Biomedical Sciences

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5008 Basic Science Building, School of Medicine

All courses, faculty listings, and curricular and degree requirements described herein are subject to change or deletion without notice. Updates may be found on the Academic Senate website:

The Graduate Program

The graduate program offered by the group in Biomedical Sciences (BMS) is designed to lead students to the PhD through a combination of didactic study, laboratory rotations, and thesis research in basic and translational biomedical sciences. Research opportunities in BMS span a wide spectrum of biological and medical sciences, permitting students the options of selecting molecular, cellular, organismal, and integrated systems approaches in their research projects. Students are encouraged to design and execute original and creative research in a self-critical and independent manner. Undergraduate preparation must include courses in mathematics (through calculus), chemistry (including organic, physical, and biochemistry), and preferably participation in research. Students whose undergraduate backgrounds are significantly different will be considered provided there is sufficient evidence of interest in cell and molecular biology, genetics, pathology, physiology, pharmacology, or other disciplines in biomedical sciences, and a strong commitment to enter a field of active research and academic excellence.

Doctoral Degree Program

During the first year, the students enroll in two core courses and specialized track courses in cell biology, molecular biology, pathology, pharmacology, physiology, genetics, and microbiology/immunology. In a required laboratory rotation program, students develop laboratory skills and the ability to formulate scientific hypotheses and become familiar with the research activities of the faculty. Students may differentiate into one of six advanced training tracks: Genetics, Microbiology/Immunology, Molecular Cell Biology, Molecular Pathology, Molecular Pharmacology, or Physiology. Students can also associate with a number of focus groups in Cancer Biology, Stem Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Bioinformatics, Neurobiology, Endocrinology, Glycobiology, Structural-Chemical Biology, and Anthropogeny. Required advanced courses and electives in subsequent years are chosen to develop students’ interests and specialized knowledge in the thesis research area and chosen training tracks. PhD specializations in Anthropogeny, Bioinformatics, Multiscale Biology, and Quantitative Biology, which have distinct elective requirements, are also available. BMS students are required to select their thesis advisers and begin their thesis research by the end of the first year in the program, and the average matriculation time among BMS students is between five to six years. Besides course work and examinations, BMS students are required to assist in the teaching of undergraduate biology majors at UC San Diego for one academic quarter. The teaching requirement allows BMS students to learn and practice the skills of effective scientific communication, which is of critical importance to the career development of independent investigators in biomedical research.

The graduate program is interdepartmental and interdisciplinary; it includes faculty in the Departments of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Medicine, Pathology, Pediatrics, Pharmacology, Neurosciences, Reproductive Medicine, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Biology, Bioengineering, Psychiatry, Orthopaedics, Anesthesiology, the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the Sanford-Burnham Institute, the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

The graduate program in biomedical sciences is also designed to educate physician-scientists through the School of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Students already admitted to the School of Medicine are eligible for admission to the BMS program for PhD training in order to receive MDs/PhDs. Such students generally apply in the first or second year of their medical studies and enter graduate studies following completion of their second year of medical school. Normative time for MD/PhD students is seven years.


Students obtain letter grades in the core and track courses. Candidacy for the PhD is granted following the successful completion of two research-oriented examinations. The first examination, the Research Proposition Exam, tests the student’s preparation for his or her thesis research. Preparation for the Research Proposition Exam begins as soon as students join their thesis laboratories during the first summer quarter in the program. Students prepare a written research proposal and defend the proposal in an oral examination conducted by a program-approved exam committee. The second examination is the Advancement to PhD candidacy, which takes place after the students finalize their thesis research plan, and should be completed by the end of the second summer quarter. Thereafter, the students’ thesis research progress is reviewed annually by the thesis committee. The thesis committee also approves the final dissertation. After the preparation of the dissertation, a public oral defense of the thesis completes the requirement for the PhD in the Biomedical Sciences Program.