Training in Microbiology/Virology/Parasitology

Infectious diseases resulting from viruses, parasites, prions, and bacteria are a major cause of human morbidity and mortality. Some important infectious diseases, including HIV, malaria, and hepatitis C are becoming more rather than less prevalent. The threat of emerging infectious diseases and bioterrorism also calls for increased research in the area of microbiology, and in fact the NIH is greatly increasing research funding for work on infectious diseases. The recent outbreak of SARS and the continued spread of West Nile virus in North America are but two recent examples of emerging infectious diseases. By studying human pathogens, it is also frequently possible to learn much about normal cell biology, molecular biology, and immunology - infectious agents have long been used as model systems to study important processes.

If you find the study of infectious diseases interesting, then you should consider a research career in Microbiology, Virology or Parasitology. The University of Pennsylvania has a very collaborative and integrated research program in microbiology involving approximately 60 faculty throughout the campus. We can give you the best graduate training available in the molecular and cellular biology of viral and bacterial pathogenesis and parasitology. Our graduates go on to top postdoctoral fellowships, prestigious faculty positions and research positions in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Apply today, it doesn't take long using the online application form at the Biomedical Graduate Studies website.

Program of Study

A program leading to the Ph.D. in Microbiology, Virology or Parasitology is offered at the University of Pennsylvania. Students apply to Biomedical Graduate Studies, which oversees all graduate programs at the School of Medicine. Most microbiology students apply to the Cell and Molecular Biology Graduate Group, in which the Microbiology/Virology/Parasitology (MVP) program constitutes one of the major 'tracks'. Some of our students apply to the Immunology Graduate Group. Regardless of which graduate group you join, you will be free to work in any one of a large number of labs - all of the programs are very flexible. Each graduate group offers its own specialty courses, and you can change graduate groups if you find that your research interests change over time.

The current research interests of the faculty in microbiology and virology encompass a broad range of disciplines including prokaryotic and eukaryotic molecular biology, microbial genetics and genomics, virology, viral and microbial pathogenesis and immunology. Faculty throughout the School of Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, the School of Dental Medicine, the School of Arts and Sciences, Children’s Hospital, the Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Wistar Institute participate. In total, there are approximately 60 faculty who have a primary affiliation with the Microbiology Program. You can learn about the research interests of the faculty by either going to the Faculty page, which lists all microbiologists in the program in alphabetical order, or under the Research dropdown, which divides the faculty into 8 broad research themes: bacteriologyemerging infectious diseasesimmune responsesmicrobial genomics and evolutionneurovirologyparasitologytumor virology, and virology.

During the Fall of their first year, our students take a core Cell Biology Course, as well as the first year seminar course. In the Spring,our students take a core course on gene expression, and most elect to take a newly designed immunology course that emphasizes innate immunity and the adaptive immune response. In addition, they take 2 of 3 different half-semester long courses, one on virology, one on bacteriology and one on parasitology. By the end of the first year, students have taken most of their courses. In the second year, popular courses include a vaccines course, an emerging infectious disease course, and a half semester-long writing course. In addition, first year students complete three, 11-week long lab rotations in which they explore different areas of research and are introduced to the research interests of individual faculty members. At the end of the spring semester, students select a laboratory for dissertation research and so begin their thesis work during their first summer in graduate school. An oral preliminary examination based on a written research proposal is administered at the end of the second year. A total of four to five years of graduate work is generally required to complete the Ph.D. program. Combined M.D./Ph.D. and V.M.D./Ph.D. programs are also offered.

View course details

The MVP program has an extensive series of seminars designed to not only expose students to the latest and hottest research in microbiology, but to give students an opportunity to present their work to a large and diverse audience. We feel that it is important for students to gain experience in speaking about their work in public, as this is an important facet of any job in science. Our Tuesday Virology series gives a student or postdoc each week a chance to talk about their work in front of an audience that averages approximately 90 faculty, students, postdocs and technicians. This is an invaluable opportunity for our students to gain experience in talking about their work. Most students in virology labs present their research at this seminar series once a year. Similar seminar series are held for our bacteriology and parasitology students. Our Wednesday Microbiology seminar series features prominent scientists from throughout the country and Europe who talk about their latest work in virology, bacteriology, parasitology, and immune responses. As part of this series each semester, we have an Alumni Day when a former MVP program student or postdoc who is now an Assistant Professor at another institution returns to campus to talk about their work, and to meet with current students over lunch to talk about their careers. In fact, all of our seminar speakers have lunch with students immediately after their talks, to discuss their work and career choices. More information on our various seminars can be found on our Seminars page.

