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The Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal (BSDP) at VCU is as an entry point for students interested in doctoral training leading to careers in academic research, biotechnology, scientific policy-making, higher education, and many other areas. The BSDP oversees admissions for and recruits students into six Ph.D. programs within the School of Medicine. Five of these programs are departmentally based (Biochemistry, Human Genetics, Microbiology and Immunology, Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Physiology and Biophysics) and one program (Neuroscience) is interdepartmental. Additionally, students may elect a curriculum concentration in Molecular Biology and Genetics within several of these Ph.D. programs. Within each program, students follow a unique curriculum and have research training experiences that align with the interests of the students and individual faculty mentors.

Please follow the links below for more information about doctoral training in each of the Ph.D. programs associated with the BSDP.


*A curriculum associated with several of the Ph.D. programs.



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How it Works

The Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal (BSDP) coordinates the training of first year students that will ultimately earn Ph.D. degrees in Biochemistry, Human Genetics, Microbiology and Immunology, Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Toxicology and Physiology and Biophysics. Additionally, the BSDP coordinates the first year of training for students pursuing the Molecular Biology and Genetics curriculum in many of the departmentally-based Ph.D. programs. Students are typically in the BSDP during year 1, after which they join a laboratory and transition into their chosen Ph.D. program.

Year 1

BSDP students are guided through two key training steps during their first year: selection of their program/curriculum and matching with their dissertation laboratory. In anticipation of completing these two steps, students spend their first year taking courses while performing research rotations in laboratories in their area(s) of interest. The coursework and curriculum are chosen with the guidance of an academic counselor from one of the Ph.D. programs. Although each program is unique, the coursework will normally include a series of foundational and elective courses as well as seminars. Research rotations can be performed in a wide range of participating laboratories. Students should join both a Ph.D. program and a dissertation laboratory by the end of the spring semester of their first year.

Year 2 and Beyond

After selecting their Ph.D. programs and dissertation training labs, students continue taking courses (typically through the second year), continue participating in journal clubs and seminars (typically throughout their training), and initiate or expand independent, mentored research projects in their dissertation labs. Students identify faculty members to serve on their graduate advisory committees and take comprehensive exams administered by the individual programs typically toward the completion of the second year. Upon completion of these key steps, students focus on their research projects and research productivity (publishing articles, presenting at regional, national and international conferences, etc.). Ph.D. training culminates with each student writing and defending a dissertation, typically 5 years after initially enrolling via the BSDP.

Financial Support, Tuition & Fees

PhD Financial Support

Admitted Ph.D. applicants receive offers of financial support in the form of assistantships that typically include a stipend/salary, which is set by the School of Medicine at a foundational level of $27,000 per year. This amount includes funds to defray the costs of health insurance. Additionally, financial support covers tuition and fees for both Virginia-resident and non-resident students. Students with assistantships continue to receive support as long as they remain in good academic standing and make satisfactory progress toward completion of their degrees.

Appropriately enrolled U.S. citizens and permanent residents might be eligible for financial aid. For more information, please contact the VCU School of Medicine Financial Aid Office.

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All prospective Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal (BSDP) students must apply on-line through the VCU Office of Graduate Admissions by following this link. To apply to the BSDP, make the following selections in the “Intended Program of Study” section in the on-line application:

  • Entry Term--FALL YYYY
  • Intended level of study--Doctoral (PhD and EdD)
  • Planned Course of Study--Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal - School of Medicine - PHD

Applicants DO NOT apply directly to individual Ph.D. programs or departments for admission to the BSDP.

Applications to the BSDP should be completed (i.e. receipt of all forms, letters, transcripts, etc.) by February 1 of the anticipated enrollment year. Applications completed after this date will be reviewed only as remaining spaces permit.

