Ph.D. Program in Biomedical Sciences

The mission of the Ph.D. Program in Biomedical Sciences (BMS) is to educate graduate students in scholarly, interdisciplinary approaches to conducting research from the molecular basis to systems level approaches for the study of human disease, and the function of the human genome in aging, development, neuropathology, cancer, and other diseases. Graduates of this program will be prepared to join the scientific workforce trained and ready for careers in an interdisciplinary environment.

Ph. D. students in the BMS program are required to take the following courses offered by faculty in the BMS and Biology departments:

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Research Rotations
New students are required to perform at least three laboratory rotations in the first year before choosing a home lab for dissertation research. These rotations are meant to provide students with scientific training and opportunities to become familiar with faculty research projects, specific lab environments, and lab personnel. For each rotation, students are required to write a project summary of their experience. Students select their thesis lab after the final rotation.

Research Techniques
This course gives students hands-on training in modern biology techniques commonly used in research laboratories. Topics include basic molecular techniques, such as handling prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, subcloning of DNA, immunoblotting, and taking mRNA measurements, as well as some biophysical approaches. Cell imaging, developmental biology, and brief introductions to experimental design and whole animal physiological and behavioral methods will also be addressed.

Advanced Molecular Biology
This lecture-based course introduces students to advanced concepts in molecular biology. Students read published literature in molecular biology and discuss during classes. At the end of the semester, students are required to write a mini-proposal based on published literatures.

This highly interactive course covers recent advances in molecular and cell biology, including transcription, post transcriptional control, translation, signal transduction, DNA repair, cell cycle, apoptosis, and proteomics. Students receive a comprehensive overview of the progress in relevant fields. In addition, students read assigned publications and discuss during classes.

Advanced Cell Biology
This course is mainly lecture-based, but includes reading of some significant milestone research publications. Students ultimately gain a comprehensive understanding of recent advances in the field of cell biology.

Ethics and Professional Integrity in Research
This course is focused on the ethics and responsible conduct of research relevant to biomedical and behavioral sciences, including both human and animal research. The course is grounded in introductory moral philosophy, exposing students to some of the major moral theories of Western tradition. This course is offered every other year (taken during the first or second year). Successful completion can be used to satisfy Responsible Conduct of Research training requirements of the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health.

This course introduces students to statistical methods used to enable data analysis in biomedical science. Topics include data collection, sample variation, probability, confidence intervals, hypothesis testing, contingency tables, correlation, regression, and nonparametric methods. Principle components analysis and clustering are also included. This course is offered every other year (taken during the first or second year).

The BMS Ph. D. program is also offering the following elective courses for our graduate students:

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Tools of the Trade
This career development course is designed to equip students with the professional skills they need to complement their ongoing laboratory training and to prepare them for the transition to the next phase of their career. In this course, students are exposed to different aspects of research related topics, such as bioinformatics, experimental design, research commercialization, career development, interview skills, time and personnel management, grant applications, collaboration, and publication. This course is offered in the summer every other year. First and second year students are strongly encouraged to take this course.

In this seminar-based course, students learn how to develop their public speaking skills by interacting with expert presenters. Students present multiple seminars under the guidance of their instructor. Students are expected to answer questions about the science presented in a Socratic method. Written, constructive feedback from the audience is also provided. This course is offered in the summer every other year. Second and third year students are expected to take this course.

Molecular Mechanisms of Human Diseases
The main objective of the course is to introduce modern and translational biomedical research. Students gain general knowledge of the most common human diseases with respect to clinical relevance, pathophysiology and molecular medicine. In addition, the course discusses the challenges and attempts to find the cure for these diseases.

Human Congenital and Developmental Diseases
This course typically covers following three topics with regard to the molecular basis of congenital and developmental disorders: genomic instability and cancer development, stem cell and its application in disease treatment, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Instructors present research articles, which is followed by an instructor-led discussion. Active involvement is expected from every student. At the end of the course, students present a research article from one of the three focus areas and are evaluated by the instructors and peers.

This course introduces students to important principles in neuropsychopharmacology, including basic principles in pharmacology (e.g., distribution and elimination of drugs), and the cellular (e.g., drug-receptor interactions) and molecular (e.g., second messenger/signaling pathways) bases of drug effects in the central nervous system. The basics of pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics, as well as how various drugs alter the functioning of the autonomic system and CNS, are covered in detail.

Chromatin Structure, Epigenetics & Human Health
In this interactive, discussion-based course, students learn the basics of chromatin biology, study how nuclear processes occur in the context of chromatin, and explore the impact of epigenetics on human health. Students are exposed to recent developments in chromatin and epigenetics research and learn about the development of drugs to treat human disorders that have an underlying epigenetic basis.

Modeling Human Diseases
This course combines lectures, student-led presentations, and discussions of journal articles, all of which focus on organismal and other models for human diseases. Students gain knowledge of model organisms or model systems (computational and otherwise) to understand the etiology of disease and to design and test disease interventions. Students design an experiment focused on their own dissertation research project by using a new model to answer a unique problem, which is presented to the group.

RNA Silencing and Diseases
This course introduces current advances in the RNA silencing field, including the basic concepts in miRNA structure, its processing, and function in RNA silencing. This course also discusses the function of miRNA in transcriptional regulation and human disease development.

This course typically covers following three topics with regard to the molecular basis of the immune response to virus infection and cancer: host defense mechanisms against virus infection, tumor viruses and the immune system, and neuroinflammation and the immune response to cancer. Instructors present research articles, which is followed by an instructor-led discussion. Active involvement is expected from every student. At the end of the course, students present a research article from one of the three focus areas and are evaluated by the instructors and peers.

Critical Evaluation of the Scientific Literature
This course is for junior graduate students. During the first half of this course, instructors lead the discussion for selected publications. The discussion includes the quality of the data, potential problems for the experimental design, and future questions for the publications. In the second half of this course, students present a primary research paper and receive feedback from the instructor and peers.

In addition to take the required courses as well as some of the elective courses, the students in the BMS Ph. D. program will meet the following requirements for graduation:

Qualifying Exam
The qualifying exam includes two parts, the written section and the oral defense of the prospective. Students are expected to finish the written section during the summer of their second year and the prospective defense during the fall semester of their third year. The questions for the written section are from the thesis committee members. The students will become Ph. D. candidates after they pass the qualifying exam.

Department Presentation
Students in the BMS Ph.D. program are required to give a department presentation before their thesis defense. The purpose of this presentation is part of the communications skills training for graduate students.

First-author Publication
The BMS Ph.D. program requires all graduate students to have at least one first-author publication before graduation. However, it is acceptable to graduate while a manuscript is under revision and has a high chance of acceptance for publication based on the comments from the Editor. This Ph.D. program also has a three-month, post- graduation support policy, i.e. the program will support students for up to three months after their graduation to allow students to finish experiments for publication as necessary.