PhD, MD/PhD Immunology Training

The Immunology Training Program (ITP) is an interdepartmental teaching and research program involving faculty participants from multiple disciplines within the Boston University schools of Medicine, Public Health, and Dental Medicine. This program is partially funded by the National Institutes of Health and receives approximately $380,000 a year through the T32 Training Grant, “Research Training in Immunology.” Students can be admitted to the ITP after their first year in the PiBS program, where they follow a modified track specifically designed for students in the ITP. 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 ITP faculty, independent of department affiliation, for their research training. Particular areas of expertise within the ITP community include:

  • Lymphocyte development and differentiation
  • Self recognition and autoimmunity
  • Cytokine/chemokine biology
  • Innate immunity and inflammation
  • Cancer immunology and immunotherapy
  • Transcriptional regulation
  • Host response to viral infections
  • Immunotoxicology
  • Immunotherapeutics and vaccinology

Please see the individual faculty research descriptions for a more complete picture of ongoing research programs. The ITP is located on the Boston Medical Center campus and is administered through the School of Medicine and the School of Public Health. BUSM ranks among the top 20 Medical Schools nationally in extramural support. Most predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows are supported through NIH training grants; all trainees receive full stipend, tuition, and health insurance. ITP faculty and students work in newly renovated research labs and have immediate access to state-of-the-art core facilities. One of the more notable aspects of the ITP is the extensive interaction amongst the basic science and clinical faculty—such esprit de corps is reflected in collaborative projects involving both basic and translational research.

Application information and forms are available through the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. Any further inquires can be addressed to the program director.

Program Information

Overview

After a formal application and interview process, successful PhD and MD/PhD candidates are admitted into the Immunology Training Program through either the Department of Microbiology or the Department of Pathology. The course requirements vary somewhat for students admitted into the different departments, but all students are expected to develop a strong background in multiple areas of the biomedical sciences and a solid foundation in molecular and cellular immunology.

In addition to the successful completion of the prescribed coursework, PhD and MD/PhD candidates also must complete laboratory rotations, participate in seminars and journal clubs, pass a qualifying examination, and successfully defend a dissertation based on original laboratory research. Both MD/PhD and PhD students follow the same curriculum, and have the same requirements.

Admissions

Applicants must apply for admission through the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences of the Boston University School of Medicine. Departmental preference should be noted on the application. Application can be made online through the Division Office, or you can request an application packet by calling 617-638-5120, or by requesting information in writing at:

Division of Graduate Medical Sciences
72 East Concord Street, L-317
Boston, MA 02118
Phone: 617-638-5120
Fax: 617-638-4842

Criteria for Admissions

Students must have received a baccalaureate degree from an accredited university with a strong background in biological and physical sciences. The applicant’s academic record, references, GRE test results and related work experience are considered in the admissions process. The GRE General Test is required. The GRE Subject test is not required. International students must demonstrate competence in English. Candidates are encouraged to take the GRE tests in October and to complete their applications before December 31.

Financial Support

All PhD and MD/PhD students who are admitted to their respective department are automatically considered 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 will be $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 Boston University School of Medicine.

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 Boston University School of Medicine.

Coursework

The curriculum for students in the ITP 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 immunology, microbiology, molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry.

Formal coursework is normally completed within the first two years of study, with the majority of courses taken during the first year. Students complete 28 credit hours of graded coursework, taken from an approved list of required and elective courses that span several disciplines including basic and advanced immunology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and human genetics.

Laboratory Rotations

All predoctoral students are required to complete laboratory rotations. The purpose of laboratory rotations is to help students acquire a complete set of research tools, to experience different approaches to research, and to identify a major advisor for their dissertation research. Students are normally required to rotate through three laboratories before choosing one for their dissertation research. Students are strongly encouraged to begin their laboratory rotations during the first semester of their first year of graduate study. In some cases, rotations can begin the summer before commencement of class work.

Seminars

During the fall and spring semesters, the Immunology Program (in partnership with the Microbiology department and Inflammation training program) sponsors a weekly seminar featuring a nationally or internationally recognized immunologist. Students are encouraged to attend all of these seminars and to join the speaker over an informal lunch. In this way, students are exposed to leading-edge concepts in a rapidly advancing field and are able to discuss the science with the immunologists driving these advances. Making connections with invited speakers also is important for networking for postdoctoral positions or other jobs after completion of the doctoral thesis. In addition, all Immunology Training Program students are expected to attend and participate in their respective departmental seminars and in seminars offered by a variety of divisions and centers throughout the BU Medical and Charles River campuses. This menu of seminar choices affords the student ample opportunity to sample multiple diverse areas of interest from cutting-edge advances in molecular biology to the ethics of human genome research. Students may also attend a variety of seminars offered by our neighboring institutions including, but not limited to, Tufts Medical School, Harvard Medical School, MIT, Brandeis University, and Massachusetts General Hospital. Students are expected to give at least one formal seminar a year.

