Pharmacology and Molecular Signaling

Program Category: PhD Programs

Director of Graduate Studies: Susan Steinberg


Email Address: BiomedicalSciences [at]

Please note: The degree for this program is conferred by GSAS, but program specifics, such as admissions, degree requirements, and financial aid, are administered by other schools of the university. This program is located on the Health Sciences campus in the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Pharmacology is a unique basic science in that it bridges the most fundamental research questions with the goal of providing new and improved therapeutic interventions to manage disease processes. Hence, as a discipline, areas of research encompassed by Pharmacology are broad and diverse. At Columbia, the pharmacology program occupies a unique position in that strong research programs exist in neurobiology behavior, cancer, and cardiovascular research, and in each area strong collaborative and synergistic interactions exist with the faculty's clinical colleagues. The opportunities for biomedical research in pharmacology at Columbia are virtually boundless.

An interdisciplinary training program in pharmacology and molecular signaling leads to the PhD degree. The program has been designed to provide maximum flexibility so that students can gain a strong foundation in chemistry, biochemistry, and cellular and molecular biology and apply this background in a wide variety of laboratory experiences. The program requires a core of courses that integrate well with requirements of other departments at the Health Sciences so that interactions with students and faculty in other departments are facilitated. Additional work in laboratory rotations, journal club, departmental seminars, and reading assignments with members of the faculty is designed to provide students with a strong background and also to help with the process of selecting a thesis topic. After successful completion of the qualifying examination, students work with faculty sponsors and thesis committees to design and conduct dissertation research and write and defend a dissertation. The goal of the program is to prepare the students for careers as independent scientists and teachers with broad backgrounds in modern molecular and systems pharmacology.

The program includes faculty from the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Signaling as well the departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Chemistry, Microbiology, Neurology, Neuroscience, Pathology and Cell Biology Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, and Psychiatry. Much research in the program focuses on basic molecular interactions between drug molecules and target proteins in order to provide fundamental information that will lead to the discovery of more selective and effective therapeutic approaches to disease management. Opportunities exist for investigation of gene-directed therapies in the treatment of inherited disorders using biophysical as well as bioinformatics approaches to the problems.

Current research interests of the faculty fall into five broad categories: cancer biology, neuropharmacology, molecular cardiology, structural and chemical pharmacology, and signal transduction. Research opportunities currently include, but are not limited to, the development of chemical probes to investigate protein-protein interactions; prediction of protein structure based on genetic message; investigation of the molecular architecture of signaling molecules; investigation of the genetic basis of behavior and the development of brain disorders in mice; structure/function studies of G-protein coupled receptors; and probing the molecular pharmacology of inherited cardiac arrhythmias. Most of the questions addressed by faculty at the cellular and molecular level are also being addressed at the systems level using appropriate models in which genetic manipulation allows testing the effects of gene-specific strategies on systems function. It is the fundamental philosophy of the program to encourage broad interactions between laboratories, both within and outside of the program, so as to promote new ideas and approaches through synergistic and collaborative research. In this manner, and with the unified approach to graduate education at Columbia, students can design research opportunities in pharmacology in virtually any scientific area of biomedical science.

Students in the program have the option of doing a research rotation in private industry, either at a Johnson & Johnson research site or at Sanofi-Aventis. Students can also apply to participate in a clinical training program in which they interact with clinicians in learning about the translation of research findings into therapies. This program is designed to mesh with the thesis research.

Special Admissions Requirements: 

Admission is based on the student’s previous academic performance, GRE score (general test), letters of recommendation, and interviews with members of the program. Ordinarily, preference is given to students who have a background in biology or chemistry, with a year of mathematics through calculus.

Degree Programs: Full Time