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About the Ph.D. Program


Welcome from the Director
Thank you for visiting our website and considering The Johns Hopkins University Graduate Program in Immunology (GPI) as a place to learn and be creative. As Director of the GPI I'd like to give you a brief overview of the program itself, its history, and its direction for the future.

The GPI began in 1982 with two students and a handful of faculty. Since then we have grown to 36 students currently in training and 36 faculty. The faculty research interests span the entire gamut of Immunology, from basic mechanisms such as somatic hypermutation and gene rearrangement, molecular mechanisms of antigen processing and presentation, molecular signals for immune cell development and differentiation to translational research in the fields of cancer vaccines, allergy, infectious disease, immune engineering, autoimmunity and transplantation.

We are fortunate to have a number of centers of excellence in Basic Immunology and Cellular Engineering, Microbial Immunology, Autoimmunity and Cancer Immunology. This, combined with world-class facilities in genomics, genetics, proteomics, cell imaging and bioinformatics mean almost limitless opportunities for students to do cutting edge and creative Immunology research. It is indeed an exciting time for Immunology at Hopkins.

As director of a graduate training program, I am charged with the responsibility of ensuring that our students get the best education that we can possibly provide. Fortunately, that is an easy task at an environment such as Johns Hopkins. We are able to offer one of the most rigorous and expansive scientific training arenas in the world. The large number of accomplished biomedical scientists, the focus on interdisciplinary training, the availability of state of the art research facilities and a collegial environment gives our students a unique opportunity to develop as the next generation of leaders in Immunology. Recent program graduates have become post-doctoral research fellows in major labs all over the world. Many of our alumni have gone on to significant positions as successful independent researchers at universities, research institutes, government laboratories and biotechnology enterprises. Also, a number have distinguished themselves in the public policy, intellectual property and in scientific writing. All of our alumni have gone on to fulfilling careers in the biomedical field and for that we are grateful and very proud.

Please take the time to look over our program. We believe it can make a difference in your life and career. Also explore living in the great city of Baltimore and the State of Maryland where fun and fulfillment abound. We look forward to hearing from you.

-Dr. Joel Pomerantz

In the first year of study, each student takes a core set of courses emphasizing basic molecular principles and how they apply to understanding immune function.

Required Coursework:
Course #ME.250:722 Fundamentals of Immune Recognition and Response
Course #ME.100.709 Macromolecular Structure & Analysis
Course #ME.100.710 Biochemical & Biophysical Principles (**taken second year)
Course #ME.110.728 Cell Structure & Dynamics
Course #ME.250.703 Graduate Immunology
Course #ME.250.709 Immunology Core Course
Course #ME.250.804 Introduction to Immunology Research
Course #ME.260.708 Principles of Genetics
Course #ME.260.709 Molecular Biology & Genomics
Course #ME.260.802 Special Studies and Research
Course #ME.360.728 Pathways & Regulations
Course #ME.800.707 Computational Biology and Bioinformatics

Laboratory Rotations:
    
During the first year, each student engages in three short-term research projects. Each project lasts approximately three months and is carried out under the direction of a faculty member. Additional rotations may be scheduled based on student interest. The projects are designed to give you an introduction to experimental research and an opportunity to learn more about specific areas of immunology prior to choosing a thesis laboratory and project. After completing the research rotations, the student will select a mentor for his/her thesis project.

Elective Courses
Students are required to take five elective courses prior to graduation. Students can begin taking courses in the spring of their first year, but most students opt to start in their second year. There are many available advanced level graduate courses offered in the School of Medicine, Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Kreiger School of Arts and Sciences. The Immunology Programs specifically offers several courses, including Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy, Immunometabolism, Translational Immunology, HIV Biology and more. Many of these courses utilize small group discussions, in which students read and discuss current and seminal research papers on the selected topic.

Oral Examination
In the fall of the second year of study, trainees will take the Graduate Board Oral Examination. By the time the students take this exam, they will have successfully completed all required coursework. This examination serves as a means of evaluating the student’s cumulative knowledge in biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, biophysics, genetics, and immunology and his/her preparedness to carry out research for the Ph.D. degree. The exam may cover the student's proposed dissertation topic, but this is not the focus of the exam.

Formation of Thesis Committee

In the spring of the second year of study, students will bring together 4-5 faculty members, including their mentor, to serve as their thesis advisory committee. The purpose of the thesis committee is to help the student move their research forward, provide networking opportunities and career development advice and to ensure the student successfully completes their degree. At the initial meeting, the student will prepare a written research proposal in the form of an NIH grant. We 

Elective Courses
Students are required to take five elective courses prior to graduation. Students can begin taking courses in the spring of their first year, but most students opt to start in their second year. There are many available advanced level graduate courses offered in the School of Medicine, Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Kreiger School of Arts and Sciences. The Immunology Programs specifically offers several courses, including Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy, Immunometabolism, Translational Immunology, HIV Biology and more. Many of these courses utilize small group discussions, in which students read and discuss current and seminal research papers on the selected topic.

Thesis Meetings
Students are required to have at least ONE thesis meeting per year, but are welcome to have more if desired. At each committee meeting, the student should present their research work, roughly following the format of the written proposal. The discussion can be, and often is, open-ended in nature. The student should be prepared to discuss:
1. Background and significance
2. Specific goals of the research (specific aims)
3. Work accomplished to date, including pertinent experiments that "did not work"
4. Future experiments (long and short term)

Thesis and Final Seminar

Upon completion of the thesis research, each student must prepare a formal written thesis, based on the guidelines provided by the Graduate Board of the University. Two readers must find the written thesis acceptable: the thesis advisor and another member of the Thesis Advisory Committee. Students must also present a formal public seminar on their research. The program office will schedule the final seminar. All University guidelines for thesis preparation must be met. More detailed information on this process is available in the program office.

The Graduate Program in Immunology offers a wide range of activities that serve to enrich the training experience. All students are required to participate in the program activities throughout their graduate career and this is a vital aspect of the training program.

Journal Club
Immunology Journal Club is intended to provide all graduate students in the Graduate Immunology Program the habit of reading a diverse range of immunology journal articles early in their graduate career. Presenters are generally encouraged to present new developments and findings that are less related to their research focus. This will allow participants to explore new areas of immunology, familiarize themselves with key investigators in the immunology field, and to develop sharp and valid criticism of sound experiments. This is an invaluable opportunity to keep abreast of new advances as well as hone one's presentation skills in an informal setting.

Annual Immunology Retreat
The Graduate Program in Immunology holds an annual fall retreat. This is a one-day activity on an off-site location. The day includes poster presentations by all immunology trainees (3rd year and above), a series of 5-6 short student oral presentations (4th years), and a keynote address by a distinguished invited speaker. This meeting provides students with an excellent opportunity to hone presentation skills in an informal retreat setting.

Immunology Floor Meeting
Students and faculty of the Graduate Program in Immunology gather regularly on Thursdays at 12:00pm for the “Immunology Floor Meeting”. At these meetings two speakers from different labs will each give a 30 minute presentation on their research in progress. These presentations are designed to allow for the exchange of ideas. The atmosphere is informal, and lunch is provided. The idea is to have people present, as if they were presenting at lab meeting, so we can exchange ideas at the frontier of our research. These are not to be highly polished presentations but a description of your project as it stands, with people encouraged to talk not just about exciting new results, but also about difficulties, troubleshooting, new techniques being attempted, ideas, etc. The speakers can be graduate students, post-docs, or even faculty members, and we hope the venue will be an excellent opportunity for honing our speaking skills.

Immunology Forum
Students are required to attend the Johns Hopkins Immunology Forum that is scheduled regularly on Tuesdays at 4PM. As an added bonus for the students, we provide lunch for the speaker and the students on Forum days. Seminar speakers come from various institutions in the United States and abroad and meet with faculty and trainees. Immunology students are given the opportunity to invite several speakers each year. On this date, the students extend the invitation, organize the schedule, and take them to dinner. The seminar coordinator will assist in this. Collectively these activities provide a powerful training opportunity, allowing trainees to not only hear an interesting seminar, but also to develop the skills and confidence enabling them to enter into scientific dialogue with a gifted scientist.

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