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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.
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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

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. 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.

Training in Core Competencies and Qualities in the IDP

Core Competencies are those skill sets that demonstrate a student has successfully obtained a broad base of knowledge within a chosen discipline, and a detailed knowledge base within a specific research area. Core Qualities are the “muscles” that students exercise to satisfy core competencies during the educational and training process.

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.

Following completion of the IDP, students matriculate into the specific graduate program that is associated with their chosen mentor’s department. During this time, students focus on specialization and development of their research skills through the completion of advanced coursework, doctoral research, and completion of the dissertation.

Departments that are supported by the IDP

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.

Areas of research focus within IDP

  • Cancer Biology
  • Cardiovascular Biology
  • Cell Biology and Signaling
  • Developmental Biology
  • Drug Discovery
  • Enzymology and Metabolism
  • Free Radical Biology
  • Gene Expressions and Epigenetics
  • Inflammation and Immunology
  • Microbial Infection and Pathogenesis
  • Microbiome
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • Neuroscience (Cellular and Molecular)
  • Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine
  • Structural Biology


Visit the IDP Students page to learn more.



Visit the IDP Faculty page to learn more about our faculty members.

Faculty by Research Focus

Faculty by Research Focus

Visit this page to review faculty in their specific research focus areas

View Faculty by Research Focus
Selected Alumni

Selected Alumni

Lisa Baye, PhD
Mentor: Brian Link, PhD
Graduation Date: 2007
Current Position: Instructor, Augustana College (SD)

Erica Carrier, PhD
Mentor: Cecilia Hillard, PhD
Graduation Date: 2005
Current Position: Assistant Professor of Medicine, Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

Eric Danielson, PhD
Mentor: Sang Hyeong Lee, PhD
Graduation Date: 2013
Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Massachusetts (MA)

Qing Deng, PhD
Mentor: Joseph Barbieri, PhD
Graduation Date: 2009
Current Position: Primary Investigator

Anthony Maresso, PhD
Mentor: Joseph Barbieri, PhD
Graduation Date: 2005
Current Position: Associate Professor, Baylor College of Medicine

Tyler Molitor, PhD
Mentor: Paula Traktman, PhD
Graduation Date: 2012
Current Position: Posdoctoral Fellow/Vivarium Manager, The Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center

Jianjun Sun, PhD
Mentor: Joseph Barbieri, PhD
Graduation Date: 2004
Current Position: Associate Professor, University of Texas at El Paso

Joshua Ziarek, PhD
Mentor: Brian Volkman, PhD
Graduation Date: 2012
Current Position: Assistant Professor, Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry Department, Indiana University (Bloomington)




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.

IDP Curriculum 2

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 (Rot). 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 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. 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 (R&R) 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 dissertation proposal document that is based on the student’s dissertation research project.

Course Summary

Core Courses:

Foundations in Biomedical Sciences

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.

Techniques in Molecular and Cellular Biology

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.

Professional Development 1 and 2

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.

IBR (Introduction to Biomedical Research)

This course reflects student’s participation in laboratory research rotations and their attendance at seminars and/or journal clubs.


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.

Scientific Writing 1 & 2

These courses span the summer of the first year and fall of the second year. The goal of these courses is to enhance specific skill sets related to scientific writing and presentation. These course will focus on the processes important for the preparation of scientific manuscripts and an NIH F-type research proposal. These courses will include didactic components, and will require students to work individually, or in small groups. Students will also engage in peer review activities to improve interpersonal, professionalism, and leadership skills.

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.

Elective Courses:

Advanced Cell Biology

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 web-based 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

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.

Basic Immunology

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.

Cognitive Neuroscience

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.

Fundamentals of Neuroscience

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

Graduate Neuroanatomy is a lab-based course intended to accompany MCW course 12212A: 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

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 second year 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.

Mass Spectrometry

The overall goal of the course is to provide a comprehensive overview of how mass spectrometry can be used in modern biomedical research. This course is designed for students without prior mass spectrometry experience and will introduce fundamental concepts regarding instrumentation, experimental design, and analysis of peptides, proteins, small molecules, lipids, metabolites, and glycans.


