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Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Biomedical Sciences (IDP)

The mission of the Interdisciplinary Program in Biomedical Sciences (IDP) is to help extraordinary students discover their potential while expanding knowledge through coursework and biomedical research. The goal of the IDP is to train the next generation of graduate students to be productive, well-rounded scientists that are able to contribute substantively within the contemporary workforce. 

Within the IDP, students are exposed to a combination of required and elective didactic courses, laboratory rotations, and professional development/scientific writing and presentation activities which help students gain proficiency in several Core Competencies and Qualities.

IDP Overview

About the Program

About the Program

Mission of the Interdisciplinary Program in Biomedical Sciences

The mission of the Interdisciplinary Program in Biomedical Sciences (IDP) is to help extraordinary students discover their potential while expanding knowledge through coursework and biomedical research. Review the IDP handbook (PDF) for more information.

Core Competencies and Qualities emphasized within the IDP include:

Core Competencies:

  • Knowledge and Skills – Fundamental grasp of the scientific method, including mastery of laboratory skills and methods, understanding of the theoretical basis of scientific methodology, and ability to analyze and interpret data
  • Communication – Mastery of written, oral, and visual communication skills
  • Management, Teamwork, and Leadership – Ability of an individual to organize, administer, coordinate, and motivate themselves and their peers to efficiently and effectively accomplish goals and solve problems

Core qualities:

  • Scholarship - The pursuit of knowledge through study and experimentation
  • Innovation - Creativity in the generation of new knowledge
  • Professionalism – Conforming to the behavior norms of a profession

IDP Qualities - Core Competencies 2

Preparation for a Career in Science

To facilitate career preparation, the IDP includes dedicated courses that provide training in professional development, and scientific writing and presentation. Through these courses, students develop important skill sets that they will utilize during their PhD training period and beyond. Therefore, upon completion of the IDP, our students not only gain a broad foundation in modern biomedical science that is amenable to a wide range of career paths, but they also gain experience in multiple core competencies and qualities making them extremely competitive within the job market upon graduation.

Time to Degree

The average time to degree from when a student enters into the IDP is approximately 5.5 years.




The IDP is an umbrella program that provides initial training to students who will be pursuing a PhD degree in one of five basic science departments within the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Students complete the first 18-months of their PhD training within the IDP. During this time, students take required and elective courses, complete 4 x 6-week laboratory rotations, and participate in professional development activities and scientific writing and presentation exercises. Students identify a research mentor within the spring of their first year and consequently begin working on a research project to support their PhD dissertation. The IDP culminates in the fall of the student’s second year with an IDP qualifying examination that includes preparation of a research fellowship proposal based on the student’s PhD dissertation project along with an oral defense of the proposed research. Students are encouraged to subsequently submit their prepared research proposal with the NIH or other extramural funding agency for potential funding consideration.

IDP Timeline

Departments that are supported by the IDP

IDP students matriculate into one of the following primary departments:

Research Interests of IDP faculty

More than 100 faculty members from within these departments comprise the IDP Faculty and are available for student training. Please click the Faculty tab on the IDP homepage to review those faculty and learn about their research programs.




December 15, 2020 is the recommended date to have your application submitted and completed.

Applications are still accepted and reviewed beyond these dates. However, applications submitted beyond these dates may affect the applicant’s level of consideration depending on the timing of the submission and when programs issue enrollment offers.

Interview Dates:

  • January 14, 2022
  • February 11, 2022

Admission Requirements for the Interdisciplinary Program:

The IDP is an 18-month umbrella program and itself does not offer a terminal degree. The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is only obtained once IDP students matriculate into one of the graduate programs of the five basic science departments supporting the IDP. Here, students fulfill any Graduate School or Graduate Program-specific curriculum requirements to obtain the PhD.

Requirements for application/admission:

  • Online application
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) required for applicants whose native language is not English

The GRE is not required for application/admission to the IDP. 

Strong candidates will ideally have completed 8 semester hours each of:

  • Biology
  • General Chemistry
  • Physics
  • College-Level Mathematics
  • Statistics

Additionally, candidates will ideally have:

  • GPA of 3.0 or greater (on a 4.0 scale)
  • Laboratory research, either from employment, summer research programs such as MCW's SPUR, or participation in undergraduate science projects

Learn more about the MCW Graduate School admissions instructions.



