Physiology & Biophysics

PhD Program for MD’s – The Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP)

The Department of Physiology & Biophysics Ph.D. program for M.D.’s is specifically designed for physicians interested in a career as an M.D./scientist. The program can be linked to research-oriented residency programs such as the Clinical Investigator Pathway, approved by the American Board of Internal Medicine, and similar programs in pediatrics and surgery. Most students receive full tuition waiver, a stipend, and health benefits during the full duration of their studies.

The details of this training program are as follows:

  1. All students will be admitted to one of the 2 training programs in the department (the Biomedical Physiology Training Program or the Structural Biology & Biophysics Training Program).
    1. As part of the admissions process, applicants will be queried by the interviewing faculty (in particular by the track directors) as to their basic knowledge of the content of the Year One, Fall courses that are required of all Physiology and Biophysics graduate students (PHOL 432 Cell Structure & Function, PHOL 456 Proteins and Nucleic Acids, and PHOL 468 Membrane Physiology).  The purpose of this query is to help guide the student in course selection.
    2. It is expected that all accepted students will have proficiency in the content of these courses and that the requirement of taking them will be waived. However, students may take these courses if they need to.
  2. In order to earn the Ph.D., all students must:
    1. Display in-depth knowledge in a major field.
    2. Demonstrate an ability to perform independent investigation and to communicate their results.
    3. Satisfactorily pass a general examination (Qualifying Examination).
    4. Conduct of a body of research that is adequate for the Ph.D.
    5. Have accepted for publication at least 2, first-authored papers in distinguished peer-reviewed scientific journals.
    6. Present a thesis seminar and successfully defend their work at an oral examination by their thesis advisory committee that follows their thesis seminar.
  3. All students must complete at least 18 hours of course work before graduation.  At least 12 of these hours must be in graded (non pass-fail) courses (Graduate School requirement).
    1. The appropriate Track Director and PSP advisor will work with each student to formulate a course of study.  Advisors are encouraged to be as flexible as possible in advising the students how to meet the course requirements for graduation, taking into account each student’s background and research interests.
    2. The student’s thesis advisory committee will be constituted at the beginning of the program with the appropriate Track Director serving as the chair of the committee.  A member of the students PSP advisory committee is expected to be a member of the thesis committee.  Co-mentoring is highly recommended.
    3. All students are expected to begin their research program as soon as they enter the program.  The general departmental requirement of three laboratory rotations will be waived for the PSP students although they are encouraged to do so.  Students are expected to take PHOL 601 (Research) instead. It should be noted that PHOL 601 is a pass-fail, non-graded course. Students are free to take one or more laboratory rotations to learn specific techniques or to acquire broader laboratory experience. 
    4. All students must take at least 2 advanced courses in the department.
    5. For all Fall and Spring semesters enrolled in the program, all students must successfully complete PHOL 498 (Departmental Seminar) and participate in a Journal Club.  It should be noted that PHOL 498 is a pass-fail, non-graded course.
    6. All students will prepare an NIH grant proposal and submit it to the departmental Qualifying Examination Committee. 
    7. Typically, Physiology and Biophysics graduate students take their Qualifying Examination at the end of summer quarter.  PSP students may petition the Graduate Education Committee to schedule their Qualifying Examination as soon as they have satisfied the 18 credit hour requirement.  The Qualifying Examination will cover the same material as for all other departmental students (the content of PHOL 432 Cell Structure & Function, PHOL 456 Proteins and Nucleic Acids, and PHOL 468 Membrane Physiology) EXCEPT that it will cover their research experience in PHOL 601 instead of in laboratory rotations.
  4. After being successfully admitted to candidacy, all students will:
    1. Successfully complete at least 18 hours of PHOL 701 (Dissertation Research.  PHOL 701 carried from 1-9 credit hours during the Fall and Spring semesters and from 1-6 hours during the Summer semester.).  Dissertation research can be conducted in the laboratories of:
      1. Primary departmental faculty
      2. Secondary departmental faculty
    2. Successfully complete PHOL 498 (Departmental Seminar) and participate in an appropriate Journal Club each Fall and Spring semesters they are registered in the program.
    3. After the student has conducted a sufficient body of original research, has accepted for publication at least 2, first-authored papers in distinguished peer-reviewed scientific journals, and demonstrated to the satisfaction of their advisory committee expertise in their area of research, he/she will be given permission by their thesis advisory committee to write and defend their thesis.
  5. The following time-line for the PSP:  Ph.D. Track is recommended:
    1. Application to the Ph.D. track during the student’s second year in the PSP program
    2. Thesis committee (with program director as chair) established as soon as the student is admitted to the program. Student advised of all possible labs in which they may conduct their thesis work.
    3. NIH grant proposal written during the second year in anticipation of beginning research at the beginning of their 3rd year (July).  The NIH proposal should be on the topic that the student will pursue for the thesis and must be approved by their thesis advisory committee.
    4. Course   Graded Hrs Pass/Fail Hrs
      Summer Year 3 Rotation #1* 3  
      Fall Year 3. Advanced PHOL 3  
        Rotation #2* 3  
        Seminar   1
      To be admitted to candidacy      
      Hours (18 total, 12 graded)   12 6
      Summer Year 4 Comprehensive Exam    
        PHOL 701   2
      Fall Year 4 PHOL 701   8
      Spring Year 4 PHOL 701   8
      (18 hours of PHOL 701 required for the Ph.D.)
      Each term until graduation PHOL 701   1         


*Students are not required to take the laboratory rotations. However, in order to get the required number of graded hours, the fellows could get credit for the research they were conducting through the graded rotation course. If these rotations are not taken, appropriate graded courses would be substituted. Both recommended rotations could be in the laboratory of the major advisor. However, students are encouraged to broaden their research experience by taking rotations in other laboratories. Students would be required to write a research proposal and progress report for each of these rotations and be evaluated by their advisor and graded just as our other Ph.D. students.

Comprehensive Examination during the Summer of Year 4

PHOL 701, 2 hours during the summer of Year 4, 8 hours during the Fall and Spring semesters of Year 4 to make the 18 hours needed as a minimum requirement for the Ph.D. Enroll for at least 1 hour of PHOL 701 until Ph.D. conferred – expected to take place by the end of Year 5. To satisfy the two paper requirement and to complete a body of research worthy of the Ph.D. degree, this period may extend into the 6th or 7th year.