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Overview of Coursework

Most students enter our program through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP) with a smaller number coming from the Chemical and Physical Biology (CPB) Program and the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP).  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 CPB year, is presented below.

Year Fall Spring Summer

IGP Core Course-Bioregulation I (IGP 8300A)

Visit with departments

First and second rotations



IGP Core Course-Bioregulation II (IGP 8300B) – Receptors Module  required of pharmacology students

Third and fourth rotations

At least one elective course


Begin Ph.D. research


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.



Drug Metabolism & Pharmacokinetics (PHAR 8326)

Fundamentals of Pharmacology (PHAR 8324)

Targets, Systems, and Drug Action, Part I (PHAR 8320)

Scientific Communication Skills, Part I, Oral (PHAR 8322)

Present at department retreat

Continue Ph.D. research



Targets, Systems, and Drug Action, Part II (PHAR 8321)

Scientific Communication Skills, Part II, Written (PHAR 8323)

Experimental Design (PHAR 8328) – counted toward elective credit requirement

Graduate Student Seminar

Student-Invited Forum

Meetings with faculty

Continue Ph.D. research


Qualifying Examination, Part I

Continue Ph.D. research


Qualifying Examination, Part II

Continue 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.


Pharmacology Training Program Required Coursework

In addition to the IGP or CPB core, there is a core curriculum for graduate students in the Pharmacological Sciences Training Program that includes required courses, complemented by several available elective courses. The required courses are Fundamentals of Pharmacology (PHAR 8324); Scientific Communication Skills I (PHAR 8322); Scientific Communication Skills II (PHAR 8323); Drug Metabolism & Pharmacokinetics (PHAR 8326); Targets, Systems, and Drug Action, Parts I and II (PHAR 8320 and 8321); Independent Study: Hypothesis Testing (PHAR 8350-06) which counts toward the elective hour requirement; and Experimental Design for the Biomedical Sciences (PHAR 8328), which counts toward the elective hour requirement.

The overall coursework plan for a graduate student who selects a participating mentor in the Pharmacological Sciences Training Program and intends to graduate from Vanderbilt with a Ph.D. in Pharmacology is outlined below.

IGP 8300B – Bioregulation II Module:  Receptor Theory and Enzyme Kinetics, SPRING MODULE

Module Description:  The goals of this module are to familiarize students with the structure and function of cell-surface receptors and the molecular basis of receptor-driven signaling and basic enzyme kinetics. The course will build upon the knowledge base presented in Bioregulation I and will draw parallels between the quantitative constants used for the description of enzymes and receptor proteins, while highlighting the fact that in most fields quantification of protein behavior uses similar approaches. The goals of the module will be achieved by series of lectures, paper discussions and homework assignments. All teaching will stress the qualitative and quantitative aspects of protein and enzyme activities. This module will thus provide students with a strong foundation of quantitative interpretation of experimental data while teaching mathematical tools that are applicable to interactions between any molecules: receptor-ligand, enzyme-substrate, protein-protein, protein-DNA, protein-RNA, etc.

PHAR 8324 – Fundamentals of Pharmacology: Receptor Theory & Cell Signaling, FALL COURSE

Course Description:  Structure and function of cell-surface receptors and the molecular bases by which they activate cellular function. Topics include receptor identification; quantitation of simple and complex binding phenomena; molecular bases for receptor coupling to GTP-binding proteins; the structure and function of ligand-operated ion channels, receptor-tyrosine kinases and receptor-induced signal transduction cascades receptors as oncogenes and proto-oncogenes. Prerequisite: Enrollment in the Ph.D. program or consent of faculty.

PHAR 8322 – Scientific Communications Skills, Part I, FALL COURSE

Course Description: Techniques in effective oral communication of scientific research as well as practical experience in research and literature presentation and in the preparation of grant proposals. During the fall course, a draft Specific Aims page is written and critiqued and will be used in the spring course PHAR-GS 8323. Pre-requisite: Enrollment in the Ph.D. program or consent of faculty.

​PHAR 8320 and 8321 – Targets, Systems, and Drug Action, Part I and Part II, FALL/SPRING COURSE

Course Description: Introduction to human physiology is integrated with the pathophysiology, pathological manifestations, and therapeutic interventions. Lectures and laboratories emphasize the molecular and cellular underpinnings of normal organ function and disease. Mechanisms of drug action are discussed in a systemic fashion and supported by guided readings on drug discovery and design. Paradigm shifting experiments will be discussed to illustrate clarity of thinking, how focused experimental strategies lead to discovery, and potential difficulties in interpretation of experimental results.

PHAR 8326 – Drug Metabolism & Pharmacokinetics, FALL COURSE 

Course Description:  The course will provide an introduction and overview of drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK). Focus will be on drug distribution and drug elimination concepts, drug absorption, bioavailability, and multiple dosing, and clearing concepts, as well as various case studies.

PHAR 8323 – Scientific Communications II, SPRING COURSE 

Course Description: 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.

PHAR 8328 Experimental Design for the Biomedical Sciences, SPRING COURSE (counts toward elective credit requirement)

Course Description: The overall goal of this course is to provide comprehensive instruction in the theory and practice of rigorous and reproducible scientific methods. It combines traditional didactic presentations, small group discussions, and practical exercises. The practical exercises include the use of REDCap and Labnodes; attendance at a biostatistics clinic; in-class data analysis exercises; and a capstone exercise in which groups of students designed a hypothetical experiment.

Summary of Required Coursework Expectations

The overall goal of the Program is that each student graduating with a degree in Pharmacology will have a shared body of knowledge of cellular and integrated physiology; therapeutic agents, how they are handled by the body, how they work and how they affect diverse patient populations; and the molecular basis by which drugs, endogenous hormones, neurotransmitters, and autocrine agents regulate cellular pathways via diverse signaling pathways.  The students also will have refined their ability to communicate scientific knowledge they have read or obtained in their own research activities.  This shared body of knowledge obtained by all participates in the Pharmacological Sciences Training Program is complemented by an area of distinct scholarship by each student, provided in part by the elective coursework described below.

Elective Coursework

In addition to the above required coursework, each student must take a minimum of six credit hours of elective coursework distributed over at least two elective courses.  The following courses count toward the required elective coursework:

  • IGP Year spring elective (variable)
  • Scientific Communication Skills II (1 hour)
  • Experimental Design for the Biomedical Sciences (2 hours)

A large number of additional electives are available, if students wish to take additional courses. The Pharmacology-sponsored elective for Fall 2018 is:

PHAR 8327 – Modern Drug Discovery, FALL COURSE

Course Description: The course will provide an introduction and overview to the drug discovery process. Focus will be on target selection, target validation, and the process of discovery early drug leads and optimization of those leads into compounds suitable for clinical development.  This will include approaches used to transition from discovery to the early clinical development phase of a program as well as medical and market considerations that impact launching and progress of a drug discovery program.