Prior to the Program’s inception in 1999, there was no cohesive venue that fostered training and collaboration in immunology research at the University of Michigan. The Immunology program has served an important, unifying role in bonding immunology research laboratories located in various administrative homes across the medical school, including Pathology, Surgery, Microbiology and Immunology, and several divisions of the Department of Internal Medicine.
The goal of the doctoral Program in Immunology at the University of Michigan is to train future leaders at the forefront of molecular and cellular immunology. Furthermore, our objective is to guide and prepare students for cutting-edge research in immunology while equipping them broadly to address scientific questions from multiple perspectives.
Students learn to think independently while pursuing individual research interests in a uniquely diverse and flexible program. More than 54 faculty members from the schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) provide graduate training in immunology by incorporating concepts of molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, and biophysics into the curriculum.
Over 50% of the Immunology faculty members are in clinical departments, which allows Immunology to provide unprecedented opportunities for students to be trained in and to perform translational research. An additional advantage of the individualized training provided by the Immunology Ph.D. Program is that it allows students to combine a broad foundation of coursework with research in the laboratories of their chosen research mentors. Individual attention and mentoring are standout strengths of this exciting and innovative program.
Immunology has had a NIH supported Training grant for over 25 years. From its inception, the Immunology program fostered the kind of research that was able to bring together students and faculty engaged in interdisciplinary basic science and clinical approaches to problems of human health. Due to the broad range of expertise of the Immunology faculty, there are wide arrays of basic, translational/applied and clinical research opportunities available for Ph.D. students.
Recent developments in cellular and molecular immunology have begun to shed light upon old questions about antigen presentation, T and B cell activation, cytokine production, regulation of immune cell differentiation, and the link between innate and acquired immunity.
Progress in basic immunology has also begun to suggest therapeutic strategies against diseases as diverse and significant as leukemias and other malignancies, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, psoriasis, AIDS and other immunodeficiencies, and a variety of infectious processes.
The increased interest in pursuing research in many of these areas of immunology is reflected in both the growing number of faculty at The University of Michigan Medical School with a major focus on immunology and the increased number of graduate students filling these laboratories.
We strive to be as flexible as possible when designing a coursework program for each student. The basic coursework in the Immunology program curriculum covers all aspects of basic as well as translational immunology. Students take courses in cell and molecular immunology, immunologic methods and translational immunology. In addition, they choose core courses in biochemistry, genetics or cell biology. Electives are also selected from a wide range of courses devised to complete the student's preparation for advanced study and research.
Our trainees gain additional knowledge of immunology research from their mandatory attendance at our weekly immunology seminar and journal club series, at which they are required to present their research. Graduate students also present their research at our annual Immunology Retreat (see below), at which an internationally renowned immunologist delivers the keynote seminar. Hence, our trainees receive a strong knowledge base in immunology as well as the vital research presentation skills required for their career development. As a result, our graduates are well prepared for their postdoctoral studies in immunology.
After completing coursework, students take the preliminary exam during the second year. The preliminary examination tests the student’s ability to reason analytically and to develop ideas and defend them. Since 2016, the format consists of students being assigned two current papers in Immunology. Students will be prepared to discuss the rationale, background, experimental design, hypotheses and conclusions of the papers. In addition, they will develop a specific aims page that will use a concept from the paper to propose 2 new novel aims of research. The student is responsible for identifying the question and devising logical and convincing experimental approaches to address the issue. In the prelim exam, the student is expected to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the research problem, as well as to creatively think about the topic and experimental design. Thus, the emphasis is on hypothesis testing and experimental design, as well as general knowledge in the field of immunology.
The Immunology Program has no formal teaching requirement, but will provide access and training to individuals who want a teaching experience.
Expected Length of Program
Average is about 5.5 years.
The Immunology Program provides an interdisciplinary structure and an inclusive environment through which immunologists in a variety of departments can collaborate to meet educational and training objectives. The Immunology Ph.D. Program fosters interactions among students and faculty in the Program to broaden the students’ appreciation of diverse research opportunities and to encourage interdisciplinary thinking in a highly collaborative atmosphere. Our goal is to continue to provide a firm basis in immunology through individualized training.
Drawing on resources from throughout the University, students first obtain a strong foundation in cellular and molecular immunology, then pursue individual interests in rotations while spanning a broad variety of cutting edge areas.
Our students are also involved in a variety of activities while they are in our program:
Every spring, the Immunology Program sponsors an off-campus retreat where selected research within the program is highlighted. Only graduate students and research fellows present their work.
The Immunology seminar series, held during the Fall and Winter terms, includes formal presentations by speakers from outside the University of Michigan. Students are given the opportunity to meet with the speakers at a luncheon immediately following the seminar.
The Immunology program gives a foundation that enables students to pursue a broad range of career choices spanning from academics to industry, and from the theoretical to the translational. Immunology program alumni have gone on to compete successfully in academia, biotechnology and an increasing number of other domains in our advancing technological world.