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School of Medicine

Ph.D. Programs

Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal

BSDP contacts

Louis J. De Felice, Ph.D.
Chair of Admissions


Natalia O'Brien, M.M.
BSDP Coordinator

Sanger Hall, Room 1-055
1101 East Marshall Street

The Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal (BSDP) admits students into the first year of their Ph.D. training in six departments: Anatomy and Neurobiology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Human and Molecular Genetics, Microbiology and Immunology, Pharmacology and Toxicology or Physiology and Biophysics.  In addition, the portal admits students into the first year of two interdisciplinary training programs in Neuroscience, which grants a PhD in Neuroscience, and Molecular Biology and Genetics, which is a curriculum with the PhD granted in one of the basic science departments.  Contacts for all of these programs are listed at the bottom of this page.

Twenty-first century biomedical research is largely an interdisciplinary enterprise, and the most competitive and successful researchers will require technical and intellectual skills that reach beyond the narrow confines of particular disciplines. Students seeking a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences typically come from diverse backgrounds with varying experience and interests, and they may not be aware of the full range of research options available to them. This is especially true upon entering the first year of graduate school, when students may not have decided on a particular discipline or field. Some students, however, may wish to specialize right from the start. Recognizing this, the VCU School of Medicine has developed an admissions portal for a Ph.D. in one of the basic health sciences that complements the traditional strengths of specialized departments and yet allows flexibility in selecting a Ph.D. program.

First Year Curriculum

Portal First Laboratory Rotation 
Research Colloquium 11/18/2014
Students seeking a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences at VCU School of Medicine spend their first year rotating in laboratories selected from any department. With the help of an academic counselor, students also select courses from any department, which are chosen to complement their research interests or explore potential research interests. At the end of the first year, students select a dissertation advisor and enter his or her department for their Ph.D. research. Doctoral students thus have a flexible and tailored curriculum during their first year of graduate school, which is drawn from existing laboratories and graduate courses within the School of Medicine. This flexibility extends beyond the School of Medicine to laboratories and courses in other VCU graduate programs, e.g., biology, chemistry, or engineering.

By the end of the first year, students will typically complete 20-30 credit hours, for example, four elective courses (15-20 credits), three laboratory rotations (2 credits each) and two seminars (1 credit each). These credits, regardless of the departments in which they were taken, count toward the Ph.D. requirements in the particular department selected for the dissertation.

The first year is designed for cross-departmental flexibility, yet students are free to specialize in a particular discipline beginning in their first year by electing courses and laboratories exclusively in a particular program. Official entry to a department or program takes place only at the end of the first year.

BSDP_Handbook‌ [PDF]

Memo to First Year Students - Fall 2013 [PDF]

Memo to Department Chairs and Portal Rotation Mentors [PDF]

Memo to New PhD Advisors [DOC]

Guidance in the Student Advisor Relationship [PDF]

Requirements for Admission

Successful applicants will typically have the following credentials:

  • Baccalaureate degree or its equivalent at the time of enrollment, with an undergraduate GPA of 3.5
  • GRE scores must be current (taken within the past five years), with scores at the 75th percentile or greater preferred.
  • Individuals for whom English is a second language must have TOEFL of 600 (pBT), 250 (cBT), or 100 (iBT) scores; or 6.5 on the IELTS.

To report your GRE or TOEFL score, use VCU Code 5570.

Personal statements should include:

  • Long-term career goals to assess reasons behind your application
  • How a Ph.D. in biomedical science helps achieve those goals
  • Initial motivating factors for a career in research
  • Research experience, including dates, places and duration

Three letters of recommendation.

  • Letters should speak of the scientific competency and experience of the applicant

Applicants are expected to have had the equivalent of two semesters of General Chemistry, two semesters of Organic Chemistry, and two semesters of upper level Biology courses. e.g. Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Neuroscience, Physiology, Biophysics, etc.


