Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics
PhD Training Program
NIGMS Training Grant/Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology
The program in Biomolecular Pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine was honored in July 1997 with the award of a National Institute of General Medical Sciences T32 Instructional Training Grant (Principal Investigator, David H. Farb, PhD). In the 15-plus years since its inception, this University-wide program has flourished, providing a unique interdisciplinary and interdepartmental learning environment for doctoral students.
Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology
Pharmacology has historically been an interdisciplinary field, positioned at the point of convergence of physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, behavioral science, and medicine. The pharmacology of this century will bring together an even wider range of disciplines, combining traditional aspects of pharmacology with novel approaches drawn from other disciplines, such as biophysics, biomedical engineering, and molecular genetics.
The pre-doctoral training program in Biomolecular Pharmacology is based on a training partnership among faculty in the Departments of Pharmacology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Biology, Biochemistry, Physiology & Biophysics, Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Psychology, and the Graduate Program in Neurosciences. The curriculum formalizes interdisciplinary pre-doctoral training in molecular and translational pharmacology. Students receive formal training in the principles of molecular pharmacology and drug discovery and development, as well as in molecular genetic, biophysical, and structural approaches to the study of drug-receptor interactions. A major benefit of the program is to expand opportunities for students to carry out research in these areas. The structure of the program catalyzes collaborations among the participating faculty and fosters interactions among students and faculty of the participating components. This program produces scientists who have an understanding of and firsthand experience of a broad range of technologies at the cutting edge of research in pharmacology.
The major focus of the training program is the development of expertise in basic research. The average tenure of PhD candidates in the Biomolecular Pharmacology training program is five years. The first two years of the program emphasize formal coursework designed to build understanding of the fundamental principles and methodology of pharmacology. In addition, upon matriculation students begin a sequence of four required laboratory rotations. The laboratory rotations provide students with the opportunity to investigate potential areas for dissertation research while enhancing the breadth of their training. Students are expected to participate in an industry research training opportunity the summer after the first year of study.
Since the inception of this training program, most students have entered through the Department of Pharmacology. Students typically complete the following core courses in their first two years of the program: Protein Structure, Catalysis and Interaction; Structure and Function of the Genome; Mechanisms of Cell Communication; Physiology of Specialized Cells; Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology I and II; Laboratory Techniques in Modern Pharmacology; Systems Pharmacology and Therapeutics I and II; and Current Topics in Pharmacological Sciences. During the last three years in the program, the primary emphasis is on dissertation research. Students are also required to complete a minimum of 6 credits of advanced coursework, report on their dissertation research, and participate in activities consistent with their development as future scientists. Details of these activities are provided below.
MD/PhD candidates enter the PhD component of their training program after completing the first two years of the MD curriculum. These students complete 10 credits of coursework, including Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology I and II, Current Topics in Pharmacological Sciences, and 4 credits of electives.
The Core—18 credits
- GMS FC 701, 702, 704 (6 cr)
- GMS FC 707 Physiology of Specialized Cells (2 cr) [or ENG BE 706 Quantitative Physiology for Engineers (4 cr)]
- GMS PM 701 & 702 Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology (4 cr)
- GMS PM 801 & 802 Systems Pharmacology & Therapeutics (4 cr)
- GMS PM 810 Current Topics in Pharmacological Sciences (2 cr)
Program electives—6-credit minimum
- GMS FC 703 Architecture and Dynamics of the Cell (2 cr)
- GMS PM 820 Behavioral Pharmacology (Neuropsychopharmacology) (2 cr)
- GMS PM 830 Principles of Pharmacokinetics (2 cr)
- GMS PM 832 Pharmacogenomics (2 cr)
- GMS PM 843 Pharmacologic Intervention in the Inflammatory Response (2 cr)
- GMS PM 881 Drug Discovery and Development (2 cr)
- GMS MS 700 Elementary Biostatistics (2 cr)
- GMS AN 802 Foundations of Experimental Design and Statistics (2 cr)
- GMS BY 760 Foundations of Biophysics and Structural Biology (4 cr)
- GMS BY 771 Biophysics of Macromolecular Assemblies (4 cr)
- GMS BY 772 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy in Biology and Biophysics (2 cr)
- ENG BE 560 Biomolecular Architecture (4 cr)
- ENG BE 561 DNA and Protein Sequence Analysis (4 cr)
- ENG BE 565 Molecular Biotechnology (2 cr)
