Ph.D. Program

Ph.D. Program

Degree Requirements

Prospective Ph.D. students in pharmacology and toxicology are admitted through the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal (BSDP). The 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 and Molecular Biology and Genetics.

Students in the BSDP who seek the Ph.D. degree in pharmacology and toxicology may do all their research rotations in laboratories of the department’s faculty and take courses that satisfy the department’s requirements. Official entry into the Ph.D. program of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology occurs after two semesters when the student choses a mentor from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

Admission into the BSDP does not impede the progress of applicants who are committed to earning the Ph.D. degree in pharmacology and toxicology but offers flexibility to students who have not decided on a particular discipline or field. For details on applying, the BSDP site provides instructions for submitting your application through the VCU Office of Graduate Admissions. It is helpful to indicate interest in pharmacology and toxicology in the personal statement section of the BSDP application for those prospective students committed to the department’s Ph.D. program.


All students in the Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Program take “core” courses in biochemistry, pharmacology and statistics. This is followed with advanced courses in more specialized areas of pharmacology and toxicology that relate directly to the student’s research interests. Students participate in a weekly seminar program that teaches them how to present research data more effectively.

Applicants should have a baccalaureate degree in some aspect of biological science such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or in pharmacy.  Previous course work in  the following areas are encouraged:

  • General and organic chemistry
  • The biological sciences
  • Physiology
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Biochemistry

Ph.D. students in pharmacology and toxicology take courses designed for graduate students with an emphasis on research design and experimentation. They do not take classes with medical students or other professional students. A full-time course load for graduate students is 15 credits in the fall and spring semesters and six credits in the summer.  Student must achieve a minimum 3.0 overall GPA in graduate courses and a minimum 3.0 GPA in pharmacology and toxicology courses to graduate.

First Year

IBMS courses — mandatory
IBMS 600 Laboratory Safety (1 credit)
IBMS 620 Laboratory Rotations (2 credits)
IBMS 691 Critical Thinking (1 credit)
IBMS 691 Research Seminar (variable, 0.5-4 credits)
PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 3-9 credits)

Electives recommended for PHTX
BIOC 503 – Biochem, Cell and Molecular Biology (5 credits)

IBMS and PHTX Courses 

IBMS 620 Laboratory Rotation (2 credits)*
IBMS 690 Research Seminar (variable, 0.5-4 credits)*
PHTX 630 Basic Concepts in Pharmacology for Graduate Students (3 credits)*
PHTX 691 Special Topics:  Intro to Clinical Pharmacology
PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 3-9 credits)*

BIOC 504 Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (5 credits)

PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 3-9 credits)*

At the end of the first year, students generally identify their mentor. Full-time students immediately begin carrying out supervised research, typically in the adviser’s laboratory. The student is expected to choose a tentative dissertation project by the start of his or her second-year fall semester. After consulting with the adviser, students select a Graduate Advisory Committee. The following courses are typically completed in the second year:

Second Year (PHTX)

PHTX 636 Principles of Pharmacology (5 credits)*
PHTX 639 Journal Club (1 credit) – taken in conjunction with PHTX 636
PHTX 690 Research Seminar (1 credit)*
PHTX 691 Special Topics:  Pharmacology of Analgesics
PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 1-14 credits)*

BIOS 543 Statistical Methods 1 (3 credits)

Students are required to take at least two advanced courses prior to taking the comprehensive examination. Several advanced courses are available within the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and other basic science departments.

Advanced courses (available)
PHTX 633 Behavioral Pharmacology
BIOC 605 Advanced Topic in Molecular Biology
MICR 607 Techniques in Molecular Biology and Genetics
NEUS 609 Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
PHTX 632 Neurochemical Pharmacology
PHTX 620 Ion Channels in Membranes
PHTX 691 GI Physiology and Pharmacology
ANAT 610 Systems Neuroscience
ANAT 615 Tech in Neuro and Cell Biology
ANAT 620 Scientific Writing and Grantsmanship
PHTX 690 Research Seminar (1 credit)*
PHTX 697 Directed Research in Pharmacology (variable, 1-14 credits)

*Course is mandatory.

Candidacy to the Ph.D. requires successful completion of the comprehensive examination, typically at the end of the second year. In addition to the core pharmacology (Basic Concepts and Principles of Pharmacology) and recommended biochemistry (BIOC 530), two advanced courses are required prior to taking the comprehensive examination.

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination has two components, written and oral. The written component consists of a research proposal that is then followed by an oral defense of the proposal and on general pharmacology knowledge. The Graduate Advisory Committee grades on the written and oral components.

The oral examination tests knowledge related to the proposal and general pharmacological principles. The student is required to schedule the oral component through the Office of Graduate Education (available on GradTrak) with at least two weeks prior notice. A dean’s representative is appointed to conduct the oral examination.

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