The PhD Years
Most MD-PhD students begin formal PhD training in the fall of the third year. Students may study in any department of the University that supports a doctoral program approved by the Graduate Board of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Students usually choose from a broad selection of graduate programs in the School of Medicine, including:
- Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB)
- Biological Chemistry
- Biomedical Engineering (BME)
- Human Genetics and Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Medicine (CMM)
- Molecular Biophysics
- Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences
- Cellular and Molecular Physiology
- Functional Anatomy and Evolution
- History of Science, Medicine and Technology
PhD programs in other divisions of the University, such as The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (including Bioethics, Health Communication, Epidemiology, and International Health to name a few) and the School of Arts and Sciences, are also open to MD-PhD students.
Under the leadership of Dr. Siliciano, a significant expansion of research opportunities has been achieved by supporting the participation of interested students in the PhD programs at the School of Public Health. Current and past MD-PhD students have pursued doctoral degrees in Epidemiology, Health Policy and Management, Population and Family Health Sciences, Environmental Health Sciences, and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.
Most of the graduate programs at the School of Medicine are interdisciplinary in nature and are administered in an interdepartmental fashion. The BCMB Program is one of the largest and includes 85 faculty members from six basic science departments. The BME Program includes 73 faculty from the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering. Human Genetics and Molecular Biology, which includes 56 faculty members, is administered through a University-wide Committee on Human Genetics. The Intercampus Program in Molecular Biophysics (IPMB) involves 44 faculty members drawn from the School of Medicine and the School of Arts and Sciences. The CMM Program includes 106 faculty members, 25 from the basic science departments and 81 from clinical departments. The Graduate Program in Immunology draws its faculty members from clinical and basic science departments in the School of Medicine as well as from the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Public Health.
Each graduate program has a set of required graduate courses including both lecture courses and small group discussion sections. For example, the BCMB Program requires that first year graduate students take course modules in Macromolecular Structure and Analysis, Biochemical and Biophysical Principles, Molecular Biology and Genomics, Genetics, Cell Structure and Dynamics, Organic Mechanisms in Biology, Pathways and Regulation, and Computational Biology and Bioinformatics. Each graduate program has different policies on MD-PhD student coursework. In the BCMB Program, because the graduate courses are taught at a higher level and with more emphasis on research methods than the corresponding medical school courses, MD-PhD students are generally not exempt from the required modules. During the first year of graduate study, students also participate in a small group discussion course which is synchronized with the core modules. Students also complete research rotations and select a thesis mentor.
Students usually take the Graduate Board Oral Examination in their second year of graduate school. This is required by all doctoral programs at Johns Hopkins. Although the format varies somewhat for each graduate program, the exam invariably involves questioning by five faculty members approved by the Graduate Board of the University. The goal of the examination is to test the depth and breadth of the student’s knowledge and to assess the suitability of the student for further graduate study. Once this examination is successfully completed, students focus on dissertation research. The research is supervised by the mentor and a Thesis Committee consisting of the student’s mentor and three other faculty members selected by the student based on research expertise. Following completion of the PhD research, students present at a public seminar. Some graduate programs also require an oral thesis defense. Students then return to medical school and complete the remaining required clinical clerkships and clinical electives of their choosing.