Skip to main content

Overview of Coursework

Most students enter our program through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in the Biomedical Sciences (IGP), the Quantitative and Chemical Biology Program (QCB), or the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Vanderbilt University’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences organizes first-year training of most graduate students who are interested in basic biological and biomedical research. Subsequently, interested students apply to the Training Program in Pharmacological Sciences.

IGP and QCB students are admitted to Vanderbilt University uncommitted to a specific department or Ph.D. program and take a two-semester course.  During the first year of study, students also engage in rotations in four laboratories chosen by the student.  Students who know or expect that they will apply to the Training Program in Pharmacological Sciences should conduct laboratory rotations in approved pharmacology laboratories.  At the end of two semesters of coursework and laboratory rotations, IGP and QCB students declare their intent to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology and choose the laboratory in which they will conduct their dissertation research.  Students enter their selected laboratory the summer after their first year of study.

Coursework is designed to impart to students a common framework of basic principles in Pharmacology and related disciplines. This framework is supplemented by exercises that allow students to use and integrate basic principles. An overview of the Program, including the IGP or QCB year, is presented below.


  • See IGP curriculum
  • Visit with Departments
  • First Rotation
  • See IGP curriculum
  • 2nd to 4th Rotations
  • At least one Elective Course

CPB Program students take a curriculum custom-tailored to meet the needs of each student. Often this is mathematics and physics for biologists and biology for physicists and mathematicians.

  • Laboratory Rotations.
  • Fundamentals of Pharmacology and Drug Discovery (PHAR 8320).
  • Scientific Communication Skills, Part I, Oral (PHAR 8322).
  • Present at Department Retreat
  • Ph.D. Research
  • Scientific Communication Skills, Part II, Written (PHAR 8323)
  • Experimental design, statistical methodology, and responsible conduct (PHAR 8328)
  • Electives – no minimum program requirements
  • Graduate Student Seminar
  • Student-Invited Forum
  • Ph.D. Research
  • Qualifying Examination
  • Ph.D. Research
  • Ph.D. Research
  • Continued participation in departmental requirements: presentation at Department Retreat, Student-Invited Forum, presentation and attendance at Journal Club or Works in Progress, attendance at Department Seminars, meetings with faculty members, and meetings with Dissertation Committee.

In year 5 all graduate students need to re-take IGP 8004 (RCR)


Required Coursework

Pharmacology PHAR-GS 8320. Fundamentals of Pharmacology and Drug Discovery. This course is divided into three five- week modules. The first focuses on fundamental aspects of pharmacological targets: receptor theory, enzyme kinetics, and cell signaling pathways. The second focuses on quantitative modeling of drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination. The third focuses on key aspects of drug discovery including target selection and validation, identification of early drug leads, optimization of those leads into compounds suitable for clinical development, transitioning from discovery to the early clinical development phase, and medical and marketing consideration that impact progress of a drug discovery program. The course will be taught by a team of faculty members with considerable real- world experience applying these concepts to drug discovery. In addition to guided readings and lectures, students will participate in weekly journal article discussions and active learning exercises designed to enhance students understanding of recent developments and application of fundamental concepts. FALL. Davies, Jones, Niswender, Kramlinger. [2-6].


PHAR-GS 8322. Scientific Communications I. This interactive course gives students experience preparing and delivering scientific presentations that effectively communicate scientific research. In the course, students will prepare and present a 10-minute journal club, a 10-minute specific aims talk for the Pharmacology Retreat, and a 15-minute presentation of their scientific research for a lay audience. Following the course, the student will also be required to present a 30-min Journal Club to the Pharmacology Department during the spring semester. As preparation for their retreat talk, students will also write a draft Specific Aims page and a 2-page Background and Significance section that will be further developed into a full fellowship proposal during the Spring Scientific Communication II course. Prerequisite: Enrollment in the Pharmacology Ph.D. program or consent of course directors. FALL. Davies. [2]


PHAR-GS 8323. Scientific Communication Skills II. This course will leverage the writing assignments of the fall Scientific Communications course (8322) to accelerate preparation of a draft NRSA fellowship (or equivalent such as AHA) application. During the fall course, a draft Specific Aims page is written and critiqued. In this spring course, students will write the next two sections of their application and have it peer-reviewed. These writing assignments are intended to be self-guided with significant support by the student’s mentor. The applications will subsequently be submitted for funding to the proper agency. Pre-requisite: Completion of PHAR-GS 8322 and Enrollment in the Ph.D. program. SPRING. Davies and faculty. [2]


