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.

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.

As a new student in the Biomedical Sciences Training, 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 youʼve 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.

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.

You’ll receive $30,500 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 rents for one bedroom apartments range from $300 to $900/month and rents for two bedrooms are $500-$1400.

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. The 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 is typical of much of the central United States, with pleasant summers and snowy winters. July is the warmest month (average high of 82°), and January is the coldest (average high of 34°). Warm clothing is a must for getting through the winter.  Many find the cool, colorful fall season one of their favorite times of the year. For more information on living in Cleveland, visit our Welcome to Cleveland page.