Starting the Program: Transition Advice

Matriculation to BU:
Students will be introduced to the program leadership team during medical school orientation.


Vickery Trinkaus-Randall Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry and Ophthalmology
Steven C. Borkan, M.D., Professor of Medicine

Timeline of MD/PhD Program

Student Activities During the Summer between BUSM I and BUSM II (Med Year I and II).
Students begin looking for labs to rotate in for this summer during the winter/spring of BUSM I.  Lists of Faculty with ongoing research can are available on the M.D., Ph.D. web site.  The program director/faculty advisors meet with students to help them choose laboratories.  Students typically perform one 8 week research rotation per summer, but students area allowed to do two 4 week rotations if desired.  A summer stipend is given to students for these lab rotations from the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences.

Advice for MD/PhD students nearing the graduate phase research:
Identify a department or program: Departments and programs need to plan in advance to guarantee student stipends.  This means that MD, PhD students need to alert the administrator and graduate training director for the department or program during the spring before the start the graduate phase of research.  This can be done later, but gets progressively more difficult for everyone as fall approaches.

Identify a mentor: Ideally students will have identified a mentor at the time they notify the department or program that they are joining.  However, students do not always succeed in identifying a mentor before starting their graduate training.  Identifying a mentor can be done as late as the fall after their graduate phase training has started, which is sometimes necessary so that students can rotate during the summer after BUSM II.

USMLE Step 1: Students take the Step 1 exam directly after BUSM II.  Step 1 must be completed prior to June 1st and prior to starting their graduate training.  Students generally allow 4-5 weeks to prepare for the boards.

Student Activities During the Graduate Phase

  1. Medical School Credit: Credit for medical school coursework is given by all departments, but the particular amount of credit varies by department. Students follow the rules of the particular department.
  2. Departmental requirements:  Outside of the dissertation research, each department has curriculum requirements including courses and qualifying exams.  These vary among departments.  Current information is available on departmental websites.
  3. Quantitative training:  There are multiple courses that can be taken in statistics through the School of Public Health, GMS, and at the Charles River Campus including bioinformatics, coding in various programming languages, and machine learning.
  4. Qualifying exams:  Students take qualifying exams within two years of initiating graduate work.  The format of the qualifiers differs among departments, but includes a written and an oral component.
  5. Dissertation committee: Dissertation committees are formed after students pass the qualifying exams.  The professors on each committee are selected based on expertise and departmental requirements (e.g., some departments require at least one member to be from outside BU). Dissertation committees are requested to meet twice a year to monitor the students’ progress.
  6. GMS MD 800: Clinical Refresher Course:  As MD/PhD. students enter their (anticipated) last year of graduate work, they are required to participate in a course designed by the M.D., Ph.D. program to ease re-entry into the medical curriculum.  Students are required to take GMS MD 800, organized by Dr. Borkan, within 1 year of completing their PhD training. The program is currently with the School of Medicine on formalizing more clinical contact for students during their graduate school years.


Advice for MD, PhD students nearing the end of the graduate phase research:

Students who believe to be within 1 year of finishing their graduate work need to fill out a MD/PhD Transition Form, found on the GMS Forms portal and submit it to the GMS Registrar, Millie Agostoand arrange a meeting with her.

Checklist and timetable for transitioning back to 3rd year Medical School

–    You must defend your dissertation before the second week in May prior to M3 orientation.

–    Winter before defense – Meet with program directors to review plan

–    Try for an April/May thesis defense date to give you time to respond to committee issues and file thesis in library.

–    If you are in jeopardy of not making this deadline, make sure the MD/PhD directors know so that contingencies can be considered.

–    Approximate Timetable for clerkship registration:

  • February, ~2nd week: Mandatory Class Meeting: “Choosing Your 3rd Year Schedule”
  • February, 2nd week to March: Enter sequence selections on Registrar’s website
  • March 3rd week: Final sequences appear on Registrar’s website
  • March 3rd week -April 2nd week: Enter location selections on Registrar’s website
  • May 1st week: Final 3rd year clerkship schedules appear on Registrar’s website

The program directors and Dr. Karen Symes will help students create a suitable M3 schedule.