Jump to content
Placeholder image for header
School of Medicine

Ph.D. Programs

Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal

Successful scientists of the twenty-first century require a range of intellectual, technical and communication skills that together transcend the narrow, historical definitions of individual scientific disciplines. The Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal (BSDP) at VCU addresses these integrative needs by serving as an entry point for students interested in doctoral training leading to careers in academic research, biotech research, scientific policy-making, teaching, and many other areas. The BSDP oversees admissions for and recruits students into seven Ph.D. programs within the School of Medicine. Five of these programs are departmentally based (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Human and Molecular Genetics, Microbiology and Immunology, Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Physiology and Biophysics) and two of the programs (the Neuroscience Program and the Molecular Biology and Genetics Curricula) are interdepartmental. Students in each program follow unique curricula and have research training experiences that align with the interests of the students and individual faculty mentors.

Please contact the BSDP or any of the seven Ph.D. programs below for additional information.


Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal

Natalia O'Brien, M.M.

Sanger Hall, Room 1-055
1101 East Marshall Street

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Tomasz Kordula, Ph.D.
E-mail: Tomasz.Kordula@vcuhealth.org
Human and Molecular Genetics
Rita Shiang, Ph.D.
E-mail: Rita.Shiang@vcuhealth.org
Microbiology and Immunology
Cynthia N. Cornelissen, Ph.D.
E-mail: Cynthia.Cornelissen@vcuhealth.org
Pharmacology and Toxicology
Hamid I. Akbarali, Ph.D.
E-mail: Hamid.Akbarali@vcuhealth.org
Physiology and Biophysics
Christina I. Kyrus, M.B.A.
E-mail: cikyrus@vcu.edu
Molecular Biology and Genetics Curriculum
Gail Christie, Ph.D.
E-mail: Gail.Christie@vcuhealth.org
Neuroscience Program - Ph.D. degree granting
John Bigbee, Ph.D.
E-mail: John.Bigbee@vcuhealth.org

Research support for students enrolled via the BSDP includes more than $100 million of extramural funding annually to our faculty mentors. Students can train with mentors having interests in the broad categories of molecular mechanisms of human health and disease as well as clinical and translation research. Students train in state-of-the-art research laboratories located on the School of Medicine campus. In addition to the departments and programs listed above, graduate trainees, via their faculty mentors, can become associated with a wide range of centers and institutes devoted to research and research training at VCU. These centers and institutes include the Massey Cancer Center (an NCI-designated entity), The VCU Alcohol Research Center (supported by NIAAA), the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies, the Institute for Structural Biology and Drug Design, the Molecular Imaging Center, the VCU Institute of Molecular Medicine, the Pauley Heart Centerand the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics

Please see http://research.vcu.edu/centers_cores/institutes.htm for a complete listing of Centers and Institutes at VCU.

First Year of Ph.D. Training

Portal First Laboratory Rotation 
Research Colloquium 11/18/2014

Students in our Ph.D. programs in the biomedical sciences at VCU make two key training decisions during their first year: the curriculum or program they will follow and the laboratory in which they will do their dissertation research. In anticipation of these two decisions, students spend their first year taking courses related to their disciplinary interests while performing research rotations in laboratories also in their area. The coursework and curriculum are chosen with the guidance of an academic counselor within one of the seven Ph.D. programs. Although each program is unique, this coursework will normally include a series of foundational courses, seminars and elective courses related to an individual student’s interests. Research rotations, which can in principle be performed in any participating laboratory regardless of departmental affiliation, are identified with assistance from the BSDP.  Students can officially join a program and/or laboratory at any time during the first academic year, but it is important for students to have identified both a curriculum and laboratory by the end of the spring semester of their first year to ensure adequate progression through their Ph.D. training program.  These two decisions—curriculum and laboratory—are naturally related. There is considerable flexibility, however, in the particular combination of curriculum followed and dissertation research laboratory that each student selects based on their individual interests.
Back to top

Continuation and Completion of Doctoral Training

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 guidance committees and take comprehensive exams administered by the individual programs typically during the second year. Upon completion of these key steps, students become focused 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 4-5 years after initially enrolling via the BSDP.
Back to top

Admission Requirements

Applicants to our Ph.D. programs 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 3.5 or higher, verbal and quantitative GRE scores at or above the 60th percentile, and substantial research experience in a biological, biomedical or chemical laboratory setting. International applicants must have demonstrated an acceptable level of English proficiency by achieving 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.
Back to top

Application Process

All applicants to the BSDP must apply through the VCU Office of Admissions by following this link.  To apply to the BSDP, select the appropriate term of entry in the “Intended Program of Study” screen, then select “Doctoral (PhD and EdD)” as your intended level of study, and then select “Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal - School of Medicine -PHD” as your planned course of study. Applicants DO NOT apply directly to individual departments or programs that are part of the BSDP.

A completed application contains the on-line application, official transcripts, general GRE scores (VCU code 5570), three letters of recommendation and a personal statement. Your letters of recommendation should comment on your suitability for graduate training and on your research or other relevant experience. Your personal statement should describe the following in any order:

  • your anticipated Ph.D. program or curriculum
  • your research or other experience
  • your rationale for pursuing Ph.D. training
  • your main research interests
  • a short list of prospective faculty mentors
  • any career plans that you have
  • any other information that will help us evaluate you as a prospective Ph.D. trainee including information on circumstances that may have hindered your 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. WES, ECE, and AACRAO are some of the acceptable NACES-approved providers.

After completing the online application, any documents such as official transcripts or resumes that cannot be submitted electronically should be sent to the following address:

Virginia Commonwealth University
Office of Admissions
Box 843051
Richmond, Virginia 23284-3051

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 are not guaranteed a review.

Please contact Ms. Natalia O’Brien at the BSDP if you require further assistance.
Back to top

Review of Applications, Interview Process and Commitment to Enroll

Applications for Ph.D. training are reviewed by a committee of faculty members from the seven participating programs. Completed applications are typically reviewed beginning in December and continuing through February.  Based on assessment of all components of the application, applicants viewed as most likely to succeed 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.

Anticipated 2017 interview dates are: January 6th, January 20th, February 3rd, Febuary 17th, March 3rd, and March 17th.

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 for Ph.D. training. Although we would prefer that applicants confirm their commitment to enroll as soon as possible, applicants have until April 15th to decide to join the BSDP at VCU.

Other Ph.D. Programs

The VCU School of Medicine Departments listed below have individual Ph.D. admissions committees with their own acceptance criteria and curricula. For a Ph.D. in one of these departments, apply directly to the department. Courses and laboratories in these departments are, however, also available to Ph.D. students who entered via the BSDP.

Russ Boyle, M.A.
E-mail: boyle@vcu.edu
Clinical and Translational Research
Teraya M. Donaldson, Ph.D.
E-mail: tmdonaldson@vcu.edu
Epidemiology and Community Health
Lisa S. Anderson, MPH

email: lsanders@vcu.edu
Healthcare Policy and Research
Kate Grant, M.S.
E-mail: kagrant@vcu.edu
Medical Physics
Geoffrey D. Hugo, Ph.D.
E-mail: medphys@vcu.edu
Ms. Sandra Sorrell
E-mail: ssorrell@vcu.edu
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Kate Grant, M.S.
E-mail: kagrant@vcu.edu

Back to top


BSDP Class of 2014 group photo BSDP Class of 2014

Incoming Class Fall 2015
Incoming Class Fall 2014
Incoming class Fall 2013
Incoming class Fall 2012
Incoming class Fall 2011