Visit the IDP Students page to learn more.

Student Committees

Student Committees

Enhancing Scholarly Culture Committee (ESCC)
The mission of the Enhancing Scholarly Culture Committee (ESCC) is to provide an informal environment to engage students, post-docs, faculty, and staff in an inclusive, interactive, and inquisitive discussion of scientific topics, concepts, achievements, and events.

The ESCC began as a small, student-led committee in 2016 with the goal to foster relationships among IDP students and staff by hosting “Science Socials”. Today, the committee has grown in number, and in reach. We are now represented by students from all basic science departments and extend Science Social invitations to students, postdocs, faculty, and staff. Our events are student-driven, with a focus on improving friendly and productive scientific communication. We also aim to provide scientific education with a strong focus on hands-on interaction and entertainment. Some examples of past events include: expert panel discussions, the science of beer brewing and tasting, catapult physics (followed by teams competing to build the best catapult), surviving a zombie apocalypse, and many more. These events are a great way to bring colleagues together in a relaxed setting to promote open and healthy communication about the subject we all love most… SCIENCE!

IDP Alumni Stories

IDP Alumni Stories

Visit the IDP Alumni Stories page to learn more about various IDP Alumni, their experiences with MCW, and what they are doing now.
Learn More


All full-time PhD degree-seeking students in good academic and professional standing receive the following financial support package:

  • Full tuition coverage
  • Yearly stipend ($31,530 for the '20-'21 academic year)
  • Complimentary health insurance

There is no additional process to secure this package aside from accepting an offer of admission. Further, this package is guaranteed from the time of enrollment through completion of degree requirements.




IDP Curriculum NEW

The training component of the IDP includes both core and elective didactic course work, laboratory rotations, professional development courses, and scientific writing and presentation activities.

During the first 24 weeks of the IDP curriculum (18 weeks of fall semester and first 6 weeks of spring semester), students complete four independent 6-week courses in Foundations in Biomedical Sciences (FBS1-4). These courses cover a variety of fundamental topics ranging from molecules to systems. Students also take required courses in Biostatistics and Techniques in Molecular and Cell Biology, and complete 4 x 6-week laboratory rotations. Evaluation of student commitment within the laboratory is assessed through the Introduction to Biomedical Sciences (IBR) course.

The 4 laboratory rotations allow students to identify the best match for their dissertation work, and allow for broad exploration of the research environments available to students within the program. Flexibility is built into the rotation schedule to allow for optional fifth and sixth rotations for students who desire more options. At the end of each rotation, students prepare a written rotation summary facilitating improvement of their written communication skills. Students also participate in an end-of-year research symposium which supports enhancements of oral presentation skills.

Upon completion of the 4th laboratory rotation, students may select a research mentor and begin work on their PhD dissertation. During the remaining 12 weeks of the spring semester, students complete elective courses that align with their research interests or that fill in identified knowledge gaps. A minimum of 4 credits of electives is required, and up to 6 credits of electives is recommended during this 12 week time period. Students also carry out research in the laboratory of their chosen mentor. Evaluation of student commitment within the mentor’s laboratory is assessed by the mentor through the Readings & Research course.

During the summer semester ending their first year and fall semester of their second year, students complete courses in ethics and integrity, and scientific writing and presentation. Enrollment in the IDP culminates at the end of the fall semester of year 2 with the successful preparation and defense of an NIH F31-style qualifying proposal that is based on the student’s dissertation research project.


Course Summary

Core Courses (Offered Every Year):

Ethics and Integrity in Science
This course provides the basis for understanding the ethical issues related to basic scientific and medical research, including animal and human subject research, fraud and misconduct, and governmental, institutional, and researcher responsibilities. This course provides the necessary research ethics instruction required to satisfy the United States Public Health Service Policy on Instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research for institutions receiving research funds from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Foundations in Biomedical Sciences I-IV. 3 credits each.
Foundations in Biomedical Sciences (FBS) is broken into 4 course modules and represents the bulk of the didactic core coursework for first year IDP students. Each course module presents students with integrated and immersive cellular/molecular and systems/physiological level course material. This challenging, high-paced set of courses engage students in the major research interests and teaching philosophies of the participating departments which helps prepare students with a strong foundation for their journey into their elective courses that will ultimately guide their PhD dissertation work.