Research Laboratories

A broad range of immunology research is conducted in the laboratories of the ITP faculty members. Particular areas of interest and expertise include adaptive immunity, innate immunity and inflammation, cytokine and chemokine biology, immune tolerance, autoimmunity, cancer immunology and immunotherapy, immunotoxicology, microbial and viral immunology, and stem cell biology.

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 are expected to assist faculty in the laboratory portion of a microbiology course for one semester, or more at the student’s discretion. Students receive remuneration for this service. In addition, many students also have participated in the City Year program at BU. This program is a BU-based educational resource, the goal of which is to introduce Boston High School students to the biological sciences.

Qualifying Examinations

Students will complete a qualifying examination in their respective department during their second year of graduate study. The goals of the examination are twofold: 1) to test the student’s ability to research a scientific area, identify gaps in the field that are important to resolve and are amenable to experimentation, and to develop rational approaches to address these issues; and 2) to allow the faculty to assess the student’s accrued knowledge and understanding of the major areas of biomedical sciences that should be important for his/her future scientific career.

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 faculty research advisory committee, composed of scientists who provide additional expertise and guidance to the student, meets regularly 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.

Curriculum

The curriculum for students in the ITP 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 immunology, microbiology, molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry. There are slight differences in the coursework for students in the departments of Microbiology and Pathology.

Formal coursework is normally completed within the first two years of study, with the majority of courses taken during the first year. Students complete 28 credit hours of graded coursework, taken from an approved list of required and elective courses that span several disciplines including basic and advanced immunology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and human genetics.

Immunology/Pathology
Required Courses
  • GMS PA 713 Comprehensive Immunology, 4 cr
  • GMS PA 715 Advanced Immunology, 4 cr
  • GMS PA 700 Basic and Experimental Pathology, 6 cr
  • GMS PA 801 Special Topics in Pathology, 2 cr
  • GMS BI 755 Biochemistry A, 4 cr

Plus one of the following courses, 4 cr:

  • GMS MS 753 Cell Biology
  • GMS BI 756 Biochemistry B
  • GMS BI 782 Molecular Biology
  • SPH EB 723 or 703 Statistics, 4 cr
  • GMS PA 800 Pathology Seminar, 2 cr
  • GMS PA 900 Laboratory Rotations (2–3 rotations, 2 cr per rotation), 4-6 cr
  • GMS PA 901 Pathology Research, var cr
  • Seminars in Ethics in Biomedical Research

Additional courses (from the list below) may be taken as electives, if desired, but no electives are required.

Elective Courses
  • GMS MI 714 Genetics of Microorganisms, 4 cr
  • GMS MI 718 Advanced Virology, 4 cr
  • GMS BI 776 Gene Targeting in Transgenic Mice, 2 cr
  • GMS BI 783 Structure and Function of Proteins, 2 cr
  • GMS BI 788 Enzyme Catalysis, 2 cr
  • GMS BI 790 Receptor and Signal Transduction, 2 cr
  • GMS BI 774 Metabolism and Cellular Function of Complex Lipids, 2 cr
  • GMS MI 814 Radiation Biology, 2 cr
  • GMS MS 781 Human Genetics, 4 cr
  • GMS PM 700 Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology, 4 cr
  • GMS MI 700 Concepts in Microbiology, 4 cr
  • GMS BI 782 Molecular Biology, 4 c
  • GMS MI 822 Cancer Biology, 2 cr
  • GMS MI 717 Growth Control and Cell Transformation, 4 cr
  • GMS MS 753 Cell Biology, 4 cr
Immunology/Microbiology
Required Courses
  • GMS MI 700 Concepts in Microbiology, 4 cr
  • GMS MI 713 Comprehensive Immunology, 4 cr
  • GMS MI 715 Advanced Immunology, 4 cr
  • GMS BI 755 Biochemistry, 4 cr*
  • GMS MI 812 Microbiology Seminar, 2 cr
  • GMS MI 911, 912 Research Microbiology, var cr
  • Seminars in Ethics in Biomedical Research

*or 4–8 cr of biochemistry from an approved list

Advanced Microbiology Courses

Choose 4 credits of the following

  • GMS MI 714 Genetics of Microorganisms, 4 cr
  • GMS MI 717 Growth Control and Cell Transformation, 4 cr
  • GMS MI 716 Bacterial Physiology, 4 cr
  • GMS MI 718 Advanced Virology, 4 cr
Elective Courses

Choose 4 credits of the following**

  • GMS BI 756, Biochemistry, 4 cr
  • GMS BI 776 Gene Targeting in Transgenic Mice, 2 cr
  • GMS BI 782 Molecular Biology, 4 cr
  • GMS BI 783 Structure and Function of Proteins, 2 cr
  • GMS BI 790 Receptor and Signal Transduction, 2 cr
  • GMS MS 753 Cell Biology, 4 cr
  • GMS MS 781 Human Genetics, 4 cr

**ITP-approved advanced microbiology courses can be substituted with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies.