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Program Overview

Goals of the Training Program

Training in Pharmacological Sciences at Vanderbilt University pursues several inter-related goals. At the scientific level, we seek to provide a didactic curriculum that assures that each student has an understanding of the core knowledge in pharmacology, including the molecular, cellular and integrated understanding of drug action, receptor theory, pathways of drug metabolism, pharmacokinetics, and rational drug design.

Additional goals in our training program are to:

  • show, by example, how to construct a rational hypothesis;
  • teach, by example, how to apply the scientific method to test a hypothesis;
  • provide a basic understanding of a broad range of techniques;
  • provide more in-depth training in those techniques that are particularly germane to a chosen research area of each student;
  • teach how to communicate effectively research findings to the scientific community, and
  • instill a scientific ethic and respect for the pursuit of knowledge.

Other aspirations of the Pharmacological Sciences Training Program are:

  • to foster the ability of students to learn how to learn on their own for the rest of their lives, a skill critical for continued excellence in scientific inquiry,
  • to free students from the fear of failure, and
  • to impart to students an appreciation for diversity.

Each of these latter goals is essential for sustained contributions and leadership in any career, and particularly in biomedical research.


The Pharmacological Sciences Training Program participates in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in the Biomedical Sciences (IGP) and the Quantitative and Chemical Biology Program (QCB).

First Year

  • Students in the IGP program spend the first year in an interdisciplinary core course that blends insights in current topics on bioregulation with fundamental principles governing cell structure and regulation of biological processes. This course also provides exposure to the basic principles underlying modern laboratory techniques.
  • Flexible research rotations begin after the first seven weeks and through the spring semester to familiarize students with the science, personality and working environment in the laboratories of potential research advisors.
  • Elective course work also begins in the spring semester.
  • Students in the QCB program typically have earned undergraduate degrees in chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering, or mathematics, and in their first year participate in coursework in one of four areas of interest, Chemical Biology, Structural Biology & Molecular BiophysicsSystems Biology, and Imaging Science.
  • In April of the first year, students select an advisor and a graduate program such as Pharmacological Sciences and begin focused laboratory research during the first summer.

Second Year Through Completion

  • For those students who select the Pharmacological Sciences Training Program, additional course work is planned by students and mentors together to meet the individual interests and needs of each student. Interdepartmental course work and individualization of the curriculum for each student is emphasized.
  • Laboratory research continues nearly full time during the second year of course work and comprises the student’s entire efforts in subsequent years of study.
  • Students are encouraged from the outset to understand science as a question-asking process and to acquire skills in posing questions, selecting and designing appropriate experimental strategies, and outlining possible outcomes and interpretations. This conceptual framework repeats itself in didactic course work, laboratory rotations, journal club presentations, and in scientific presentations at the annual fall departmental retreat, student-invited spring Pharmacology Forum, and at national meetings.

Pharmacology Program Statistics

  • Current Students = 28 (16 male; 12 female)
  • Time to degree is 5.3 years
  • Graduation Rate: Seven year overall average is 85.3% (29 out of 34 students, with 10 still in training)
  • Pharmacology students receive a broad foundation that allows them to be leaders in many different scientific environments.

How to Apply

Individuals pursuing a PhD in the basic biomedical or biological science departments, including Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, join these departments following completion of their first year through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in the Biomedical Sciences (IGP) or the Quantitative and Chemical Biology Program (QCB).

Potential Pharmacology students may access the Graduate School’s website where they will gain some very important and relevant information on who, what, where, when, and how of Graduate School at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. This website also gives information about how to apply.

For information on the IGP program itself or the application process, please visit the Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET) website. Students may also contact Stephanie Richards with questions at


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.