Application Process


Applicants are encouraged to submit complete applications as early as possible. Early applications are given interview priority and incomplete applications may not be considered. The last day to receive applications is 1 February 2016, and only in rare cases will we consider an application submitted after this date.

For Domestic Applicants for the Fall 2016 semester, click here to access the graduate programs’ online application.  International Applicants should refer to the International Admissions website for admissions information.

Offers of financial support include an annualized stipend of $27,000 which includes funds to contribute to the cost of the health insurance.  (All students enrolled in advanced degree programs are required to have health insurance coverage).  In addition, the cost of all tuition and fees are provided. 

2017 Interview Schedule - Dates will be posted soon.

Sample Interview Itinerary‌ [PDF]          Prepare for the PhD Interview‌ [PDF]

Academic Departments and programs

The diverse research programs housed in the of faculty members in the School of Medicine are supported by over $100 million of extramural research support, primarily in the form of investigator-initiated grants from the National Institutes of Health. School of Medicine faculty populate numerous organizations devoted to research and research training at VCU including the Massey Cancer Center—an NCI-designated entity, the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies, the Institute for Structural Biology and Drug Design, the Molecular Imaging Center and the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics among many others on both campuses of the University.


BSDP Departments and Interdisciplinary Programs

The VCU School of Medicine Departments and Interdisciplinary Programs listed below are part of the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal and have a common admissions committee, common acceptance criteria, and a flexible first year curriculum for laboratory rotations and graduate coursework.

Anatomy and Neurobiology
John Bigbee, Ph.D.
E-mail: jbigbee@vcu.edu

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Tomasz Kordula, Ph.D.
E-mail: tkordula@vcu.edu

Human and Molecular Genetics
Rita Shiang, Ph.D.
E-mail: rshiang@vcu.edu

Microbiology and Immunology
Cynthia N. Cornelissen, Ph.D.
E-mail: cncornel@vcu.edu

Pharmacology and Toxicology
Hamid I. Akbarali, Ph.D.
E-mail: hiakbarali@vcu.edu

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: christie@vcu.edu

Neuroscience Program - Ph.D. degree granting
John Bigbee, Ph.D.
E-mail: jbigbee@vcu.edu

Ms. Sandra Sorrell
E-mail: ssorrell@vcu.edu

Clinical and Translational Research
Teraya M. Donaldson, Ph.D.
E-mail: tmdonaldson@vcu.edu


Students who pursue the PhD in Clinical and Translational sciences will be prepared to integrate multiple disciplines and move easily among different projects. A series of elective courses compliments advanced knowledge in area of interest. Special courses emphasize research design and technology applicable across disciplines in commercial, government and academic settings.

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

Epidemiology and Community Health
Lisa S. Anderson, MPH

Director of Educational Programs
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

Physical Therapy
Sheryl Finucane, Ph.D.
E-mail: sfinucan@vcu.edu


Social and Behavioral Sciences
Kate Grant, M.S.
E-mail: kagrant@vcu.edu


Program Statistics

The National Academy of Sciences / National Research Council recently published information on doctoral programs at U.S. universities and medical centers. Participation was voluntary with comparative information based on data collected for the 2005 – 2006. Comparisons to programs within groups of subject areas were provided in the report reflecting information drawn from twenty parameters. VCU graduate programs ranking in the top quartiles (highest ranking = lowest percentile) included Anatomy and Neurobiology (18th percentile), Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (22nd percentile ) and Pharmacology and Toxicology (12th percentile). Programs in the School of Medicine were rated strongly in parameters measuring support services and activities which enhance the training experience for students and their professional development with rankings as high as shown: Anatomy and Neurobiology (5th percentile), Biostatistics (13th percentile), Human Genetics (5th percentile ), Physiology and Biophysics (11th percentile) and Pharmacology and Toxicology (18th percentile). In the interval of time since the report data were collected, extramural funding, the parameter which is perhaps the most salient indicator of research activity and opportunity has increased by over $30 million in the School of Medicine.


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
Incoming class Fall 2010