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Program Overview

Welcome to the Department of Pharmacology.  A unique feature of the department is our outstanding Ph.D. training program.  Almost 60 scientists in training are addressing important issues in fields such as neuroscience, cardiovascular development, receptor signaling, and drug metabolism.  Scientists in these areas are linked by a common interest in, and understanding of, the basic principles of drug action and design.

This perspective makes our trainees ideally suited for a wide range of careers and our program is committed to developing leaders in academia, industry, and regulatory affairs.

–  Kandi Granberry, Program Manager



There are several inter-related goals in the training of pharmacological sciences at Vanderbilt University. 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 and related physiology, 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, again by example, how to apply the scientific method to test an 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 a particular student;
  • teach how to communicate effectively their 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).

First Year

  • Students 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.
  • In April of the first year, students select an advisor and a graduate program 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 = 38 (18 male; 20 female)
  • Seven year average 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).

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 Carolyn Berry, Coordinator of the IGP program, with any questions or further information 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.