PHAR-GS8328 Experimental design, statistical methodology, and responsible conduct. This course provides the fundamentals necessary to conceptualize all components that lead to responsible research approaches, including methodical experimental design, analytical assessment of relevant literature, and proper interpretation of data. Students learn how to design experiments with rigorous and reproducible results and how to appropriately develop experimental models. Topics include research integrity, bias, scientific transparency, data- and material sharing, proper record maintenance, accurate data presentation, and statistical analysis. The course covers RCR and R&R. SPRING. Konradi. [2]

Examples of Elective Coursework

Note: The program does not require a minimum hour of electives, although students are encouraged to take advantage of the educational opportunities on campus. Below are examples of elective coursework for students in the area of neuropharmacology, though that is just one area of interest of our students. Any student who wants to take an elective of any topic related to their area of thesis research should talk to the program DGS to get support signing up for their course of choice.


PHAR-GS 8338. Principles of Pharmacology in Neurobiological Research. Most biological research depends on principles of pharmacology. Neuroscience is no exception. This course will focus on the application of fundamental principles in pharmacology for understanding the brain and behavior in rodents, as well as how this relates to observations in humans. In the first part of the course we will discuss traditional and modern tools used to answer precise questions about the neural control of behavior, while in the second part of the course we will examine the challenges of applying pharmacological principles to the multi-dimensional features of mental disorders. The course will incorporate a historical and modern perspective, highlighting neuroscience’s roots in pharmacology and the future of applied neuropharmacology. Prerequisites: Fundamentals of Neuroscience I (NURO 8345) is strongly encouraged. Exceptions will be determined on a case-by-case basis. SPRING. [3] Calipari, Konradi.


PHAR-GS 8330. Advanced Neurophysiology. (Also Listed as NURO 8324) Dubbed as “Fundamentals of the Excitable Membrane for Biologists”, this course will begin with an introduction to electrical properties of excitable cell membranes and tools to study those properties. It will be followed by a series of lectures on the structure, function and types of ion channels accompanied with lab sessions and paper discussions. In the latter part of the semester, it will focus on synapse formation, its biophysical properties, and a role in storing memory within a neuronal network, ending with an overview on and available tools to study of in vivo neurophysiology of primates. Overall, this course is designed to provide basic knowledge of generation, regulation and propagation of electrical signals to IGP students. By the end of the course, students will have a foundation to understand and critique Research Articles in the field of Neurophysiology. SPRING [3] Grueter


PHAR-GS 8345. Fundamentals of Neuroscience I. This course can be taken as an elective for graduate students in Pharmacology. It emphasizes the cellular and molecular aspects of neuroscience. The goal is for students to learn the general organization of the nervous system and its circuitry and understand the fundamental molecular and cellular bases underlying its development and function in normal and pathological conditions. In addition, the students learn how the cellular systems in the brain relate to the major branches of cognitive neuroscience. There are 3 themes that will be woven into the course to provide a continuum from molecules to cognition and disease: sensory systems, motor systems and memory. This course combines faculty lecture with discussion of original articles with an emphasis on fundamental concepts and the elucidation of important research paradigms in the discipline. Prerequisite: Undergraduate coursework in cell biology or biochemistry or permission of the course directors. SPRING [4].


PHAR-GS 8346. Advanced Molecular Neurobiology. (Also listed as Neuroscience 8346) This course examines molecular components and interactions that regulate neuronal development, signaling, and disease. Topics include development of neuronal identity, axonal transport, growth factors and cell death, axon guidance and synapse formation, electrical and chemical transmission, regulation of neuronal excitability, and genetic analysis of signaling and neural disorders. Didactic and literature discussions provide students with a sound foundation for understanding the molecular bases underlying the development and function of the nervous system. Prerequisite: Neuroscience 8345 or Pharmacology 8320, or consent of instructor. SPRING. [3] Emeson and Staff.


Vanderbilt University is committed to principles of equal opportunity and affirmative action, and encourages individuals from diverse, under-represented populations to apply to its graduate programs. The university does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, socio-economic background, or disability.