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Top Pharmacology PhD Programs

by Douglas Matus, studioD

While pharmacists supervise the use and prescription of drugs, pharmacologists design drugs and study their effects on the human body. Pharmacologists are one of the most highly sought of professional workers. A Wall Street Journal study based on 2010 census data placed pharmacology as one of just six fields with a zero percent unemployment rate. The best pharmacology Ph.D. programs prepare students for successful careers through intensive instruction and access to top-tier research groups.

Exemplary Programs

In 2010, the National Research Council compiled rankings of the top pharmacology schools. The pharmacology program at MIT, housed within the Department of Biological Engineering, received a number one scholarly ranking and a number two research ranking. As part of the UNC School of Medicine, the Department of Pharmacology at Chapel Hill received number one rankings in research and scholarly reputation. Another recipient of NRC top rankings in reputation and research, the pharmacology program at the University of Pennsylvania also ranks highly in student graduation rates. Yale, the recipient of the NRC’s overall top ranking for pharmacology, allows students to align their research with over 200 faculty members.

Admission Requirements

Universities with Ph.D. offerings in pharmacology typically house the program in either the Department of Biological Sciences or the School of Medicine. As such, specific requirements vary from school to school and depend upon whether the program focuses on pharmacology as a natural science or division of medical research. Generally speaking, pharmacology programs prefer students with backgrounds in biology and chemistry. For programs housed in medical schools, an undergraduate career that followed a pre-med track can aid in admissions. Graduate programs require a degree from a four-year undergraduate institution, GRE scores, transcripts and letters of recommendation.

Course of Study

Most students require five years to complete the course of study for a doctorate in pharmacology. These programs lay an initial foundation of advanced instruction in the basic sciences, as pharmacologists draw upon a wide spectrum of knowledge in their work. Subsequent curriculum develops around the student’s individual interests and can include training in molecular biology, physiology, immunology and genetics. Students must also complete a set number of laboratory rotations, which are conducted under the supervision of faculty members. One of these rotations generally provides the focus of the student’s thesis lab research, the final requirement for the doctorate.

Areas of Research

Students in advanced graduate pharmacology programs work at the cutting-edge of scientific and medical research. Many advancements come directly out of these graduate programs, such as the discovery of aflatoxin as a harmful food carcinogen. Primary research areas for pharmacology students include drug discovery, structural biology, integrative cell signaling and neuroscience. These areas share the common theme of biological response to chemical stimulation, with the ultimate goal to create new and better psychiatric and medical treatments. Students can also focus on the pharmacology of specific conditions like cancer and heart disease.

About the Author

Douglas Matus is the travel writer for "West Fort Worth Lifestyle" magazine, and spent four years as the Director of Humanities for a college-prep school in Austin. Since 2005, he has published articles on education, travel and culture in such publications as "Nexus," "People's World" and "USA Today." Matus received an Education Pioneers fellowship in 2010 and an MFA from CalArts in 2011.

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