PhD in 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, Ph.D.), one of only four such pharmacology training grants in New England, was ranked in the top echelon of PhD training programs for research productivity by the 2010 National Research Council report. In the fifteen years since the award, this University-wide Program has flourished, providing a unique interdisciplinary and interdepartmental learning environment for doctoral students.

Program of Study
Ph.D. Curriculum
Faculty
The University
Admissions Procedures

Program of Study

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 predoctoral training program in Biomolecular Pharmacology is based on a training partnership among faculty in the Departments of Pharmacology, Anatomy and Neurobiology, Biology, Biochemistry, Physiology and Biophysics, Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, and Molecular Medicine. The curriculum formalizes interdisciplinary predoctoral training in molecular pharmacology. Students receive formal training in the principles of molecular pharmacology, 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.

Oversight and coordination is provided by a Program Graduate Education Committee composed of faculty representatives from the participating components in the School of Medicine and the College of Engineering. The structure of the program catalyzes continued and expanded 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 with a broad range of technologies at the cutting edge of research in molecular pharmacology. The excellence of our training program has been recognized nationally by the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences in the form of funding for our Interdepartmental University-wide Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology.

Ph.D. Curriculum

Students enter immediately into the pharmacology core curriculum as preparation for advanced training experiences including an industrial rotation at Pfizer.  The average tenure of Ph.D. candidates in the Biomolecular Pharmacology training program is five years. The major focus of the training program is the development of expertise in basic research. The first year and a half of the program entails emphasis on formal course work. In addition, on 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.

During the last three years in the program, the primary emphasis is on dissertation research. Students are also required to complete advanced level course work, report on their dissertation research, and participate in activities consistent with their development as future scientists. Details of these activities are provided below. Students in the program receive essential training in pharmacology with special emphasis on molecular pharmacology. The goal of this program is to produce scientists who have an understanding of, and first-hand experience with, the major questions and technologies on the cutting edge of molecular pharmacology.

Since the inception of this training program, most students have entered through the Department of Pharmacology. Students are also accepted into the program through the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Graduate Program in Neuroscience. Each of these Ph.D. programs requires 64 credit hours for completion plus a qualifying examination and a successful oral defense. Each of the programs has specific requirements, and individual programs of study for the Ph.D. degree are determined by each student in consultation with a faculty advisor and the Program Graduate Education Committee.

This ensures that students entering the program from departments other than Pharmacology satisfy the requirements of their respective departments. Students complete the following core courses: Foundations in Biomedical Science, Physiology, Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology, Laboratory Techniques in Modern Pharmacology, Systems Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics, Current Topics in Pharmacological Sciences, and three advanced electives. The training plan has been approved by the participating departments as fulfilling their requirements, without requiring an excessive course load. Students spend summers engaged in research and are encouraged to begin rotations during the month of July prior to the start of courses.

Course Requirements

The Core — 18 credits minimum

Foundations in Biomedical Sciences I, II, IV (GMS FC 701 Protein Structure, Catalysis and Interaction, GMS FC 702 Structure and Function of the Genome, GMS FC 704 Mechanisms of Cell Communication) (6 cr)

Physiology either Foundations in Biomedical Sciences V GMS FC Physiology of Specialized Cells (2 cr) or ENG BE 706 Quantitative Physiology for Engineers) (4 cr)

Molecular Neurobiology and Pharmacology I and II GMS PM 701, 702 (2 cr each)

Systems Pharmacology & Therapeutics I and II GMS PM 801, 802 (2 cr each)

Current Topics in Pharmacological Sciences GMS PM 810 (2 cr)

Program electives — 6 credits 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 840 Neuroendocrine Pharmacology (2 cr)
GMS PM 843 Pharmacologic Intervention in the Inflammatory Response (2 cr)
GMS PM 850 Biochemical Neuropharmacology (2 cr)
GMS PM 860 Electrophysiology and Pharmacology of the Synapse (2 cr)
GMS PM 880 Gene Regulation and Pharmacology (2 cr)
GMS PM 881 Drug Discovery and Development (2 cr)
GMS PM 892 Molecular and Neural Bases of Learning Behaviors (2 cr)
GMS AN 802 Foundations of Experimental Design and Statistics (2 cr)
GMS AN 810 Systems Neurobiology (4 cr)
GMS AN 811 Cognitive Neuroscience (4 cr)
GMS AN 709 Neural Development and Plasticity (2 cr)
GMS BY 771 Biophysics of Macromolecular Assemblies (4 cr)
GMS BY 772 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy in Biology and Biophysics (2 cr)
GMS BI 776 Gene Targeting in Transgenic Mice (2 cr)
GMS BI 777 Techniques in Biochemistry, Cell, and Molecular Biology (2 cr)
GMS BI 778 Molecular Mechanisms of Cardiovascular Disease (2 cr)
GMS BY 760 Foundations of Biophysics and Structural Biology (4 cr)
GMS MM 703 Cancer Biology and Genetics (2 cr)
GMS MM 710 Molecules to Molecular Therapeutics: The Translation of Molecular Observations to Clinical Implementation (4 cr)
GMS MS 700 Elementary Biostatistics (2 cr)
GMS MS 783 Molecular Basis of Neurologic Disease (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)

