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.
IGP Core Course-Bioregulation I (IGP 8300A)
Visit with departments
First and second rotations
IGP Core Course – Bioregulation II (IGP 8300B)
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.
Fundamentals of Pharmacology & Drug Discovery (PHAR 8320)
Scientific Communication Skills, Part I, Oral (PHAR 8322)
Present at department retreat
Continued Ph.D. research
Targets, Systems, and Drug Action (PHAR 8321)
Scientific Communication Skills, Part II, Written (PHAR 8323)
Experimental Design (PHAR 8328) – elective
Graduate Student Seminar
Continued Ph.D. research
Qualifying Examination, Phase I
Continue Ph.D. research
Qualifying Examination, Phase II (no more than 4 months after passing Phase I)
Continued 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, 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 & Drug Discovery (PHAR 8320); Scientific Communication Skills I (PHAR 8322); Scientific Communication Skills II (PHAR 8323); Targets, Systems, and Drug Action (PHAR 8321); 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.
PHAR-GS 8320. Fundamentals of Pharmacology & Drug Discovery, FALL COURSE
Course Description: This interactive course gives students experience with how fundamental concepts in pharmacology and drug discovery can be applied to dissect (patho) physiological processes and develop candidate compounds for therapeutic use. The course is divided into three five-week modules. The first module includes applications of receptor theory, enzyme kinetics, and cell signaling. The second module includes applications of drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination (ADME). Both modules emphasize quantitative modeling. The third module includes drug target selection and validation, identification of early drug leads, optimization of those leads into compounds suitable for clinical development, transition from discovery to the early clinical development phase, and medical and marketing consideration that impact progress of a drug discovery program. The course is taught by a team of faculty members with considerable real-world experience applying these concepts to dissecting novel biology as well as to drug discovery. Students will be required to apply concepts learned in group discussions of journal articles chosen to enhance students understanding of recent developments and in real-world learning exercises. Prerequisite: Enrollment in the Pharmacology Ph.D. program or consent of course directors. FALL. [3 credits, or 1 credit for each 5-week module]
PHAR-GS 8322. Scientific Communications Skills, Part I, FALL COURSE
Course Description: 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. [1 credit]
PHAR-GS 8321. Targets, Systems, and Drug Action, SPRING COURSE
Course Description: This interactive course gives students the opportunity to understand how pharmacology has been used to understand (patho)physiology and to treat diseases. The course is divided into three five-week modules. The first module focuses on the cardiovascular system and renal function. The second module focuses on immunology and cancer biology. The third module focuses on endocrinology and neuroscience. Lectures emphasize the molecular and cellular underpinnings of normal organ function and how these go awry in disease. Mechanisms of action for important drug classes are discussed in a systemic fashion and supported by guided readings and student presentations. Prerequisite: Enrollment in the Pharmacology Ph.D. program or consent of course directors. Spring. [3 credits, or 1 credit for each 5-week module]
PHAR-GS 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 (or equivalent such as AHA) fellowship application. During the fall course, a draft Specific Aims page and Significance section is written and critiqued. In this spring course, students will write the Research Strategy section of their application and revise the previous sections as needed. The draft proposal will be reviewed by two faculty members. This writing assignments is intended to be self-guided with significant support by the student’s mentor. Although optional, most student subsequently submit this application for funding to an appropriate agency. Pre-requisite: Completion of PHAR-GS 8322 and enrollment in the Pharmacology Ph.D. program. SPRING. [1 credit]
PHAR-GS 8328. Experimental Design for the Biomedical Sciences, SPRING COURSE (elective)
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.
In addition to the above required coursework, each student may take elective coursework as desired. The following courses are examples of elective coursework:
- IGP Year spring elective (variable)
- Experimental Design for the Biomedical Sciences (2 hours)
- Any elective of student’s interest
- PHAR-GS 8327. Modern Drug Discovery 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.
A large number of additional electives are available, if students wish to take additional courses.