Jul 15, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics (PhD)

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The goal of the PhD program in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics is to develop a scientist who is engaged in team science through interdisciplinary education; competent in conducting research across clinical and basic science disciplines; and integrates basic investigations and clinical observations in applied research to better understand disease process, advance drug development and evaluate efficacy and toxicity of therapeutic regimens with the goal of improving the safe, effective and economical use of therapeutic modalities by patients.

The program applies an interdisciplinary approach that focuses the graduate studies directly toward translational, rather than basic science, aiming to educate students with the perspective and skill set to identify important connections between fundamental biomedical research and human disease. This program emphasizes cross-training between clinical and basic sciences focusing on the investigation of disease processes, drug development and the efficacy and toxicity of therapeutic regimens. Course requirements and research opportunities for graduate students enrolled in the program provide both experimental (basic) and disease-focused experiences that complement the graduate’s research focus.

Course Requirements

A minimum of 60 units is required. At least 26 of the 60 units are to be formal graduate course work at the 500- level or above, exclusive of seminars and directed research. Students must complete 14 units of course work before they are eligible for the screening procedure. Additional course work relevant to the research interests of the student may be required by the student’s advisers or the student’s qualifying exam committee, with an emphasis on cross-training and taking into account the amount and level of previous scientific preparation and the nature of the research dissertation that will be the major endpoint of the program. Specifically, recommended course work differs between students who have an advanced professional degree (Track I) and those who do not (Track II). A maximum of 12 units may be transferred from graduate studies elsewhere.

In the first year, all students (Tracks I and II) are recommended to take 14 units of course work in translational medicine (RSCI 530 , 2 units), research design (CXPT 609 , 4 units), biostatistics (PM 510 , 4 units), and clinical trial design (MPTX 517 , 4 units). In the second year, Track I students will take the remaining 12 units of course work as electives based on the background of the student and the proposed research focus of the student. Track II students who do not have an advanced professional degree are recommended to select from the following courses as part of their electives: systems physiology and disease (INTD 572  and INTD 573 , 4 units each) or pathology (INTD 550 , INTD 551 , 4 units each). Other electives that can be chosen are INTD 531 , INTD 561 , PM 533 , PM 538 , PM 570  and PSCI 665 .

The remaining 34 of the 60 units required for the PhD degree may be fulfilled with other courses including ethics, interdisciplinary seminar, directed research and dissertation. Note that to become eligible to take the qualifying exam, Track II students must fulfill the prescribed clinical experiences that match the disease-related topic of the student’s thesis work as approved by the student’s advisers and advisory committee. Students with a bachelor’s degree in a health care subject area (e.g., nursing, pharmacy, medicine) will be evaluated on a case basis and may be required to meet the therapeutic course work or clinical experience component described above, as determined by their background and previous experiences.

Foreign Language Requirement

There is no formal language requirement. However, an individual qualifying exam committee can require competency in a foreign language or a computer language if it is relevant for the student’s area of research.

Qualifying Exam Committee

Upon admission, the student will be assigned to a member of the graduate faculty who will serve as his or her temporary adviser until a permanent adviser has been identified. The student’s program of study will be under the direction of the qualifying exam committee composed of at least five members, one of whom must be from outside the department. Because of the centrality of research in the PhD program, the student is encouraged to get acquainted with the participating faculty mentors from the day they enter the program, and have selected a research direction, paired graduate advisers (clinical and basic scientists), and qualifying exam committee no later than the third semester of study. The graduate affairs committee will serve as the qualifying exam committee until one is selected.

Screening Procedure

The performance of each student will be evaluated no later than the end of the second semester of enrollment in the graduate program. This screening procedure is conducted by the student’s qualifying exam committee or, if a student has not yet selected a qualifying exam committee, by the graduate affairs committee. The committee reviews the student’s progress to date in various areas including course work, research interests, and laboratory performance on his or her research project or laboratory rotations. If a performance deficiency is determined, specific goals will be established that the student must fulfill to continue in the program. Passing this screening procedure is prerequisite to continuation in the PhD program.

Qualifying Examination

Students will be required to pass a comprehensive written and oral examination on the chosen disease-focused area of research emphasis. The examination will encompass basic scientific concepts relevant to the disease under study and the laboratory techniques in that discipline, fundamental principles of clinical research and design, biostatistics, and therapeutics in the chosen disease-focused area of research. The examination is administered by the qualifying exam committee and consists of two parts: a written examination administered to all students at the end of their second year of study and a detailed written proposal and its oral presentation and defense by the student to the qualifying exam committee. The examination process is conducted by the student’s advisory committee with oversight by the graduate affairs committee. All course and qualifying examination requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy must be completed within two-and-a-half years after admission. After passing these examinations, the student is admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree.


A dissertation based on original investigation in a relevant scientific area is required for the PhD. The dissertation research must represent a significant contribution to science and should demonstrate the candidate’s scholarly advancement and competence to undertake independent research. An oral defense of the dissertation will be held after the candidate submits the final draft of the dissertation to the dissertation committee. (See Theses and Dissertations  in the Graduate School section.)

Student Teaching

Teaching experience is considered an integral part of the training of graduate students. As part of the general requirements for the PhD degree, each student is required to participate in the teaching program of the School of Pharmacy.

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