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Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Program

atomAll students in the Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Program take “core” courses in biochemistry,  pharmacology, toxicology and statistics. This is followed with advanced courses in more specialized areas of pharmacology and toxicology that relate directly to one’s research interests. Beginning in the second year of study, students participate in a weekly seminar program that teaches how to speak more effectively.

Applicants should have a baccalaureate degree in a discipline such as pharmacy, chemistry, biochemistry or a biological science. This training may include course work in each of the following areas:

  • general and organic chemistry
  • the biological sciences
  • physiology
  • biochemistry

Program Introduction

In their first year, students in the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal (BSDP) seeking a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology may rotate in laboratories and select courses from Pharmacology and Toxicology. After this first year, students select a dissertation advisor and become students in the department of his or her mentor. Thus, studentswhose mentor is in Pharmacology and Toxicology enter the Pharmacology Toxicology Ph.D. program. In the first year, students typically complete 27 credit hours, for example, four elective courses, three laboratory rotations and two seminars. These credits, regardless of which department offers the courses, count toward the Ph.D. requirements in Pharmacology and Toxicology. Students are free to specialize in Pharmacology and Toxicology immediately by electing courses and laboratories exclusively in this program. Official entry to Pharmacology and Toxicology, however, takes place at the end of the first year. Please visit the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal for more details: http://www.medschool.vcu.edu/graduate/phd/index.html

Acceptance into Ph.D. candidacy is dependent on the successful completion of the comprehensive exam, which takes place during the second year of the student’s academic career. The exam consists of two components. The first is  the completion of a written research proposal. An oral exam is administered following the completion of the research proposal and is designed to address the student's knowledge of pharmacology and toxicology with emphasis on his or her specialized research area.

The master’s program differs slightly from the Ph.D. program in that no written comprehensive exam is given, although a final oral exam must be passed to complete the degree program. In addition, the M.S. degree can be completed on a part-time basis while the Ph.D. requires full-time enrollment.

All students are required to prepare and defend a dissertation (Ph.D.) or thesis (M.S.) based upon original research. This constitutes the major effort of the Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Program, which can be completed in two to three years (M.S.) or four to five years (Ph.D.). The average duration of study for our doctoral candidates is 4.7 years. Attesting to the efficiency of our program, this is significantly lower than the national average of more than seven years.

Doctor of Philosophy curriculum
Course requirements

Ph.D. students in pharmacology and toxicology take courses designed for graduate students with an emphasis on research design and experimentation. They do not take classes with medical students or other professional students. A full-time course load for graduate students is 15 credits in the fall and spring semesters and six credits in the summer. The student must achieve a 3.0 GPA overall or higher in graduate courses and at least a 3.0 GPA in pharmacology and toxicology courses to graduate.

FIRST YEAR

Fall
IBMS courses — mandatory
IBMS 600 Laboratory Safety (1 credit)
IBMS 620 Laboratory Rotations (2 credits)
IBMS 691 Critical Thinking (1 credit)
IBMS 691 Research Seminar (variable, 0.5-4 credits)
PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 3-9 credits)

Electives recommended for PHTX
BIOC 530 – Protein Structure and Function – (2-5 credits) (modules)

Spring
IBMS and PHTX Courses 
IBMS 600 Laboratory Safety (1 credit)*
IBMS 620 Laboratory Rotation (2 credits)*
IBMS 690 Research Seminar (variable, 0.5-4 credits)*
BIOC 690 Critical Thinking (1 credit)
IBMS 680 Proposal Preparation (1 credit)*
PHTX 691 Basic Concepts in Pharmacology for Graduate Students (3 credits)*
PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 3-9 credits)*

Elective: 
BIOC 504 Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (5 credits)

Summer
PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 3-9 credits)

At the end of the first year, students generally identify their mentor. Full-time students immediately begin carrying out supervised research, typically in the adviser’s laboratory. The student is expected to choose a tentative dissertation project by the start of his or her second-year fall semester. After consulting with the adviser, students select a Graduate Advisory Committee. The following courses are typically completed in the second year:

SECOND YEAR (PHTX)

Fall
PHTX 536 Principles of Pharmacology (5 credits)*
PHTX 690 Research Seminar (1 credit)*
PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 1-14 credits)*

Students are required to take at least two advanced courses prior to taking the comprehensive examination. Several advanced courses are available within the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and other basic science departments.

Advanced courses (available)
PHTX 633 Behavioral Pharmacology
PHTX 691 Historical Perspectives in Pharmacology
BIOC 605 Advanced Topic in Molecular Biology
MICR 607 Techniques in Molecular Biology and Genetics
NEUS 609 Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Spring
Advanced courses
PHTX 632 Neurochemical Pharmacology
PHTX 625 Cell Signaling and Growth Control
PHTX 620 Ion Channels in Membranes
PHTX 691 GI Physiology and Pharmacology
ANAT 610 Systems Neuroscience
ANAT 615 Tech in Neuro and Cell Biology
ANAT 620 Scientific Writing and Grantsmanship
PHTX 690 Research Seminar (1 credit)*
PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 1-14 credits)

*Course is mandatory.

