Immunology and microbial pathogenesis are exciting fields of research. Once a stand-alone discipline, immunology has evolved into a multi-focus science that today involves many facets of biology and medicine. The rich nomenclature in current use in immunology, which employs such terms as "Tumor," "Molecular," "Cellular," "Developmental," and "host-pathogen” and “host-commensal microbiota” relationships, reflects this diversity. Conversely, the qualifier in "immuno-therapy" or "immuno-modulation" signifies integration into medical practice, coming full circle to the origin of immunology as the science of vaccination.
The Immunology & Microbial Pathogenesis (IMP) PhD program at Weill Cornell Graduate School (WCGS) draws together a diverse faculty who seek to understand how the immune system works both as a unique entity as well as an integral part of higher organisms. Various IMP faculty members are as much at home in cell biology, biochemistry, development, genetics, structural biology, bioinformatics, and systems biology as they are in their own chosen specialties in immunology or microbial pathogenesis.
IMP faculty are members of the Graduate School's partner institutions, which include Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) and Sloan-Kettering Institute (SKI, part of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center). Some IMP faculty are affiliated with the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), a leading rheumatology and orthopedics institute adjacent to and closely affiliated with WCMC.
With its broad base, IMP offers an unusually rich training ground for the next generation of immunologists. Major areas of focus are microbial immunity, tumor immunology, molecular and cellular immunology, lymphocyte and leukocyte biology, autoimmunity and inflammation. The clinical relevance of these endeavors, together with the clinical partnerships, in which our three research institutions participate, create strong motivation and opportunity for translational research.
Because of its complexity, modern immunology poses the challenge of presenting a sufficiently comprehensive curriculum for its students. IMP meets this challenge by drawing its faculty from the basic science and clinical departments of its participating institutions. This collective expertise enables IMP to provide its students with high-quality, broad-based education necessary for their development as independent scientists.
IMP's philosophy of granting students maximum academic freedom encourages them to gain needed additional experience outside the framework of traditional immunology. Career goals may lead a student to work with, and choose as a mentor, a Graduate School faculty member from any of the participating institutions (WMC, SKI, and HSS) and from any of the seven graduate programs.
The program's curriculum likewise reflects a commitment to academic independence. While the first year of study is spent with didactic courses in immunology and cell biology, all classes are followed by student-run discussion groups. Laboratory rotations complement formal classroom learning. Students may take graduate courses offered by any other WCGS program, as well as a course in Microbial Pathogenesis offered jointly with another neighbor, The Rockefeller University.
IMP students continue a balanced academic curriculum throughout their thesis research. Mini-courses in advanced immunology with rotating topics ensure that students keep abreast of new developments. A rich palette of seminars by invited speakers offers similar opportunities. Students also organize research-in-progress discussions of their own thesis projects. As a graduate program of intermediate size, IMP has a favorable student/mentor ratio of close to 1:1. The accessibility and openness of faculty make for exceptional community spirit, fostering scientific independence and simultaneously preparing young scientists for the necessary collaborative endeavors ahead.
Applicants should have a strong undergraduate background and record of achievement in the biological sciences, including biochemistry, molecular genetics and microbiology. Applicants are also expected to have undergraduate laboratory research experience.
An official transcript of the student's undergraduate record is necessary, with three letters from faculty members who can evaluate the academic potential of the student in a PhD program in immunology and microbial pathogenesis.
The application requires a personal statement describing the student's background and specific interest in the Immunology & Microbial Pathogenesis program. Applicants must submit the results of the General Graduate Record Examination. Applicants whose native language is not English are required to take the TOEFL examination.
Apply Online provides a full description of the application procedures.
Becoming A Doctoral Candidate
An individual program of study is developed for each student on the basis of the student's interest and prior experience, comprising both required and elective courses.
The IMP program places great emphasis on scholarship. Beginning in the first year with course work in fundamental immunology and complemented by electives in anything from cell biology to structural biology, the program offers continued education throughout the graduate studies in the form of an Advanced Immunology course with flexible topics, an Immunology Seminar Series highlighting the latest developments in the field presented by distinguished scientists, and a student-run “Research in Progress” forum for critical discussion of their thesis research and the exchange of ideas.
Each IMP student, with the help of the mentor, must participate regularly in journal clubs throughout the graduate training. He/she may choose elective courses among all courses offered by the other programs of the Graduate School.
A description of each course is provided at: Courses.
The IMP annual retreat is an integral part of the program. This off-site meeting includes formal presentations by faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. In addition, it requires graduate students (in year two and above) and postdoctoral fellows to contribute to poster sessions and workshops. Prizes are awarded for outstanding publications.
A major focus of IMP is laboratory research. Each student undertakes three rotation projects with different faculty members. The three rotations are carried out during the third and fourth quarters of the first year and the summer following the first year of study. During the second year, the student is expected to choose a major sponsor and to develop a research topic for the doctoral thesis.
The Admission to Doctoral Candidacy Examination (ACE) is ordinarily taken in the spring of the second year and requires both written and oral examination of the candidate's general understanding of immunology and related subjects. When a student passes the ACE, he/she is a candidate for the PhD degree.
PhD Research and Degree
A Special Committee, comprising the major sponsor and two additional faculty members knowledgeable in the field of study (minor sponsors) advises the student in his or her research, meeting periodically to monitor progress, and to oversee development of the thesis.
During this time the student continues to participate in the other educational programs offered by the graduate program but works full time in the laboratory.
The culmination of the student’s successful progression through the program is the final examination (the “defense”) and certification by the Special Committee that the thesis represents an official piece of research satisfying the requirements of the Graduate School for the PhD degree.