- ENG BE 568 Systems Biology of Human Disease (4 cr)
- ENG BE 726 Fundamentals of Biomaterials (4 cr)
- ENG BE 727 Principles and Applications of Tissue Engineering (4 cr)
- GMS BI 776 Gene Targeting in Transgenic Mice (2 cr)
- GMS BI 778 Molecular Mechanisms of Cardiovascular Disease (2 cr)
- GMS MS 783 Molecular Basis of Neurologic Disease (2 cr)
- GMS AN 810 Systems Neurobiology (2 cr)
- GMS AN 811 Cognitive Neuroscience (2 cr)
- GMS AN 709 Neural Development and Plasticity (2 cr)
- GMS MM 703 Cancer Biology and Genetics (2 cr)
- GMS MM 710 Molecules to Molecular Therapeutics (4 cr)
- CLA CN 510 Principles and Methods of Cognitive and Neural Modeling (4 cr)
Seminar Courses (2 credits)
- GMS PM 810 Current Topics in Pharmacological Sciences (2 cr)
- ENG BE 790 Biomedical Engineering Seminar (no cr)
- GMS BY 871, 872 Biophysics Seminar (2 cr)
Laboratory Rotations—4 credits
- GMS PM 710 Laboratory Techniques in Modern Pharmacology ( 2 cr; two semesters required in the first year; this is a laboratory rotation course and students may elect to complete additional laboratory rotations during the summer of the first year)
Students are also accepted into the program through other departments and programs including the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Graduate Program in Neurosciences. Each of these PhD programs requires 64 credit hours for completion plus a qualifying examination and a successful oral dissertation defense. Each of the programs has specific requirements, and individual programs of study for the PhD degree are determined by each student in consultation with a faculty advisor and the Graduate Education Committee. This ensures that students entering the program from departments other than Pharmacology satisfy the requirements of their respective departments.
Interdisciplinary PhD Program—Biomolecular Pharmacology and Neuroscience
The Biomolecular Pharmacology Training Program encourages participation by students enrolled in the University-wide Graduate Program for Neuroscience. This collaborative training program covers the complete spectrum of contemporary neuroscience research, ranging from developmental and cognitive neuroscience to the molecular genetics of the nervous system and the development of synthetic biomolecules that alter the function of defined receptor populations. Students take core coursework in both pharmacology and neuroscience.
The goal of the joint program is to enhance interdisciplinary training and research and to provide an academic and research environment at Boston University that trains and inspires the pre-doctoral student to pursue a career that is relevant to the treatment of nervous system disorders. The central element of this program is an intensive period of full-time research in biomedical neuroscience. Students benefit from and contribute to the cross-campus neuroscience community that is an integral part of Boston University.
Interdisciplinary PhD Training Program—Biomolecular Pharmacology and Biomedical Engineering
Biomedical Engineering (BME) students with interest in the pharmacological sciences are encouraged to consider interdisciplinary training through participation in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) PhD Interdepartmental Training Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology. BME students in this program develop expertise in the pharmacological sciences through additional courses taken at Boston University School of Medicine (Molecular Neurobiology & Pharmacology I and II, Laboratory Techniques in Modern Pharmacology, Systems Pharmacology & Therapeutics I and II, and Current Topics in the Pharmacological Sciences) and through research training with a Training Program faculty member. Current BME faculty participants include Professors Irving Bigio, Mark Grinstaff, Catherine Klapperich, Tyrone Porter, Joyce Wong, and Muhammad Zaman.
Applicants should indicate their interest in this interdisciplinary program in the personal statement of the BME application form in order to be considered for participation and possible stipend and tuition support from the NIGMS training grant after the first year in the program.
Curriculum for BME Students in the Biomolecular Pharmacology Training Program
Year 1 Fall (12–16 cr)
- ENG BE 605 Molecular Bioengineering (4 cr)
- BME curriculum elective #1 (500 or 700 level BE course) (4 cr)
- GMS PM 701 Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology I (2 cr)
- GMS PM 710 Laboratory Techniques in Modern Pharmacology (2 cr)
Year 1 Spring (14 cr)
- ENG BE 606 Quantitative Physiology for Engineers (4 cr)
- BME curriculum elective #2 (500 or 700 level BE course) (4 cr)
- GMS PM 702 Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology II (2 cr)
- GMS PM 710 Laboratory Techniques in Modern Pharmacology (2 cr)
- ENG BE 792 Critical Literature Review (2 cr)
Year 2 Fall (10 cr)
- GMS PM 801 Systems Pharmacology & Therapeutics I (2 cr)
- ENG BME elective #3 (500 or 700 level BE course) (4 cr)
- Math course requirement (4 cr)
Year 2 Spring (4 cr)
- GMS PM 802 Systems Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics II (2 cr)
- GMS PM 810 Current Topics in Pharmacological Sciences (2 cr)
Year 2 or Year 3 Fall and Spring (8 cr)
- BE 801, 802 Teaching Practicum (4 cr, each semester)
- BE 792 Critical Literature Review (2 cr)
Students are also expected to attend pharmacology seminars and participate in the industry internship the summer after the first year in the program.