CAS 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)

Laboratory Rotations

During the first year, predoctoral 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 members of the Program, 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 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 will 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.

Seminars

The Biomolecular Pharmacology seminar program has been expanded through support provided 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 will also be given a list of seminars in all participating departments and encouraged to attend those seminars relating to their area of research.

Qualifying Examination

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 his/her Qualifying Examination Committee designed to test the student’s ability to integrate information and reason experimentally. Click here to learn more about the qualifying examination.

Monitoring of Student Progress

Prior to selection of a research mentor, student progress is monitored by the Program Director, who serves as First-year Advisor for entering students, and by the Course Manager of the laboratory rotations course. The Program Graduate Education Committee reviews the progress of each Program student after the completion of each semester. In the Fall of the third year, a Dissertation Advisory Committee is constituted for each student, which continues to meet 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 pre-defense meeting of the Dissertation Defense Committee (which will normally be the Dissertation Advisory Committee plus one or more outside members) will verify that the student is prepared to proceed to the dissertation defense. At the defense, the student presents his/her work in a Departmental Seminar, 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, such as the New England Pharmacologists meetings. These are yearly meetings at which there are, in addition to plenary speakers, both oral and poster presentations. The Pharmacology Department supports these activities by providing a $300 travel allowance to students who are first author on an abstract at a national meeting, and $100 for presenting authors to attend the New England Pharmacologists Meeting. Students selected for appointment to the Training Grant utilize 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. A major innovation in 1995 was the establishment of the Henry I. Russek Student Achievement Day and Awards Program, organized by Shelley Russek, Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology. One student from each basic science department and degree-granting program is selected to receive a $2,000 award that acknowledges their dedication and research accomplishments. Prior to the awards’ ceremony each award winner presents their results in a slide format. Each year about 100 Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. students have participated in the day by presenting posters and supporting their fellow students. All students in the training program participate in this event.

Students also are encouraged to participate in the Boston University Graduate Research Day, a university-wide meeting with poster presentation that is open to all graduate students. It is held annually at the George Sherman Union on the Charles River Campus. Several awards are given to students based on their abstracts and poster presentations. In the last five years students form the Biomolecular Pharmacology Program have an outstanding record of achievement at this meeting. Since 1996, five Ph.D. students in pharmacology received awards at this event. Most remarkable is that in each of 1997, 1998, and 1999 the highest honor, the University’s President Award, was earned by a Pharmacology Ph.D. candidate.

Students may also compete for Division of Graduate Medical Sciences Research Awards. These grants provide a meritorious award for the student as well as funds for the laboratory to support the student’s research project. There are two $5,000 awards, with a $500 student prize, and five $2000 awards, with a $250 student prize.

The interdisciplinary spirit that is the basis of the NIGMS Biomolecular Pharmacology Training Program is accentuated by monthly meetings, “Program Socials “, that encourage interactions among students, faculty, and research personnel from the Charles River and Medical campuses. Brief informal presentations by a faculty member and students highlight the innovative research in their laboratory and lead to lively discussions that stimulate future collaborations.

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 predoctoral program. Training grant support is only allocated to applications who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

The Program Graduate Education Committee recommends to the Program Director the students to be supported by the raining grant. Students are eligible for funding for the first two years of their Ph.D. training. Candidates include students accepted to Ph.D. programs in Pharmacology, Physiology and Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Medicine, and M.D./Ph.D. students enrolled at Boston University. The latter are eligible to receive a stipend only during their Ph.D. training period, which is normally between the second and third years of medical training.

Students are nominated by participating in departmental admissions’ committees by May 1. These nominations occur prior to matriculation for students entering the Ph.D. program and during the second year of medical training for the students in the M.D./Ph.D. program. Nominations are also sought from the participating faculty for students who are in their first year of study and have identified a mentor for the second year. The following criteria are used to prioritize nominees and select students for training grant support:

(1) Highest priority is assigned to students who identify pharmacology as their major field of interest by having applied and been accepted into graduate training through the Biomolecular Pharmacology Program. Students who enter through Physiology and Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering and Molecular Medicine and who exhibit a strong interest in pharmacology are eligible. Minority applicants are identified and given careful consideration.

