Entering a PhD program is a big decision. Below are some frequently asked questions and answers that we hope can help you better navigate. As always, do not hesitate to contact us with any other questions you might have.
You will want to complete our online application, submit all of the required documents and letters, and pay the application fee. Once we have a completed application, the BSTP admissions committee will examine your application and determine your candidacy for an admissions interview.
We encourage prospective students to avoid contacting faculty before submitting an application, or before being issued an admissions decision. At the time of the admissions interview, applicants will have the opportunity to identify faculty they wish to connect with. We invite all applicants to research the various faculty trainers found on our BSTP website and start compiling a list of potential faculty they're interested in connecting with and contact them only after an offer of admission is rendered.
The final application deadline is January 1, however, our early review deadline is October 15th. If you submit your application by October 15th, the application fee will automatically be waived for underrepresented applicants as well as domestic applicants submitting by the October 15 priority deadline. We issue admissions decisions on rolling bases through April 15.
Success in a PhD program requires that you are ready for independent study. Scientific research involves asking and answering scientific questions. As graduate students learn these skills in our program, their success depends on their background knowledge, motivation, the ability to learn, and resourcefulness in solving problems. Your application will be reviewed by a panel of experienced research scientists who represent the participating PhD programs in the BSTP.
Characteristics of promising young scientists include motivation and experience. Research experience is perhaps the most important prerequisite for biomedical graduate study. You need to be confident that you enjoy a lab environment, that you work well independently, and that you have some technical ability and reasoning.
In your application, we would like to know what interests you in science and why those aspects are exciting. We would also like to know what types of research experiences you have had. Did you do an honors thesis? Have you contributed to a publication? Did you work in a lab after graduation or earn a master’s degree? You might tell us about these activities in your essay, and the professor(s) who guided the work would be an excellent choice for someone to write one of your letters of recommendation.
Your grades and transcripts give us an idea of your academic background and achievement. While we do not have minimum grades, in recent years our students had undergraduate GPAs of 3.4 - 3.7 and those with a master’s degree had GPAs of 3.7-4.0. We do not require GRE scores, but we are happy to see the scores if you take the test.
We encourage international applicants from outstanding research institutions. We give preference to international applicants who have strong research experience and publications, who have fellowships that can partially support their graduate education, and those who have completed some of their education at a North American university.
You will need fundamental coursework to succeed in biomedical graduate study, but your background will be unique. Biology, organic chemistry, and mathematics through calculus/statistics are required, and biochemistry and molecular biology are strongly recommended. This background prepares students for success in our program.
We encourage application from students with strong quantitative training who may have majored in physics or math and are interested in our Systems Biology and Bioinformatics Program and Structural Biology track to apply. Depending on your preparation, we may suggest additional biology coursework once you start your PhD work.
The program does not require the GRE exam or any other similar test scores for their application. We are happy to accept your scores if you do take the GRE.
This program requires test scores for international applicants who need an English Proficiency Test. The language test requirement is waived if you have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an institution where English is the primary language of instruction.
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) internet-based: 90 (We are currently accepting the TOEFL Home Edition due to COVID-19.)
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) paper-based: 577
- International English Language Testing System (IELTS): 7.0
- Pearson Test of English (PTE-Academic): 61
For additional details on the requirements for international students, including language exam waiver eligibility, please visit the School of Graduate Studies' International Resources webpage.
The Biomedical Scientist Training Program automatically waives the application fee for all domestic/permanent resident applicants who submit their application by October 15th. In addition, the program will waive the application fee between October 15th and January 1st for underrepresented domestic applicants who are members of racial, disability, social, economic, or educational groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. A complete description of the policy is linked here. Application fee waivers are not available to international applicants this year (except for current CWRU or CWRU alumni).
Case Western Reserve University and the National Institute of Health recognize the following groups as underrepresented in medicine (URiM):
A. Individuals from racial and ethnic groups that have been shown by the National Science Foundation to be underrepresented in health-related sciences on a national basis (see data at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/showpub.cfm?TopID=2&SubID=27) and the report Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering). The following racial and ethnic groups have been shown to be underrepresented in biomedical research: Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. In addition, it is recognized that underrepresentation can vary from setting to setting; individuals from racial or ethnic groups that can be demonstrated convincingly to be underrepresented by the grantee institution should be encouraged to participate in NIH programs to enhance diversity. For more information on racial and ethnic categories and definitions, see the OMB Revisions to the Standards for Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity.
B. Individuals with disabilities, who are defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, as described in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended. See NSF data at, https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17310/static/data/tab7-5.pdf.
C. Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, defined as those who meet two or more of the following criteria:
Were or currently are homeless, as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (Definition: https://nche.ed.gov/mckinney-vento/).
Were or currently are in the foster care system, as defined by the Administration for Children and Families (Definition: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/focus-areas/foster-care).
Were eligible for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program for two or more years (Definition: https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/income-eligibility-guidelines).
Have/had no parents or legal guardians who completed a bachelor’s degree (see https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018009.pdf).
Were or currently are eligible for Federal Pell grants (Definition: https://www2.ed.gov/programs/fpg/eligibility.html).
Received support from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) as a parent or child (Definition: https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/wic-eligibility-requirements).
Grew up in one of the following areas: a) a U.S. rural area, as designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Rural Health Grants Eligibility Analyzer (https://data.hrsa.gov/tools/rural-health), or b) a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services-designated Low-Income and Health Professional Shortage Areas (qualifying zip codes are included in the file). Only one of the two possibilities in #7 can be used as a criterion for the disadvantaged background definition.
Applicants from these groups who are US citizens or permanent residents may request a fee waiver from Deborah Noureddine, Administrative Coordinator for the Biomedical Sciences Training Program (firstname.lastname@example.org). Use 'URM fee waiver request' as the subject line and state your citizenship and URiM status in your email. You must have initiated an application before requesting a waiver.
Do not submit the final application until after you receive an email reply stating that the fee waiver has been granted.
We do not have minimum grade requirements for admission, however, in recent years our students had average undergraduate GPAs of 3.4 - 3.7, and master’s GPAs of 3.7-4.0.
All transcripts from colleges and universities you have taken courses from are required.
The personal statement is a 1-2 page document describing your educational and professional objectives. This statement should discuss your reasons for choosing to pursue graduate education and the factors that helped you decide on an area of study. These statements are significantly strengthened by relating how your research experiences and accomplishments have led you to pursue graduate study. You can also discuss additional experiences and circumstances that have prepared you for graduate study. You may also use this statement to also explain any academic and life challenges that you experienced.
You can also touch on your goals in the personal statement; however, you will have a separate prompt to talk about your goals.
In a students goal statement, they should talk about not only their future goals, but they also should go into how CWRU's BSTP program will help you get there.
The goals statement should be anywhere from a paragraph to one-page long.
Applicants should include all the research that they have conducted. You should include any other relevant experiences or papers they were a part of. Include any scholastic and professional awards, publications, fellowships, honors, or prizes you have received.
Students should have letters of recommendation come from anyone who can attest to their ability to conduct research.
At least one of these letters should come from a research mentor under whom you have performed independent scientific research. This should speak to your promise in scientific research and your contributions to research conducted under the advisor. Recommendations must be submitted on official letterhead and signed by the recommender.
Each year there are around 600-800 applicants for the BSTP program.
We accept anywhere from 90-100 students each year into the BSTP program.
Applicants on the completion of their application will receive an automatic email letting them know that they have submitted, and we have received their completed application. Once the committee has reviewed a student's application then we will let them know of the next steps.
Select applicants will be notified by email of their interview offer between the months of November and March on a rolling basis based on application submission date and when initial review of your application by the BSTP admissions committee is complete.
Admissions decisions are generally issued within 1-2 weeks of the interview.
Our Office of Disability Services is here to accommodate all students who have been admitted into our programs at CWRU.
If you would like to update your documents after submission to the program, we ask that you email email@example.com so we can add those documents to your application file.
If a student would like to have their institution submit their official transcripts to the program, we ask that they email them to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can add those documents to your application file. Upon acceptance into the program the office of graduate studies will prompt you for an official transcript; an unofficial transcript is sufficient for admissions review.
We ask that if you have major changes to the information in your application that you email email@example.com so we can update your file.
All interviews will be conducted virtually. We recommend that students test their device's camera, microphone, ambient noise and lighting in the area you plan to interview in.
We also recommend that students be themselves in their interviews so we can get to know you better.
Topics of discussion for the interview vary but can cover your research experiences and the scientific rationale for the research conducted as well as the experimental results and interpretation. Other topics can revolve around you motivation in pursuing a PhD as well as career goals and motivation
We have a wide range of ages applying to the program. The majority are in their early 20's but we welcome students of all ages into the program.
Is undergraduate research sufficient for admission, or should applicants with bachelor's degrees attempt to find external research opportunities beyond their undergraduate experience to strengthen their application?
Each applicant's experience is different when it comes to research and while we cannot pre-review applicants to help them make this distinction. We do like seeing consistent research experience. One semester of research would not be enough time to prove an applicant's research capabilities. However, applicants doing multiple semesters of research and/or summer research opportunities would have a better time proving their research capabilities.
Students will select their discipline (BSTP program) based on which area they are researching when they join their trainer’s laboratory and which program(s) within the BSTP their trainer is a part of. This happens at the beginning of the Spring semester after choosing a laboratory for dissertation research.
If you have a particular program that you wish to apply to directly, you can apply to a single program within the BSTP as a priority program of interest (PPI), There is a section in the application that allows a PPI for one of the component BSTP programs to be selected.
No, currently we do not offer pre-reviews for students looking to apply to the program.
Publications can be indicative of your substantive contributions to a research project and can strengthen an application. However, we realize that contributions to research captured in the author list of a publication can vary widely, and it is the actual contribution to the research project itself in which we are interested. Therefore, it is important to have your research mentor write your letter(s) of recommendation to delineate your contributions.
There is no major from an applicant's undergraduate education that is required for admission. We recommend that applicants have a background in an area of biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, math, or computer science, but applicants with adequate research experience that have taken the prerequisite coursework, are more than welcome to apply regardless of undergraduate major.
Around half of the accepted applicants hold a master’s degree. Applicants that did not receive extensive research in their time during their undergraduate will often opt to pursue a master's to gain that experience prior to applying for a PhD program. However, obtaining a master's is not required for a successful BSTP application.
No, we enroll one cohort per year in the summer and we do not enroll at any other time of the year.
You do not need to supply an official transcript at the time of application. However, you will need to submit official documents once offered admission.
Each year we offer around 130 interviews to applicants.
It will not, however, we recommend that you specifically show how you have grown your research experience over the time since you last applied. This should include research experience / academic experience gained since the prior application.
International Student Questions
Our interview dates are all virtual through the Zoom platform. We will work with students on times for interviews based on time zone.
For our in-person invite-only second look dates for students admitted based on their interview, those will be optional.
Yes, international students are welcome to apply to our PhD program!
International applicants are encouraged to submit a course-by-course transcript evaluation from WES if their grades are not on a 4.0 scale. For further information on this look at our graduate studies website for all international student requirements.
Yes, all students admitted into the program are provided the same stipend, health insurance, and other benefits while they are pursuing their PhD with the BSTP program.
If you have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an institution where English is the primary language of instruction this requirement is waived.
For further information on this visit at our graduate studies website for all international student requirements.
As a BSTP student, you will receive a stipend of $34,000 per year (2023-2024 school year), which allows you to live comfortably in Cleveland. The program also pays for your health insurance as well as tuition.
The cost of living in Cleveland is low. Rent depends on how close you are to campus and the area in which you want to live. There are reasonably priced rentals available near the campus.
As a new student in the Biomedical Sciences Training Program, you will complete lab rotations with research faculty to help you choose a research mentor and the PhD program that fits you best. You’ll complete a minimum of three rotations of 4-6 weeks. During each research rotation, you'll spend at least 20 hours per week in the lab, acquiring new techniques, learning about the lab's research areas, and interacting with the other members of the lab. You'll also attend journal clubs, research seminars, and lab meetings. This allows you to find the research and environment that best suits your interests. Most PhD students begin in July so they can complete a research rotation before classes begin.
In the fall of the first year, most BSTP students take the Coordinated Curriculum in Cell and Molecular Biology (C3MB). Students with strong quantitative skills in physics or math but limited biology exposure may take Cell Physiology courses instead (including PHOL 432, PHOL 456).
The first semester is intense, because you'll be taking courses, doing research rotations, and choosing an advisor. We give you lots of support to help you through the process. You'll have a faculty advisor who is a director of one of our graduate programs. You'll also build a network of first year students and get to know senior students through the BGSO and MGSO.
The most important factor is finding a lab that's doing the science that excites you. You'll also want to make sure you can communicate with the PI; some students like frequent help and others like to be more independent. You will also need to look at the dynamics of the lab because you'll learn a lot and collaborate with other students, postdoctoral researchers, and research assistants in the lab. Your rotations will give you information about these issues and you'll have lots of advice from your faculty advisor.
To learn about the faculty's research, you can see the Program Faculty. You can also read the faculty member's publications, starting with PubMed. This will get you off to a great start.
After you've completed rotations at the end of the first semester, you'll choose a PI and join one of the PhD programs in the BSTP. Our PhD programs have lots of people to welcome students to the program, including graduate program directors, graduate studies administrative coordinators, and more senior graduate students. They will help you understand the course requirements, exams, and other activities in the program, and help you learn your way around.
Most of the biomedical PhD programs do not require that you teach (biochemistry and nutrition may ask you to help with undergraduate courses). If you want to gain teaching experience, you can volunteer as a TA in the other departments once your doctoral work is well underway. Our new ExTEnD teaching certificate program allows students to get real-world training and experience in teaching if they are interested in that career path.
On average, it requires approximately 5.5 years to complete a degree. Most of the time is spent completing the thesis, so working efficiently will help you graduate on time. Scholarly peer-reviewed publications are required for graduation. Our recent graduates average 5.5 publications, with about three papers as first author.
CWRU consistently ranks in the top twenty-five research medical schools, which places us with some very accomplished peers. We are proud to have earned dozens of training grants that fund our pre- and postdoctoral trainees.
A majority of BSTP students go on to postdoctoral positions at top research institutions and then look for permanent positions after that. Our alumni work as faculty members at medical schools and liberal arts colleges, in biotech, in government positions, as science writers and other careers that require a PhD.
During graduate school, you will learn a variety of research skills and acquire a fund of knowledge in a specialized area. You’ll also develop professional communication skills by publishing papers, giving seminars, making presentations at meetings and giving journal clubs. You'll write an NIH-like grant proposal as your qualifying examination. This gives you practice in formulating a research project and writing a compelling research proposal.
You should plan to apply for a graduate fellowship from an outside granting agency. Seminars about graduate fellowships are offered several times a year and you’ll receive lots of support from your colleagues. Programs that provide information about careers in undergraduate colleges, small biotech/industry, large pharmaceutical companies, and other areas are offered several times a year through individual programs, the BGSO, and the Graduate Education Office. Many additional competencies are addressed in the monthly Professional Skills Program designed for postdoctoral research that is also open to graduate students.
There are lots of resources to help graduate students. Before you choose a lab, your academic advisor and the head of graduate program are invaluable sources of advice. For coursework issues, you can talk to instructors and we can arrange tutoring sessions with senior graduate students. After you choose a lab, you'll learn from your thesis advisor, other members of the lab, students in your program, and the graduate program director. The University also has lots of resources to help students. The ESS office provides support with study skills and the Counseling Service is available 24/7 for help with psychological issues.
There are opportunities to teach each year, the number of students who engage with this opportunity will vary each year. This depends on availability, faculty recommendations, and student interest.
We recommend that students do not work while they are in their PhD program, we provide a stipend to help cover the cost of living while you are completing your research.
With that said students might have research opportunities interfacing with the various hospitals in the area. We have research trainers at each of the four major hospital systems in Cleveland.
Students will have the opportunity to learn about the available rotations each year and with that list will list which rotations are at the various hospital systems in Cleveland.
Do students receive any assistance with picking advisors for rotations? For instance, are Students meant to decide on rotations immediately after admission is granted, or is there an orientation with the faculty who have open positions for new students?
Once students are admitted and have chosen to come to Cleveland we send out a list of the available labs to rotate in. We help them in that process to select three research trainers that you would like to learn more from.
This varies on the students coming into the program. Some students come in knowing which research they would like to do as part of their time with BSTP. While others discover this during their rotations.
We encourage prospective students to avoid contacting faculty before submitting an application, or before being issued an admissions decision. At the time of the admissions interview, applicants will have the opportunity to identify faculty they wish to connect with. We invite all applicants to research the various faculty trainers found on our BSTP website and start compiling a list of potential faculty they're interested in connecting with after an offer of admission is rendered.
Many grad students live in the Coventry neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, which is a 20-minute walk from campus. This neighborhood has a supermarket as well as many restaurants and bars. Another popular neighborhood is Little Italy (10 minute walk from campus). Some students live in Shaker Square, which is a 10-minute bus ride from campus.
The University runs shuttle buses (free for students) that have regular routes around campus. Cleveland's public transport system (RTA) includes a rapid transit train that stops on campus, providing easy access to many popular destinations (i.e. airport, downtown, West Side Market). RTA also has a bus system that serves the city and suburbs.
Cleveland’s neighborhoods reflect the people from many countries and cultures who settled in the city, including Indian, Arabic, Chinese, Puerto Rican, and Russian, to name a few. International students make up 10-15% of the students in our biomedical graduate programs and 12% of our PhD students come from underrepresented minority groups. Many students participate in the community and activities in the Minority Graduate Student Organization in the School of Medicine.