IBR (Introduction to Biomedical Research). 1 credit.
This course reflects student’s participation in laboratory research rotations and the completion of the written rotation reports.

Professional Development 1 and 2. 1 credit each.
This course is taken in the fall and spring semesters of the first year and incorporates a multifaceted approach to introduce students to important elements of Professional Development. The course will incorporate lectures, active learning, and team-based approaches to such topics as preparing a laboratory notebook, scientific writing and reviewing, how to structure an effective hypothesis, research ethics, formulating an individual development plan, and presentation skills. Students will also participate in Responsible Conduct in Research training activities and engage in peer review discussions of the four laboratory rotation reports.

Statistics for Basic Sciences. 1 credit.
This course is designed to provide graduate students working in the research laboratory or studying the experimental sciences with fundamental knowledge in biostatistics. It will focus on descriptive statistics, elements of probability theory, estimation, tests of hypotheses, methods of categorical data tabulation and analysis. After completion of the course, students should be able to develop an appropriate study plan to explore a biomedical research question and execute simple statistical analysis of the data collected in the study. Emphasis will be placed on understanding concepts as well as learning to apply the covered statistical techniques. Students will also learn how to read, interpret, and critically evaluate statistical concepts in the literature.

Techniques in Molecular and Cellular Biology. 2 credits.
The objective for the Techniques course is to provide a theoretical and practical foundation underlying a number of the most common experimental techniques required for biomedical research. The information presented in this course will introduce procedures and experimental strategies that are commonly used in biomedical research projects and will facilitate students’ comprehension of the scientific literature even if they don’t use the techniques in their own research. The lecture materials present the theory behind each technique, the practical limitations of each techniques, and the types of questions that each technique addresses, with emphasis on how each can be applied to generate new insight into biomedical research questions.

Writing a Scientific Paper. 1 credit.
This course will present a step-by-step approach to putting together a scientific paper. Students will be divided into groups of 3, and these groups will stay together for the duration of the course. Each group will be given an identical set of data with which to compose a manuscript. Each week, a different aspect of paper writing will be discussed, and students will be given a take home assignment to write that particular component of the paper within the small groups. In the final week of the class, the finished papers will be peer reviewed by two other groups and a member of the faculty. The course will be graded on attendance, successful and timely completion of the assignments and evaluation of the final manuscript.

Writing an Individual Fellowship. 1 credit.
This course provides a systematic approach towards writing a F31-like individual research fellowship. Topics include the organization of the NIH, how the NIH invites investigators to submit applications to support their doctoral studies, how PhD trainees and their mentors respond to these invitations, and how the NIH reviews a fellowship application. A weekly didactic session will be presented to the entire group of students who will have weekly individual writing assignments to complete and will have a weekly small group session to share their progress towards the completion of their writing assignments. Each student will identify a mentor-approved research topic that will be developed into a fellowship proposal, emphasizing the writing of a Summary, Specific Aims Page, and Research Plan as outlined in PA-19-195 and SF-424(F). Writing a Scientific Paper (16292) is a prerequisite for this course. 


Elective Courses (Offered Every Year):

Basic Immunology. 1 credit.
The purpose of this course is to introduce basic concepts in immunology through lectures, readings from texts and current journals. The course is geared toward students interested in contemporary concepts of cellular and molecular immunology. The course has been designed to integrate fundamental concepts in immunology with the goal of students being able to understand and critically evaluate the complex nature of immune interactions and immune dysfunction regardless of their specific research focus. The participating faculty are from diverse backgrounds with unique expertise. Students will learn fundamental concepts in immunology with topics including innate and adaptive immunity, the cellular basis of the immune response, antigens presentation and antibodies, molecular basis for generating immunologic diversity, and regulation of immune responses. In the final block of the course, students will integrate their knowledge of the immune system and apply it to disease. This course is comprised of a subset of lectures from the Integrated Microbiology and Immunology Course.

Fundamentals of Neuroscience. 3.5 credits.
Fundamentals of Neuroscience follows a multidisciplinary approach to current knowledge about the structural and functional properties of the nervous system. The mechanisms of the nervous system are described at the molecular, cellular, systems and complex brain function levels. The course includes in-class lectures, seminars from prominent scientists (video archives), and written assignments. The purpose of this course is to introduce 1st year graduate students to the structure and function of the human nervous system.

Graduate Neuroanatomy. 0.5 credits.
Graduate Neuroanatomy is a lab-based course intended to accompany MCW course Fundamentals of Neuroscience. The purpose of this course is to introduce 1st year PhD students to the anatomy of the human nervous system.

Integrated Microbiology and Immunology. 3 credits.
The purpose of this course is to introduce basic and integrated concepts in immunology and cellular microbiology through lectures, readings from texts and current journals. The course is geared toward students matriculating into the Microbiology and Immunology (MI) Graduate Program as well as any student interested in contemporary concepts of cellular microbiology, immunology, and host-pathogen interactions. The course has been designed to integrate fundamental concepts in immunology and microbiology with the goal of students being able to understand and critically evaluate the complex nature of host-pathogen interactions and immune dysfunction regardless of their specific research focus. Students will learn fundamental concepts in immunology and gain an appreciation of the basic properties of bacteria and virus structure, replication, and pathogenesis. In the final block of the course, students will integrate their knowledge of pathogens and the immune system.

Organ Systems Physiology. 2 credits.
Organ Systems Physiology is a first year elective course that focuses on the classic topics in physiology – the science of regulation and control systems – including the Physiology of Cells, Muscle, Cardiovascular, Pulmonary, Renal, GI, Endocrine, and Reproduction. It will also introduce the students to animal models in physiological research appropriate for the topic at hand. It will follow and build on the planned new first year first semester Graduate School course that will run from August-February. The course will be comprised of (1) interactive lectures by Dr. Raff and (2) Journal Club in which the students will present and discuss journal articles using animal models in physiology. The course will meet twice a week (1.5 hrs/session; 3 hrs/week) for a total of 12 weeks.

Protein Chemistry-Applications. 1 credit.
Suitable for all students interested in developing critical thinking skills through literature examples of protein activity and its regulation. Students and instructors will discuss literature that illustrates the in vitro reconstitutions, proteins structure/activity, and methods and logic of experimental design including critical control experiments. In addition, the discussions will include methods learned in the first-year curriculum that might have been applied but were not. From these analyses, students will hone their critical thinking and communication skills.

Protein Chemistry-Principles. 1 credit.
Suitable for all students interested in developing critical thinking skills through literature examples of protein activity and its regulation. In this course, students and instructors will use the primary literature to learn and apply the practical formalisms in protein chemistry – including thermodynamics, kinetics, enzymology, and chemical biology – to the regulation of protein activity. Biology is governed by thermodynamic and kinetic principles, but these principles are often abstract to students. The purpose of this course is for students to develop utility in thermodynamic and kinetic principles and apply them to biological systems. The course will emphasize literature examples and expect students to learn these principles by working through problem sets provided by instructors. Students will be able to differentiate when thermodynamics or kinetics likely govern a given biological system and have a framework by which to analyze new systems. In addition, the discussions will include methods learned in the first-year curriculum that might have been applied, but were not.

Understanding Cell Signaling through Therapeutic Drugs. 2 credits.
This course will present advanced concepts in cellular signaling by analyzing the molecular mechanisms responsible for the therapeutic benefit, unanticipated toxicity, and limited effectiveness of particularly well-known drugs that target specific signal transduction pathways. The topics are designed to promote an enhanced understanding of the complexities of multiple signaling pathways, and a sophisticated appreciation of how these pathways are integrated to produce cellular responses. The course has a translational emphasis by focusing on the multiple molecular actions of current FDA-approved drugs, as well as discontinued drugs that were removed from the market due to unanticipated toxicity or limited effectiveness. The lectures will provide an advanced analysis of the molecular responses that led to the success or failure of these drugs, encouraging students to develop sophisticated analytical skills that will allow them to define how different signaling pathways are integrated. Lectures presented by the instructors will provide an in-depth overview of different signaling pathways, and manuscript discussions will promote additional advanced analysis that will creatively engage the students.