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.

Protein Chemistry-Applications

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

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

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.



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.

The IDP program recruits dedicated and motivated students who wish to obtain a doctoral degree in the biomedical sciences. You should ideally have completed 8 semester hours each of biology, general chemistry, and physics as well as courses in college-level mathematics and statistics. Ideally, you must have a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale). The General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is required. Quantitative and verbal reasoning GRE scores should be at or above the 50th percentile (3.5 or higher writing score). For applicants whose native language is not English, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is also required.

In addition to your academic record, and the above quantitative assessments, we highly value candidates who have previously shown an aptitude for laboratory research. Experience working in a laboratory setting either from employment, summer research programs such as our SPUR program or participation in undergraduate science projects, are highly desirable. It is important, however, that this experience is more than routine labor, and that you demonstrate a significant level of understanding of the science, and an intellectual curiosity about the projects in which you have been involved. We require three letters of recommendation for your application, and if these letters can address your ability to work in a research laboratory setting, then so much the better.

The MCW Graduate School operates on a rolling admissions basis. However, applications accepted by the priority application deadline of December 15th will receive first priority for admission the following fall. Students are admitted once per year.

The Application/Admissions Process:

The first stage of the admissions process is to complete our application form. Make sure you check the “Interdisciplinary Program in Biomedical Sciences” box, and check as many areas of interest that apply. This information helps us match you with faculty on interview day. Once your application is complete, it is forwarded to the admissions committee for assessment. If your application survives the first cut, we will invite you to MCW for a visit/interview. Interviews for the next admission cycle of 2019-2020 will be held in mid-January and mid-February of 2019. Late-arriving applications continue to be evaluated and additional interview days may be scheduled for promising candidates. The purpose of the interview is not only to further assess you as a candidate, but also to allow you to experience the breadth and depth of the research opportunities available at MCW and to see our institution first hand.

We finish the day off with a mixer – to which all faculty and students are invited – and dinner with some of our faculty and current students. After the interview day, the admissions committee will meet within a week to make a decision on your application and you will shortly receive word that you are accepted, on hold, or rejected. To be placed “on hold” means that we find much merit in your application, but we wish to interview more applicants before we make a final decision. Usually, more than half of the applicants placed on our hold list are eventually offered admission to the program. Good luck and we look forward to receiving your application.

We strongly encourage you to have all of your materials on file for the 2019 interview dates with the Graduate School by December 15, 2018.

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 17-19, 2019
February 14-16, 2019

Tuition and Fees

Tuition and Fees

If you have questions regarding tuition or your account, please contact the Office of Student Accounts, at (414) 955-8172 or mcwtuition@mcw.edu. Please refer to the All Student Handbook (PDF) for tuition payment policies and information.

PhD Students
All full-time PhD students receive a full tuition remission, health insurance and stipend.

2018-2019 Stipend: $30,011

Masters, Certificate & Non-Degree Students
Students seeking financial aid for MPH, MS or MA degree programs, visit the Financial Aid Office website.

Current MCW Employees
Tuition Course Approval Form - Human Resources (PDF)

Late Fees
There will be a $100 late registration fee for anyone not completing registration by the date indicated on the schedule each semester.

There is also a $250 late payment fee for tuition not paid on time according to the Tuition Payments policy in the All Student Handbook (PDF).

Late payment fee is in addition to any late registration fee.



Coming Soon!

2019-2020 IDP Organization and Operations Handbook

Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program (IDP) Options

biophysics card

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).

biochemistry card

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. 

Cell bio card

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.

micro and immune card

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)  

 If you are interested in pharmacology and toxicology research, you can seek admission into MCW’s Graduate School by applying through either the Interdisciplinary Program (IDP) or the Neuroscience Doctoral Program (NDP).


Contact Us

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

(414) 955-8218 
(414) 955-0084 (fax)

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