Admissions Requirements

Applicants to the BSDP must have earned a baccalaureate (i.e. bachelor’s) degree (or higher) in the biological, chemical or related sciences by the time of enrollment. Successful applicants will have completed undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry through organic chemistry, and mathematics often through calculus. Typically, we target applicants with grade point averages of 3.3 or higher, verbal and quantitative GRE scores at or above the 50th percentile, and substantial research experience in a biological, biomedical or chemical laboratory setting. International applicants must have a minimum score of 100 on the TOEFL or 6.5 on the IELTS. We take a holistic approach when evaluating applications, though, and strength in one or more aspects of an application can compensate for another area that is not as well developed. 

Application Materials

A completed application contains all information requested on-line, transcripts, general GRE scores (VCU code 5570), three letters of recommendation and a personal statement. Letters of recommendation should comment on the applicant’s suitability for graduate training and on the applicant’s research or other relevant experience. The personal statement should be 1000-1500 words and describe the applicant’s:

  • anticipated Ph.D. programs/curriculum (if known)
  • research (or other relevant experience) including the overall project objectives and goals as well as an indication of the applicant’s involvement in the project
  • main graduate research interests and a short list of prospective faculty mentors
  • rationale for pursuing Ph.D. training and any tentative career plans
  • other pertinent information that will help us evaluate the applicant as a prospective Ph.D. trainee including information on circumstances that may have hindered the applicant’s progress or development


International applicants must provide TOEFL or IELTS scores (VCU code 5570). In addition, international applicants must arrange to have their academic credentials evaluated by a service that is a member of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) and must include the evaluation of their credentials in the application for graduate training. See VCU Graduate Admissions for more information.


Applicants should make every effort to submit all documents electronically to ensure efficient handling. Please contact VCU Graduate Admissions at vcu-grad@vcu.edu for instructions regarding materials that cannot be submitted electronically.

Application Review and Applicant Interviews

Applications to the BSDP are reviewed by a committee of faculty members from the seven participating programs. Review of completed applications begins in December and continues through February. Based on assessment of all components of the application, selected applicants are invited to interview on-site starting in January of the anticipated enrollment year. The interviews are a critical step in the admissions process during which members of the admissions committee learn more about the applicants and the applicants learn more about VCU. During the interviews, applicants should be prepared to discuss their prior training experiences at a depth appropriate for their level of education and experience.

Interview dates for 2018 will be:

  • Jan 5
  • Jan 19
  • Feb 2
  • Feb 16
  • Mar 2
  • Mar 16

Commitment to Enroll

Based on the outcome of the interviews and review of all other information by the Admissions Committee, selected applicants are offered admission for fall enrollment. Although we prefer that applicants confirm their commitment to enroll as soon as possible, applicants have until April 15th to accept a doctoral training position in the BSDP.


Please contact the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal (BSDP) office or any of the seven BSDP programs for more information.


Contact Information


Mike Grotewiel, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean for Graduate Recruitment and Admissions
E-mail: michael.grotewiel@vcuhealth.org

Natalia O’Brien
Phone: (804) 828-0609
E-mail: natalia.obrien@vcuhealth.org


Tomasz Kordula, Ph.D.
Program Director

E-mail: tomasz.kordula@vcuhealth.org

Human Genetics

Rita Shiang, Ph.D.
Program Director

E-mail: rita.shiang@vcuhealth.org

Microbiology and Immunology

Cynthia N. Cornelissen, Ph.D.
Program Director

E-mail: cynthia.cornelissen@vcuhealth.org

Molecular Biology and Genetics

Michael McVoy, Ph.D.
Program Director

E-mail: michael.mcvoy@vcuhealth.org


John Bigbee, Ph.D.
Program Director

E-mail: john.bigbee@vcuhealth.org

Pharmacology and Toxicology

Hamid I. Akbarali, Ph.D.
Program Director

E-mail: hamid.akbarali@vcuhealth.org

Physiology and Biophysics

Christina I. Kyrus, M.B.A.
Program Coordinator

E-mail: cikyrus@vcu.edu