Elective Courses (Offered Every Other Year):

Advanced Cell Biology. 3 credits.
Advanced Cell Biology is an upper level, 3-credit hour cell biology course that focuses on a variety of advanced topics in contemporary Cell Biology. Students will gain an in depth understanding of specific selected topics through the use of a variety of resources including webinars and podcasts, detailed in-class discussion of papers from the scientific literature and through preparation and presentation of a lecture on a cell biological topic directly relevant to the student’s own research interests. Lectures by faculty will be minimized.

Bacterial Diversity and the Microbiome. 1 credit.
This interdisciplinary course will provide students with a solid foundation in the molecular and physiological basis of bacterial diversity with a particular focus on those organisms that comprise the gut microflora. The interaction between bacteria and viruses or phages will also be highlighted. The course will be paper based with chalk-talk style discussion sessions designed to promote discussion of the literature.

Cognitive Neuroscience. 1 credit.
Cognitive neuroscience examines human brain information processing at the level of large-scale neurobiological systems. Some examples include information processing that underlies learning and retrieving concepts, comprehending and producing language, directing and maintaining attention, and recognizing sensory objects. Each session in this course will begin with a 1-hour contextual lecture, followed by review and discussion of two relevant landmark papers, sometimes with opposing views. Emphasis will be placed on understanding the processing models central to each domain, the extent to which these models are supported by empirical evidence from neuroimaging, and the relevance of the field to a variety of human brain disorders.

Developmental and Stem Cell Biology. 3 credits.
The course provides a detailed introduction to Developmental and Stem Cell Biology. The course uses an advanced graduate style format including lectures, in-class paper discussions, and departmental seminars from experts in the field. Students will prepare and present a lecture on a developmental and stem cell biology topic directly relevant to each student’s own research interests. Students will also provide feedback to their peers in the form of brief critiques of individual presentations.

Metabolism. 1 credit.
This course will be mainly a didactic based course that will comprehensively review subjects important to metabolism. The topics covered will range from carbohydrate metabolism to oxidative phosphorylation to lipid and amino acid metabolism. There will be a strong focus of these topics in health and disease, especially as they related to the cardiovascular system, cancer, diabetes and immune system function. The depth of coverage within each topic will not necessarily be comprehensive, but there may be a few aspects of each topic that will be highlighted by focusing on landmark studies or recent developments from published articles.

Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program (IDP) Options

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Biochemistry (PhD)

The Biochemistry PhD program at MCW will expose you to state-of-the-art facilities and instruments for 3D structure determination of proteins and protein-drug complexes by X-ray crystallography, fluorescence microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. 

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Biophysics (PhD)

MCW’s Biophysics PhD program is home to the National Biomedical Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) Center and features two areas of primary research: Molecular Biophysics and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

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Cell & Developmental Biology (PhD)  

The Cell & Developmental Biology PhD program at MCW is defined by its research strengths in cellular and molecular mechanisms of organ development, stem cell biology and its impact on regenerative medicine and neuroscience.

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Microbiology & Immunology (PhD)

MCW’s Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics PhD program features leading researchers in fields of study such as microbial genetics, immunology, bacteriology and virology. 

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Pharmacology & Toxicology (PhD)  

The Pharmacology & Toxicology program at MCW has a focus on cell signaling in the areas of cardiovascular biology, neuropharmacology, cancer, and drug discovery.


Message From the Director


Tom Zahrt, PhD
Professor of Microbiology & Immunology

Director, Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences

Scientists who receive broad training in the basic sciences are able to investigate fundamental properties of organisms and/or cells using multifaceted approaches. The Interdisciplinary Program in Biomedical Sciences (IDP) at the Medical College of Wisconsin seeks to train the next generation of graduate students so that they will be productive, well-rounded scientists within the contemporary workforce. The IDP does this through an innovative and modernized integrated curriculum that includes core and elective courses, research-based laboratory rotations, and other training components including professional development, and scientific writing and presentation. The IDP curriculum is designed to be inclusive, comprehensive, creative, individualized, and interdisciplinary. Please feel free to review content on the IDP website and see all that this program has to offer. If you have any questions or would like to know more about what it is like to be a student within the IDP, don’t hesitate to contact me.

(414) 955-7429

Contact Us

MCW Graduate School
8701 Watertown Plank Rd.
Milwaukee, WI 53226

(414) 955-8218
(414) 955-0084 (fax)

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