Jul 17, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology (PhD)

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This program emphasizes basic as well as applied research in various aspects of drug discovery and molecular and behavioral mechanisms of action. Research opportunities span investigations of fundamental molecular and cellular physiological mechanisms, including receptor activity, intracellular signaling and the regulation of gene expression, to the molecular bases of disease and aging, including avenues of pharmacological intervention.

A minimum of 60 units is required for the Doctor of Philosophy degree. At least 24 units of course work are required at the 500-level or above, exclusive of seminar and directed research. The Doctor of Philosophy candidate must select a minimum of 12 units from courses offered in the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences (PPSI), eight of which must be selected from the core 4-unit courses. The remainder of the 24 units may be taken from PPSI courses or from courses offered in other departments that are approved by the PPSI graduate affairs committee. The qualifying exam committee may require more than 24 units of course work. A maximum of 12 units can be transferred from graduate studies elsewhere.

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 a qualifying exam committee composed of at least five members, one of whom must be from outside the department. The student should select a graduate adviser and qualifying exam committee no later than the third semester in residence. 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 qualifying examination in major areas of molecular pharmacology, including fundamental principals of molecular and cellular biology. 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 written proposal outlining the dissertation goals, 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. The qualifying examination must be completed within three years after admission, unless an extension is obtained from the qualifying exam committee.

Annual Research Appraisal (ARA)

Beginning in the third year, each graduate student will meet with the qualifying exam committee and present a progress report on his or her research. Prior to the meeting the student will present a short written document describing significant experiments during the past year, problems and projected studies. This document is distributed to the committee members and is included in the student’s file. The oral ARA meeting is intended to be a working session between the student and the qualifying exam committee. Experimental results and problems are discussed in this context, as well as a research plan for the next year of work. A satisfactory ARA is required for each year in the graduate program.


A dissertation based on original investigation in a relevant scientific area is required for the PhD The dissertation research should demonstrate the student’s ability to undertake independent research through planning, conducting and evaluating experiments. The dissertation research must represent a significant contribution to knowledge. A public oral defense of the dissertation will be held after the candidate submits the final draft of the dissertation to the dissertation committee, and it is approved by the graduate adviser and dissertation committee. For additional details, see Theses and Dissertations .

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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