PhD Curriculum in Biomedical Sciences

Find Cures: Become a Biomedical Scientist


Our PhD curriculum is a five-year path that moves you from student to scientist. You graduate ready to move into a rewarding career, write grants, conduct research, manage a lab and publish your findings. Bring your independence, your creativity and your passion to find cures.

Studying here gives you:

  • Diverse fields for laboratory rotations and dissertation research
  • Close mentoring by top-tier faculty
  • Clinical care experiences to inform research directions 

For full information on PhD requirements and courses, please consult our general catalog.

Curriculum Sequence

  1. Your lectures and first-year training programs are highly interactive. They spark stimulating discussions of the latest research findings, theory, methods and ethical issues.

    First-year coursework and trainings include:

    • Fundamental Topics in Biology, with courses on Genes to Proteins, Cell Biology and Developmental Biology.
    • Biological Insights into Disease and Therapy, with courses on Cancer, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Pharmacology and Chemical Biology.
    • Topics in Clinical and Translational Research, which includes human subjects' protection training and six courses including experiential and conceptual components.
    • Biostatistics and Computational Biology, with sections on Biostatistical Methods and Introduction to Research and Clinical Genomics.
    • Core Facilities, which includes structured visits to the core research facilities at St. Jude to expose students to available technologies and capabilities.
    • Lab Rotations, which immerse you in three different laboratories for six focused weeks at a time (you have no other course work during each rotation).

    For details on coursework, rotations and training experiences, see our general catalog.

  2. As you move from Year 1 to Year 2, you choose your laboratory and your Doctoral Advisory Committee. During your Year 1 lab rotations, you have had an inside look into three possible settings for your dissertation research. View Our Science to explore the diverse research expertise and facilities at St. Jude.

    In Year 2, you take a Grantsmanship course and apply for grant funding. That grant application becomes the basis for your dissertation research project. You continue learning through journal clubs, seminars and laboratory meetings. You also study for your Qualifying Examination, or “Quals.”

    At the end of Year 2, you meet with faculty examiners to defend your proposed research. They want to confirm that you have a promising line of inquiry and are ready for full-time doctoral research. After the exam, you receive a Master of Science and, if your defense was successful, you move on to your research.

  3. You take up the research you began in Year 2 and continue it through degree completion. You also continue relevant clinical experiences and meet with your Doctoral Advisory Committee for guidance and support. Journal clubs, lab meetings and seminars keep you learning outside your own work.

    To complete your dissertation, you conduct original research, analyze and compile the data, report the results and significance of the work, and orally defend the dissertation. You will also be required to author or co-author two accepted/published manuscripts and to apply for independent funding to support your research.

    By Year 3, you are a researcher.

    In Year 4, writing your dissertation becomes intense. By Year 5, you complete your dissertation, defend it and graduate. This is how you launch your life’s work as a biomedical scientist.

    For more details on the process, consult our general catalog.


Student Profile

Caitlin Zebley, MD, PhD ’20 from St. Jude Graduate School

First Author of a Recent Nature Immunology Paper

I began as a pediatric hematology oncology fellow. I wanted to translate lab findings to clinical care and take research from the bench to the bedside.

The St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is authorized for operation as a postsecondary educational institution by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. View detailed job placement and graduation information on the programs offered by the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.