expertise in the student’s research area. The chair is not the student’s primary advisor. The chair will:

  • Preside at all committee meetings
  • Write to the student a summary of the committee’s suggestions and criticisms after each meeting (with copies to the entire committee and to the Director of Graduate Studies of the department)
  • Usually serve as Second Reader. In the special tracks, a Second Reader other than the chair may be chosen by the student, the primary advisor, and the chair.
Chair at the Defense

The committee chair, if designated as Second Reader, cannot chair the Defense. Therefore another committee member will preside at the Defense.

Primary Advisor
  • Review with the student all oral and written materials to be presented to the committee at meetings
  • Serve as First Reader on the thesis
  • As First Reader, must approve the thesis draft that is provided to the Second Reader who then makes a thorough, critical review. When the revised draft is acceptable to the First and Second Readers, the draft is given to remaining members of the committee, and the Defense is scheduled.
Other Committee Members
  • Review all written materials submitted by the student before each meeting
  • Present critiques and suggestions at the meetings
  • Consult informally with the student between meetings as needed
  • Review and critique the final draft of the dissertation and notify the student of any major problem
  • Attend and give final comments at the Defense

(Either the First or Second Reader or the student may ask one or more members of the committee to review the draft dissertation or sections of it at any point in the writing.)

Admission & Financial Assistance

Criteria for Admission

Students must have received a baccalaureate degree from an accredited university. Additional criteria considered by the admissions committee include:

  • A good academic record/GPA
  • GRE test results and TOEFL for international students
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of references
  • Interview evaluation (if invited)
  • Interest level in pathology research
  • All aspects of the applicant, including research experience and publications, are considered in the decision process

Financial Support

All PhD and MD/PhD students who are admitted to the program automatically receive a stipend, tuition, activity fees, and health insurance. For the 2014/2015 academic year, the stipend is $31,000 for entering students and $32,000 for students who have passed their qualifying exams.

Students are also eligible to compete for support from outside agencies, 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 compete with other students in the Division for research and travel awards from the department and the Boston University School of Medicine.

Additional Opportunities

Research opportunities that provide students with the techniques and knowledge necessary to confront scientific problems

Teaching opportunities through BUSM, BU CityLab Academy, BU Metropolitan College, and BUSM Office of Student Affairs tutoring program

Departmental seminars provide students with the opportunity to hear and interact with pathologists and basic scientists from a variety of disciplines

Journal Club allows students to lead discussions about current literature, fundamental papers, or new ideas in their fields of study

Core Facilities

  • Animal Research Resource Center
  • Biomedical Imaging Center
  • Cellular Imaging Core
  • Experimental Pathology Laboratory Service Core Facility
  • Flow Cytometry Core Facility
  • High Throughput Screening Core
  • Microarray Resource Core Facility
  • Molecular Genetics Core Facility
  • Proteomics Core Facility