Candidacy to the Ph.D. requires successful completion of the comprehensive examination, typically at the end of the second year. In addition to the core pharmacology (Basic Concepts and Principles of Pharmacology) and recommended biochemistry (BIOC 530), two advanced courses are required prior to taking the comprehensive examination.

COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATION

The comprehensive examination has two components, written and oral. The written component consists of a research proposal that is then followed by an oral defense of the proposal and on general pharmacology knowledge. Six months prior to taking written comprehensive exams, a Graduate Student Advisory Committee and Course Plan form needs to be signed by each committee member, department head and program director and returned for the dean’s signature. The Graduate Student Advisory Committee and Course Plan forms must be submitted through GradTrak and approved by the adviser, graduate program director and associate dean for graduate education. The Graduate Advisory Committee grades the written component and upon acceptance the student schedules an oral exam.

The oral examination tests knowledge related to the proposal and general pharmacological principles. The student is required to schedule the oral component through the Office of Graduate Education (available on GradTrak) with at least two weeks prior notice. A dean’s representative is appointed to conduct the oral examination.

experimentMaster of Science curriculum

The department offers a graduate program leading to the Master of Science in Pharmacology and Toxicology. This is a research-oriented degree program comprised of graduate course work and supervised research leading to a master's thesis. This program is intended primarily as a terminal M.S. degree. Students intending to pursue a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology should apply directly to the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal Ph.D. program. The M.S. program will be of interest to individuals planning on technical positions in pharmacology or toxicology research or testing, students in the health professions, such as medicine or dentistry, who desire additional research training and for those interested in a government position, such as with regulatory agencies, who seek training in pharmacology and toxicology.

Course requirements for the M.S. degree

Course Credits Title
BIOC 503* 5 Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology I
PHTX 691 3 Principles of Pharmacology and Toxicology I
PHTX 691 4 Principles of Pharmacology and Toxicology II
PHTX 690 2 Pharmacology Research Seminar
PHTX 697 variable Directed Research in Pharmacology
Plus one advanced graduate course in the student’s specialty.
See listing above for advanced courses

* These are minimum requirements. More advanced courses can be substituted. Consult the program adviser.

A full course load is 12-15 credits per semester and six credits in the summer. The student must achieve a 3.0 GPA overall and a 3.0 GPA in pharmacology and toxicology courses to graduate.

Ph.D. Graduate Advisory Committee

The initial adviser (first year) will be Dr. Hamid Akbarali, the director of the graduate program for Ph.D. students. Upon completion of the research rotation course at the end of the first year, students must select an adviser (mentor). The department has two guidelines related to the selection of an adviser. First, faculty members may have a maximum of three students from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology working under their supervision at any given time. Second, faculty members agree to assume complete or partial fiscal responsibility for that student when accepting students into his or her lab.

After selecting an adviser, full-time students immediately begin carrying out supervised research, typically in the adviser’s lab. It is expected that a tentative dissertation project will be chosen by the student by the start of the second year’s fall semester. After consulting with advisers, students select a Graduate Advisory Committee.

The Graduate Advisory Committee must consist of five members with at least two members from outside of the department. The committee functions to assist the student in determining their course plan, help in the finalization of a dissertation project, and, eventually, approve the dissertation and conduct the final examination.

Six months prior to taking written comprehensive exams, a Graduate Student Advisory Committee and Course Plan form needs to be signed by each committee member, department head and program director and returned for the dean’s signature.

Part-time students

It is possible to complete a portion of the M.S. program as a part-time student. This would be particularly appropriate for students who are employed or who are concurrently pursuing another degree. The most likely way this could be done is to take some of the required courses as a part-time student; however, it would normally be expected that at least a year of full-time laboratory work would be required to complete the thesis project.

Continuing for the Ph.D.

Students who plan to eventually work toward the Ph.D. degree at VCU should apply directly to the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal Ph.D. program. Master’s students interested in joining the Ph.D. program can apply, but completion of the M.S. degree does not assure acceptance.

On the other hand, applicants who are undecided if they want to earn a Ph.D. and want experience in biomedical research before committing to a doctoral program may be well served by our M.S. program. Outstanding performance in our M.S. program should help the student gain admittance to a doctoral program here or elsewhere. Master’s students seeking to go on to medical or dental school are encouraged to complete their M.S. degree before enrolling in these programs. M.S. students at VCU seeking admittance to medical school will not be enrolled until they complete the master’s degree.

 

 

Virginia Commonwealth University   |   School of Medicine   |   Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
1112 East Clay Street, Suite 100, P.O. Box 980613, Richmond, Virginia 23298-0613   |   Phone: (804) 827-0375
E-mail: sasparks@vcu.edu   |
Updated: 9/9/2013