(2) The caliber and interests of the candidate are an important considerations. Highest priority is assigned to students with the strongest academic record, including grade point average, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, previous research experience, a promising interview, 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.

For students who identify a preferred faculty advisor, which is most likely to occur with M.D./Ph.D. candidates who will have completed one laboratory rotations prior to nomination, the availability of resources is a factor. Special attention is devoted to equitable distribution of students supported by the training grant among the eligible participating faculty.

At the end of the student’s first year of Ph.D. study, the Program Graduate Education Committee makes a recommendation whether to support in the second year, based on the student’s performance in the first year, the strength of the student’s research project a commitment to pharmacological studies, and the availability of resources for the student’s support.

Students supported by the training grant in their initial years of Ph.D. study 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.

Advising of Students

Each student should choose a field of interest and select an appropriate faculty member as advisor for supervision of research training, as soon as possible after admission into the program. Until a thesis or dissertation advisor is selected, the Chair of the Graduate Education Committee will serve as advisor for new students. During the first year, students who have not chosen a research laboratory should familiarize themselves with research projects throughout the department. Reprints from each faculty member are available in the department and should be studied before visiting each laboratory.

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 degree, 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 http://www.bu.edu/research/compliance/rcr/index.shtml

Professional Development Program

An important feature of the PhD program is the development of professional skills of each student and individualized planning of a career path. Students are expected to attend the monthly Professional Development Events sponsored by the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. The topics and PowerPoint presentations of these events are available by clicking here.  Students are also expected to use the AAAS-sponsored career-planning tool, myIDP, available at http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/. Students should create a myIDP account early in the program, complete their first IDP shortly after the PhD qualifying exam, and refer to this tool more intensively after their progress report seminar when post-graduation planning should ensue in earnest.

Evaluation of Student Progress

The Committee on Graduate Education has established a file in which information such as course grades and progress in meeting Division and Department requirements is recorded. The files are also used to assist faculty in writing letters of recommendation. Faculty are asked to report course grades for their advisees, as well as results of qualifying exams, etc., and to forward copies of correspondence pertaining to their students’ academic status (e.g., petitions, waivers) to the department office for inclusion in their files. After each semester, the Committee presents a report on the progress of each student at a departmental faculty meeting, and the student will be evaluated with respect to continuation of financial aid and enrollment in the program. The Committee will also monitor attendance of students at pharmacology seminars and, if necessary, remind the students that their participation at seminars is required. Should a student request a leave of absence or an extension of time to finish his degree, the petition must be approved by the Advisor and the Graduate Education Committee before submission to the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences.

Student Achievement

Students enrolled in the Ph.D. 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 M.A. degree only. Students will not receive course credit for marks below B-, in accord with standards of the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. For students enrolled in the M.A. program, petitions for transfer to the Ph.D. program in pharmacology will not be approved by the department unless the student has earned a GPA of B or higher in the first year curriculum.

Graduate Education Committee

Most functions of the departmental graduate program are managed by a committee of four faculty members and one graduate student. The graduate student representative is selected every September by the students themselves. The committee meets regularly to review matters that relate directly to the program as it is described above and to make recommendations to the Department Chair. When the agenda of a meeting specifically includes discussions of individual students, the graduate student representative will be excused from the entire meeting or portions of the meeting. The department administrative assistant has available a list of the current membership and chair of this committee. It is recommended that all new students receive a copy of this list.

The graduate program in pharmacology is described in the Bulletin of the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences and more fully in “Graduate Program in Pharmacology: Policies and Procedures” which is available in the Department Office (L-603).

Faculty

Please click here to see a list of the Training Program Faculty and their research interests.

The applications for admission and instructions for applying can be obtained from the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences, Boston University School of Medicine, 72 E. Concord Street, L-315, Boston, Massachusetts, 02118; (617) 638-5255.

The procedures for admission to the graduate programs in pharmacology are described here. Applicants must submit the online application form, including a statement of purpose, and arrange for submission of transcripts, GRE (General test) scores, and two letters of recommendation. Applicants are strongly urged to submit credentials as early as possible, preferably by December 15. Applications are reviewed by the Graduate Education Committee of the Department, which forwards recommendations to the Department Chair. Interviews are encouraged for applicants to the M.A. program and are required for applicants to the Ph.D. and M.D.-Ph.D. programs. The interview sessions will be conducted in February and will include meetings with faculty and current students. Following interviews, applicants are notified of admissions decisions by the Department Chair and the Associate Provost of the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences.