Frequently Asked Questions


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, don't hesitate to contact us with any other questions you might have.

Application Questions 

You’ll 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 we will take a look at your candidacy for an 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 after an offer of admission is rendered. 

The final application deadline is January 15, however our early review deadline is December 1. If you submit your application by December 1, the application fee will automatically be waived. We issue admissions decisions on a rolling admissions 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 the lab environment, that you work well independently, and that you have some technical ability.

We'd 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 have the professor who guided the work write a letter of recommendation.

Grades and test scores give us an idea of your academic background and achievement. We do not have minimum grades or test scores. In recent years our students had general GRE scores averaging in about the 70th percentile, and undergraduate GPAs of 3.4 - 3.6. We do not require GRE scores, but we're 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 fellowships that can partially support their graduate education, those who have strong research experience and publications, or those who have completed some of their education at a North American university.

You'll need fundamental coursework to succeed in biomedical graduate study, but your background will be unique. Biology, organic chemistry and mathematics through calculus are required, and biochemistry and molecular biology are strongly recommended. This background prepares students for success in our programs.

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. Depending on your preparation, we may suggest additional biology coursework once you start your PhD work.

This program only requires test scores for international applicants who need an English Proficiency Test. 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 program does not require the GRE exam or any other similar test scores for their application.

The Graduate Education Office automatically waives the application fee to all applicants who submit their application by December 1. In addition, the program will waive the application fee between December 1 and January 15 for applicants who are members of racial and ethnic groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. Case Western Reserve University and the National Institute of Health recognize the following racial and ethnic groups as underrepresented: American Indians or Alaska Natives, Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders.

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 ( Use 'URM fee waiver request' as the subject line and state your citizenship and URM status in your email. You must have started 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 grades. In recent years our students had average undergraduate GPAs of 3.4 - 3.6. 

All transcripts from colleges and universities you have taken courses from.

In your personal statement, you can use this as a space to explain the past experiences that have led you to this point along with why CWRU's BSTP program. You can also touch on your goals however you will have a separate prompt to talk about your goals. 

It is recommended to write between a paragraph and page on your personal statement. 

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 a page long.

Students should include all of the research that they have conducted. They also should include any other relevant experiences or papers they were a part of. 

Students should have letters of recommendation come from anyone who can attest to their ability to conduct research. 

Each year there is around 500 applicants for the BSTP program. 

We accept anywhere from 80-70 students each year for the BSTP program. 

Students on the completion of their application will receive an automatic email letting them know that they have submitted and we have received a completed application. Once the committee has reviewed a student's application then we will let them know of the next steps. 

Students will be notified by email of their interview offer anywhere between the months of November and February depending on when students have submitted their application. 

If a student is offered an interview spot then they will be notified shortly after their last interview. 

Our Office of Disability Services is here to accommodate all students who have been admitted into our programs at CWRU. 

If a student would like to update their documents after submission to the program we ask that they email 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 so we can add those documents to your application file. 

We ask students to email so we can update their file. 

Students can go back to their application portal at any time to see the status of their application. We also will email them with any status changes to their application. 

All interviews will be conducted virtually. We recommend that students test their device's camera, microphone, 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. 

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. 

Each student'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 wouldn't be enough time to prove a student's research capabilities. However, students doing multiple semesters of research and/or summer research opportunities would have a better time proving their research capabilities. 

If you are unsure still external research experiences will only give you more experience and further prove your capabilities. 

Students will select their discipline based on which area they are researching in and which department their trainer is a part of.

If students have a particular discipline that they wish to apply to there is a section that asks for students to select one. If not then you can select at the time of finding your research rotations.

At this time we do not offer pre-reviews for students looking to apply to the program. 

Not necessarily, students with publications can have a more diverse portfolio when applying to our PhD program, but that's not always guaranteed. 

There is no major from a student's undergraduate education that is required for admission. We recommend that students have a background in an area of biology, chemistry, or computer science. That will look different for each student and the institution that they attended for undergrad. 

Some students who didn't receive extensive research in their time during undergrad will opt to get their Masters' to gain that experience. However, obtaining a Masters' is not required of a student. 

No, we enroll one cohort per year in the summer and we do not enroll at any other time. 

Students do not need to supply an official transcript at the time of application. However, they will need to submit official documents once a student has been offered admission. 

Each year we offer around 90 interviews to applicants. 

It will not, however, we recommend that students show how they have grown over the time since they last applied. Including the research experience that they have gained within that time. 

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 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 students are required upon admission to submit a course-by-course transcript evaluation from WES. All admission without this submitted will be conditional. For further information on this look at our graduate studies website for all international student requirements. 

Yes, all students admitted into the program will be provided a stipend, health insurance, and other benefits while they are pursuing their PhD with the BSTP program. 

If the student was taught at an English-speaking university then we would waive the TOEFL exam requirement. For further information on this look at our graduate studies website for all international student requirements. 

Financial Questions

You’ll receive $31,000 per year, which allows you to live comfortably in Cleveland. There are many discounts available through CWRU Access Services (like bus passes, discounted cable service, etc). The program also pays for your health insurance.

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 near the campus for living in a big city and that are in safe areas of town.

Curriculum Questions 

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.

Research Questions

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.

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. 

Cleveland/Campus Questions 

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.