Certificate Program: Graduate Training in Medical Sciences

Given the increasing intersection between basic and clinical medicine, there is a need for basic scientists who have a strong understanding of human biology and physiology and who can effectively interact with clinical scientists to address medical relevant research problems. BGS' Graduate Training in Medical Sciences (GTMS) Certificate Program has been established to meet this need by integrating focused medical education into the graduate curriculum. Students enrolled in GTMS undertake specialized coursework and other activities in addition to the training required by their graduate group for their PhD. GTMS courses are open to BGS students who do not formally enroll in GTMS. Additional information can be found here.

Certificate Program: Public Health Certificate Program (PHCP)

Objective: To provide supplemental training to highly motivated, well qualified doctoral candidates who are interested in public health. This program will prepare students for careers in academic, industrial, and government institutions by providing training in population based approaches and applications for those with expertise in molecular, cellular, and biochemical sciences. Students will take four courses in public health in addition to their regular doctoral coursework and will participate in either a short-term (6 week) public health research project or independent study with a member of the MPH faculty for elective credit. It is anticipated that research questions related to the student's PhD research project will investigated during this independent study.

The program would be available to students in any BGS graduate group, but it is expected that students in Immunology and in Cell and Molecular Biology's tracks in Cell Growth and Cancer, Gene Therapy and Vaccines, and Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology would be particularly interested.

Research Facilities

The University of Pennsylvania is a world class research institution. It ranks number 2 in total grant funding from the National Institutes of Health. The graduate program is University-wide and includes over 50 faculty members from the Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, and Veterinary Medicine; the Department of Biology of the School of Arts and Sciences; the Wistar Institute; the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and the Research Department of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Most of these institutions are within easy walking distance of each other and are also close to other schools and departments of the University, such as the Chemistry Department and the School of Engineering. The University maintains a large number of core research support facilities, such as the Bioinformatics Core, the Proteomics Core, and many others, to aid in all technical aspects of research. The University's library subscribes to more than 2,800 current journals and has on-line access to hundreds of local and remote databases.

Student Information

The Microbiology and Virology Graduate Program includes approximately 80 full-time Ph.D., M.D./Ph.D. and VM.D./Ph.D. students from institutions throughout te United States. We provide a series of Chalk Talks during the first two weeks of school, when faculty present short talks about their work. This gives students an opportunity to hear from many faculty, which helps them decide on their rotation labs. Lunch or dinner is provided with each Chalk Talk, and senior students attend to answer questions. A series of mentoring sessions on career development is offered, as are many other social and educational programs, including a student organized monthly happy hour, which is a great way to meet senior students.

All students accepted into the program are awarded full fellowships and health insurance. The awards include a grant of funds to cover University of Pennsylvania tuition and fees, plus a stipend of $30,500 per year beginning in the Fall of 2012.


The University is located in Philadelphia, a historic gem and a great cultural center currently undergoing dynamic growth. Attractions include several theaters, a world-famous orchestra, outstanding museums and art galleries, and professional sports. The University, located only a short distance from downtown Philadelphia, is in itself a highly developed community, with a beautiful urban campus and a rich variety of cultural and intellectual attractions, including the University Museum, the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and extensive sports facilities.

The University

The University of Pennsylvania is a privately endowed nonsectarian institution, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740. It is composed of undergraduate schools with 9,900 students and graduate professional schools enrolling 10,500 students. The professional and graduate schools include the Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, and Nursing, a Law School and the Wharton School of Business, all located on the same campus.

Living and Housing

Accommodations for single and married students are available both on and off campus. On campus, the University offers apartments and suite living on a twelve-month lease basis in two modern Graduate Towers. A variety of privately owned rooms and apartments are also available in proximity to the University. The University is a short commute from quality living areas in Center City Philadelphia and suburban Philadelphia.

Apply Today

Admission to the Program in Microbiology/Virology/Parasitology is available to students with excellent undergraduate preparation in the biological, chemical and physical sciences and mathematics. Scores on the General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations are required. A non-refundable fee of $70 is required of all applicants, and the application deadline is December 8th, 2011.

Students apply to the Biomedical Graduate Studies Office and must apply electronically. When you do this, you will be asked to pick your desired Graduate Program. A list will be provided, and you can select Microbiology, Virology and Parasitology.

BGS does not accept mailed applications, but if you have questions you may email or call:

Biomedical Graduate Studies Office Telephone: 215-898-1030 email:

For more information about the MVP Program specifically, email: