Graduate School of Medical Sciences
A partnership with the Sloan Kettering Institute

MD-PhD Curriculum

The Research Years

MD-PhD students should have selected their thesis laboratory by September 1 of CD3. The primary institutional appointment of their thesis advisor determines the graduate school (GSK, RU or WCGS) in which the student enrolls. Except for students doing two research rotations during the summer of CD2, MD-PhD students must matriculate in one of the three graduate schools by September 1. It is important that the students complete the administrative requirements for matriculation as early as at all possible, so that they become aware of the current policies of their chosen graduate school. Also, a student’s research account cannot be activated until the student has matriculated in a graduate school. The program office must be notified of the choice of thesis laboratory and graduate school.

Some students choose to do their thesis research under the guidance of two advisors. Any student who contemplates to do such a “joint thesis” should consult with the Program Director before going forward. If the two advisors are members of the same graduate school faculty, the student will formally have two advisors. If the advisors are members of different graduate school faculties, one of the advisors will need to be the primary advisor and the student should matriculate in that faculty member’s graduate school.

Change of thesis advisor 

If an MD-PhD student finds that the thesis laboratory he/she chose does not provide the environment the student finds to be necessary to reach her/his goal, they may transfer to a different laboratory/advisor. Students can transfer thesis labs once, and should meet with the Program Director before initiating the transfer to discuss whether the situation can be resolved by other means. Students are not allowed more than one such transfer, unless they receive explicit approval from the Program Director, who will confer with the Program’s Executive Committee (Appendix A) before making before approving (or disapproving) the change.

A major change in research focus, which will delay graduation, likewise requires the approval of the Program Director.

Students who matriculate in WCGS will need to enroll into the Graduate Program in which their thesis advisor is a member (there are no graduate programs at RU or GSK). If the thesis advisor is a member of more than one Graduate Program, the student can select the Program they wish to enroll in; but they must enroll in a graduate program at the time of matriculation into the graduate school. The Graduate Programs at WCGS are: Biochemistry & Structural Biology; Cell and Developmental Biology; Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis; Molecular Biology; Neuroscience; Pharmacology; Physiology, Biophysics & Systems Biology. Students should consult the WCGS web page for more detailed information about the Programs and their course offerings, and should meet with the Graduate Program Director for their Program. Irrespective of the Graduate Program, the specific requirements for MD-PhD students will be those that pertain to all MD-PhD students, see P. 8.

MD-PhD students should select their Advisory Committee (AC) at GSK, Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) at RU or Special Committee (SC) at WCGS no later than June 30 of CD3. These committees are an important complement, and counterbalance, to your advisor. Their function is to guide the students and evaluate their progress. The AC, FAC and SC each have three members. In addition to faculty from the graduate school in which the student is matriculated, MD-PhD students should have a faculty member from another of the graduate schools (who is not a member of the graduate school in which the student is matriculated) on their committee. The committee members should be chosen for their scientific expertise, in consultation with your thesis advisor; and the relevant graduate school office must approve the selection. The committee should meet at least once in every twelve-month period, usually during the month of October.

Committee Meetings 

MD-PhD students have two committee meetings per year in Years 4+; the committee may decide to waive the second meeting of the year if it is deemed that the student is making solid progress. (Students who change thesis laboratory are required to have two committee meetings per year for the duration of their research training.) Students are responsible for scheduling their committee meetings and for informing the Program Office that the meeting has taken place. It is the policy of the MD-PhD Program that students in CD4+, who fail to convene their committee meeting by December 31 and June 30 of the academic year, will be considered to be in poor academic standing—unless they have received explicit permission to have the meeting at a later date (or the second meeting has been waived by the committee). All students therefore are encouraged to make sure that their committee meetings occur in a timely manner, and that the reports are submitted to meet this deadline. Given the difficulties associated with coordinating the calendars of busy people, students are advised to begin scheduling the committee meetings several months in advance—and to send out reminders!

Research proceeds at an unpredictable pace, which often is slower than the students’ (and their advisors’) expectations. The committee meetings therefore are important, as they provide for periodic assessments of the progress by people outside the laboratory. The meeting in the middle of CD5, after two years of laboratory research, is particularly important because the overall scope of the thesis research should begin to materialize by this time. If the student, or her/his committee, is concerned about the rate of progress, the committee meetings may be scheduled more often than twice a year, so that the rate of progress can be monitored more closely. The decision whether the student can defend her/his thesis in CD6 usually is made in the meeting in the middle of CD5 (sometimes at a later meeting at the end of CD5/beginning of CD6). If a student is concerned about her/his progress, the Program Director should be invited to that meeting. In any case, if it is decided to extend the thesis research an additional year, the program office must be informed.

Students may propose changes in the committee composition as their research interests evolve. Any such changes must be approved by the relevant graduate school office.

Graduate School Requirements 

The graduate school requirements are comparable for MD- PhD students, irrespective of the graduate school they are matriculated in (or graduate program their thesis advisor is associated with). Students in any graduate school must complete satisfactorily the equivalent of four graduate school course units (a course unit is, approximately, a quarter-long course)—in addition to the Frontiers courses and Introduction to Clinical and Translational Research. MD-PhD students usually take advanced level courses, chosen in consultation with the thesis advisor. All graduate courses at GSK, RU and WCGS are open for MD-PhD students without regard to the graduate school in which they matriculate. It is expected that the students complete their course requirements by June 30 of CD3. (Exceptions will be made if a student wishes to take a regularly scheduled course that was not offered during the student’s first research year.) If they so wish, students in CD4 and beyond are free to take additional courses. Students who do so usually audit any such courses.

If a student and her/his advisor find that the student’s progress in her/his thesis research depends on the student taking graduate courses outside GSK, RU or WCGS, the student should discuss the situation with the relevant graduate school dean.

No later than August 31 of CD4 (October 31 of CD4 for students at GSK), the students must submit a thesis research proposal, which should be presented/defended at a meeting of their AC (at GSK), FAC (at RU) or SC (at WCGS) no later than October 31 of CD4 (December 31 of CD4 for students at GSK)—at which point they are free to concentrate fully on their thesis research. The format for the thesis research proposal is given in Appendix C.

Though not a formal graduate school requirement, MD-PhD students are expected to write an application for independent fellowship support based on their thesis research proposal (and the feedback the students receive at the presentation/defense of their proposal).

Clinical Electives 

In addition to their thesis research, students in CD4 and beyond are encouraged to participate in part-time Clinical Electives, where they for a brief period follow a WCMC faculty member on a clinical service at Hospital for Special Surgery, Memorial Hospital, or New-York Presbyterian Hospital. This will help students gain familiarity with clinical specialties they may be considering for post-graduate clinical residency training. Please note, however, that MD-PhD students are covered for malpractice insurance only if they work under the direct supervision of a WCMC member.

Defense of Thesis 

To graduate from the program in seven years, students should complete their thesis research, write, defend and submit their thesis no later than February of CD6. The program strongly recommends that students defend in the Fall of CD6, in order to have sufficient time to explore clinical career options. The relevant graduate school offices should be consulted for the format for the preparation, submission and defense of the research thesis. All students must submit the final, approved version of their thesis to the appropriate graduate school 60 days after the defense of the thesis – before returning to their clinical training. Given the intensity of the clinical training, thesis corrections and revisions are not possible after the return to the clinic. It is expected that MD-PhD students have submitted original research articles of which they are first author by the time they defend their thesis. It is advised that all research articles relating to the thesis research be submitted before the students begin their clinical training.