During the first year, pre-doctoral trainees register for two semesters of GMS PM 710 Laboratory Techniques in Modern Pharmacology, in which they complete four laboratory rotations of seven weeks each. Students choose rotation mentors from the participating faculty, independent of department affiliation. This rotation experience provides exposure to a variety of experimental approaches to the study of pharmacology. Trainees are encouraged to select rotations in laboratories that approach problems from different perspectives, in keeping with the program’s fundamental goal of providing them a broad and more complete understanding of research strategies that have been developed to address questions of pharmacological importance. Rotations are designed to be a teaching instrument and students are encouraged to obtain publication quality data. Each student submits a paper written in the style of a research manuscript after each rotation that summarizes his or her research experience. At the end of each semester, there is an additional course meeting at which students deliver presentations of their rotation experiences. Students receive a grade of Pass or Fail based upon their performance in research rotations and the grading of their written reports. The course manager reviews papers, provides evaluations to students, and maintains feedback to the faculty.
To broaden their experience of the range of pharmacological research and career opportunities, trainees are expected to complete an internship in an industrial laboratory, made available via partnerships with industry research groups.
The Biomolecular Pharmacology seminar program is supported by institutional sources, the endowed Sterling Drug Visiting Professorship, and by an award from the Burroughs Wellcome Foundation. All students are required to attend pharmacology seminars. In addition, students register for at least one semester of Current Topics in Pharmacological Sciences. In this course, the guest lecturer attends student presentations of research paper(s) related to the lecturer’s research. This course has proved to be highly successful in providing students with essential background to the seminar speaker’s work and thereby preparing the students to participate actively in the department seminar. Trainees also receive information about seminars offered by other departments and are encouraged to attend those seminars relating to their area of research.
At the end of the second year, each student takes a qualifying examination offered by his/her department of entry, which includes both written and oral components. For students entering through the Department of Pharmacology, the qualifying examination is administered by a committee of three faculty members selected by the student in consultation with his/her advisor. The composition of the Qualifying Examination Committee is reviewed and approved by the Program Director and emphasis is placed upon representation of faculty from other participating departments. The written component of the examination is in the form of a 10-page research proposal on a topic selected by the student. After passing the written examination, the student undergoes an oral examination by the Qualifying Examination Committee, designed to test the student’s ability to integrate information and reason experimentally.
Monitoring of Student Progress
Prior to selection of a research mentor, student progress is monitored by the Program Director, who serves as the first-year advisor for entering students, and by the course manager of the laboratory rotations course. In the fall of the third year, a Dissertation Advisory Committee is constituted for each student, which meets every semester (or more frequently if necessary) through the remainder of the student’s graduate studies. After each meeting, the Dissertation Advisory Committee submits a written report on the student’s progress to the Program Director. At the end of the third year, each student presents a progress report on his/her research to the Department of Pharmacology. Upon completion of the dissertation the Dissertation Defense Committee, usually the Dissertation Advisory Committee plus one or more outside members, holds a pre-defense meeting to verify that the student is prepared to proceed to the dissertation defense. At the defense the student presents his/her work in a seminar and then meets with the Dissertation Defense Committee to defend his/her dissertation.
Group Meeting Presentations
Each faculty member meets regularly with trainees to discuss ongoing projects in the context of the research literature. At these meetings, trainees give informal presentations of their current research and discuss results of recent papers from the literature. This forum also gives trainees the opportunity to discuss with faculty issues related to the training, as well as suggestions for improvement in the program.
Presentation of Research Findings
Trainees are expected to present their research findings at national research meetings. Although graduate students tend to prefer the poster mode of presentation at meetings, all trainees are encouraged to give at least one slide presentation at a national meeting. They are also encouraged to present research findings at regional and local meetings. Students selected for appointment to the Biomolecular Pharmacology Training Grant use the travel funds to help support attendance at regional and national meetings.
Trainees also participate in the interdisciplinary forums at the Medical School for presentation and discussion of research, including the monthly Graduate Student Forum. Students are also expected to participate in the Henry I. Russek Student Achievement Day and Awards Program, organized by Shelley Russek, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology. Each year since 1995, about 100 PhD and MD/PhD students participate by presenting posters and supporting their fellow students. Students from each basic science department and degree-granting program are selected to receive a monetary award that acknowledges their dedication and research accomplishments. Prior to the awards ceremony, first-place awardees present their results in a slide format. All students in the training program participate in this event.
Students also are encouraged to participate in the Boston University Graduate Research Symposium. Awards are presented to students based on their abstracts and poster presentations. Students from the Biomolecular Pharmacology Program have an outstanding record of achievement at this meeting.
Selection of Students for Training Grant Support
Individuals with baccalaureate degrees who meet the requirements of the participating departments are considered for acceptance into the pre-doctoral program. Training grant support is only awarded to PhD candidates who are US citizens or permanent residents. Candidates include PhD students enrolled through the Pharmacology and Biomedical Engineering Departments and the Graduate Program in Neuroscience, and MD/PhD students enrolled at Boston University. The latter are eligible to receive a stipend only during their PhD training period, which is normally between the second and third years of medical training. Students who enter the Program through the Department of Pharmacology or other departments of the Division of Medical Sciences are supported by funds from the Division of Medical Sciences in their first year of training, and are eligible for Training Grant support in the second and third years of their PhD training. Students who enter through departments on the Charles River campus are considered for Training Grant support after the first year of PhD training.
Students are nominated by participating faculty and departmental admissions committees. The following criteria are used to prioritize nominees and select students for training grant support:
- Highest priority is assigned to students who have identified pharmacology as their major field of interest by having enrolled in graduate training through the Biomolecular Pharmacology Program. Students who enter through Biomedical Engineering and who exhibit a strong interest in pharmacology are eligible. Minority applicants are identified and given careful consideration.
- The caliber and interests of the candidate are important considerations. Highest priority is assigned to students with the strongest undergraduate and graduate academic record, including grade point average, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, research experience, interest in study of pharmacology at the molecular or integrative level, and desire to capitalize on the resources of the interdisciplinary components of the program.
Special attention is devoted to equitable distribution of students supported by the training grant among the eligible participating faculty.
Students supported by the training grant are expected to satisfy the requirements of the program and will be identified as trainees in Biomolecular Pharmacology throughout the duration of their graduate training regardless of sources of support in terminal years.
In exceptional cases, students are accepted into an MA degree program. The course requirements for MA candidates are 16 credits of formal coursework including Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology I and II, Current Topics in the Pharmacological Sciences, and one additional 2-credit advanced course (800-level) in Pharmacology. In addition, students are required to attend departmental seminars.
After satisfactorily completing the first-year curriculum with a GPA of B (3.0) or higher, an MA candidate can, with the approval of the advisor, the Graduate Education Committee, and the Department Chairman request a transfer into the PhD program by submitting a petition to the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences.
The MA degree requirements include preparation and submission of a thesis under the supervision of first and second readers. The thesis is based on the student’s original research, either library or laboratory based.
Training in Responsible Conduct of Research
Formal training on scientific integrity and issues of ethical principles in research is a required component of the curriculum. Boston University School of Medicine sponsors a series of lectures, seminars and workshops devoted to the responsible conduct of research. The Program in Responsible Conduct of Research is organized by the RCR Education Advisory Committee and implemented through the Boston University and Boston Medical Center Office of Research Compliance. To a very large extent, the topics addressed by this program match those identified by Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research, the American Association of Medical Colleges and the National Institutes of Health. This program, which was instituted in 1991, has covered a wide range of issues concerning the responsible conduct of research including, but not limited to, data acquisition, management, sharing and ownership, mentor/trainee responsibilities, publication practices and responsible authorship, peer review, collaborations, human subjects, laboratory animals, research misconduct, and conflict of interest. The series is offered periodically throughout the academic year to provide an ongoing dynamic forum for the exchange of ideas. Detailed information is provided at the Research Compliance office.
Students enrolled in the PhD program in pharmacology are expected to maintain a GPA of B (3.0) or higher. Students who fail to meet this standard will be considered by the Graduate Education Committee for a terminal MA degree. Students do not receive course credit for grades below B–, in accord with standards of the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. Student progress is facilitated by a Dissertation Advisory Committee that meets each semester, after completion of the PhD Qualifying Examination, to provide feedback.
Graduate Education Committee
Most functions of the departmental graduate program are managed by a committee of five faculty members and one graduate student. The graduate student representative is selected every September by the students. The committee meets regularly to review matters that relate directly to the program as described above and to make recommendations to the department chair.
For detailed descriptions of the academic programs in pharmacology, pharmacology and biomedical neurosciences, and pharmacology and biomedical engineering, refer to the department website.
For further information contact the Academic Coordinator of the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at email@example.com.