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Academic Program

Students at a poster presentation

Admission and Entrance

Unlike traditional PhD programs, students in the IBMS program are admitted to the program, not a department. All students admitted to the program identify themselves with one of the seven Research and Training Clusters depending on their interests.

Research Rotations

During their first academic year (August through May), students participate in three successive ten-week research rotations. The rotations, performed in laboratories chosen by the student, allow students to directly engage in research, contributing to the scientific investigations ongoing in each laboratory. The three rotations expose students to a range of complementary biomedical research and allow students to learn a variety of experimental techniques. As students do not serve as teaching assistants during their first year, there is opportunity to make significant scientific progress. 


During the first year, coursework includes general courses relevant to the general conduct of biomedical research as well as courses specific to each Research and Training Cluster, selected in consultation with the cluster director and accounting for student background. After the first year, students take coursework further tailored to their needs and interests, selected in consultation with their advisor. Biomedical research ethics is emphasized early in the program. Most students will have completed their courses by the end of their second year, permitting thesis research to proceed full-time.

Advisor selection

After the end of the first academic year, students chose a research advisor from any of the 60 participating faculty members. The advisor need not be a faculty member with whom the student has performed a research rotation. Numerous opportunities exist for students to interface with faculty other than those chosen for the rotations. After choosing an advisor, students matriculate into the advisor's department, although each student remains affiliated with the IBMS program and their original Research and Training Cluster. 

Thesis Research

Research is the most important component of graduate training. Building off their research rotations, IBMS students begin their thesis research immediately after joining their advisor's laboratory. Research continues until successful defense of the PhD thesis. 

Seminars and Publications

Students augment their training through regular attendance at seminars and journal clubs in areas related to their research. Numerous seminar programs exist on campus, offered by the participating departments as well as centers and institutes such as the Harper Cancer Research Institute, the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Biocomplexity, and the Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases. Students will deliver at least one seminar on their own research before the defense of their thesis. This is in addition to presentations students will give while attending scientific meetings during the course of their studies. 

Scientific publications are the major means of communicating research findings and highlighting achievements. All students are expected to coauthor at least one scientific paper during their tenure. The majority will coauthor multiple papers.

Professional Development

The Graduate School offers significant resources to help students with professional development. Regular workshops are offered on writing and presentation skills, interviewing skills, career planning, ethics, and other topics. Information on professional development can be found at the Professional Development section of the Graduate School's website.


Students do not serve as teaching assistants during their first academic year in order to maximize progress during the research rotations. Students may serve as teaching assistants later, depending on their career interests and the requirements of their thesis advisor. Students serving as teaching assistants can receive guidance and improve their teaching skills through workshops and programs specifically targeted to graduate students offered by the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning.