Pharmacology lab

The Program in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Michigan is an interdisciplinary gateway program that coordinates admissions and the first year of Ph.D. studies for 14 department programs, including Pharmacology.

PIBS offers you the flexibility and convenience of applying to any of our participating programs through one application. We invite you to thoroughly explore Pharmacology and the other 13 programs before selecting your top preferences when you apply.

Program Overview

Established in 1891 as the first Pharmacology Department in the United States, Pharmacology at the University of Michigan has over a 110-year history of scientific discovery and in the training of students. Forty-one years after the University of Michigan Medical School began, the University established the Department of Pharmacology as one of its first basic science departments. Its founder and first chair was John Jacob Abel, regarded as the Father of American Pharmacology.

Since that time, our department has awarded more Ph.D. degrees in pharmacology than any other American university. Our graduates have made a major impact on the field of pharmacology. Among our alums are many pharmaceutical company executives, research directors and senior scientists; directors of government research labs; and recognized chairs and faculty in academia with reputations for both excellent research and teaching. A part of our tradition and a major strength of our department are the quality of our trainees and the continued commitment of our faculty to this training mission.

Our department includes more than 50 faculty who are recognized nationally and internationally for their research and instructional accomplishments. Their research interests are as diverse as are their techniques and expertise, ranging from crystallography to systems and integrated pharmacology. The high ratio of faculty to students provides excellent personal training opportunities.

Research Areas

More than any other basic science discipline, pharmacology is tightly connected to the understanding and treatment of human disease. At U-M, students can be involved in the discovery of new drugs, modeling of drugs and their targets, detailed studies of drug mechanisms in disease from biochemical, molecular and genetic perspectives and translational studies aimed at moving drugs into the clinic. The comprehensive nature of pharmacology at U-M allows students to focus on research areas that include:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Drug Discovery
  • Neuropharmacology
  • Addiction

Pharmacology also supports basic studies in drug metabolism, pharmacogenomics, and signal transduction.

Explore our faculty.

Program Requirements


Pharmacology offers a broad-based training curriculum including coursework and training in basic science and translational pharmacology. Students take a one-semester course in basic principles of pharmacology along with short modular courses in specific areas of pharmacology including autonomic, endocrine, neuro, cancer, and cardiovascular pharmacology. There are opportunities to take a variety of elective courses including human genetics and translational pharmacology.

Key courses that are determinant in students’ future success are the guided instruction in both oral and written communication through our Student Research Seminars and Scientific Writing course. Coursework in translational pharmacology includes seminars by industry scientists. This comprehensive curriculum effectively prepares students for career opportunities in academic, governmental, and industrial organizations.

By the beginning of the third academic year, students must have chosen a dissertation (thesis) committee to guide and support them during their research and writing.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination for advancement to doctoral candidacy in Pharmacology is an oral exam based on a short research proposal chosen by the student. The exam is given in November of the student’s second year.

Teaching Requirement

During the third year of study, the students will be expected to assist in the teaching of pharmacology in the department and will be encouraged to take coursework that will complement the chosen field of specialization.

Expected Length of Program

The usual time to degree is approximately 4 to 5 1/2 years.

Student Interests

The Pharmacology graduate class includes on average 25 students and is diverse in its population profile. Our students publish numerous papers in prestigious journals and have received many awards from the university, industry, private foundations, and professional societies. The Department of Pharmacology sponsors a variety of activities as part of the overall graduate experience including:

Training Programs

The Pharmacological Sciences Training program (PSTP) is one of the largest National Institutes of Health supported training program of its kind in the country. This interdepartmental program provides synergistic, translational education, research training, and career development with the ultimate goal of preparing graduates to excel as leaders in the field of experimental therapeutics, both in the academia and in the private sector.

Presentations at Colloquia and Awards

Two major local colloquia held each year provide students with opportunities to present their research, meet other scientists and gain skills in oral and poster presentations. Numerous award opportunities exist for students: twice-yearly travel awards, oral and poster presentation awards at the June colloquium and the annual Anthony Lu Distinguished Student Publication in Pharmacology Award.

Research / Journal Clubs / Annual Retreat

Several research / journal clubs exist including groups specializing in G-protein signal transduction and addiction. A departmental retreat is held every year providing an opportunity to update students on departmental research and to socialize with faculty.

Social Activities

Students participate in a number of activities that include Friday flag football, student-organized golf games and the December holiday party. A monthly student meeting gives students an opportunity to air any questions they have about their graduate education and network with other students in the department. This provides an important “esprit de corps” amongst all levels of departmental students.

Guest Scientists and Alumni

We are committed to provide students with unique opportunities to meet visitors and our alumni and gain from their experiences. Graduate students participate in lunches with our weekly Wednesday guest seminar speakers. During the annual Alumni Steering Committee meeting, a special time is scheduled for Pharmacology students to meet with the members to socialize, discuss any concerns, and network, etc. A noted alumnus/a is invited to speak at the Pharmacology retreat yearly and the topic focuses on their career path to success in the field. An Alumni Outreach program is available through a group for Michigan Pharmacology Alumni on Linked-In where alumni post information about their careers and are available to advise and network with present and past students.

Career Expectations

Over 280 students have graduated with their doctoral degrees in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan. Among our alums are many pharmaceutical company executives, research directors and senior scientists; directors of government research labs; and chairs and faculty at Universities and colleges. Graduates have taken jobs in the government in diverse areas that range from research and grants management to serving as scientific advisor to senators. Others have become patent lawyers or started their own consulting firms. This success and the number of our Alumni provide an extensive network of contacts within the University of Michigan Pharmacology Family.