VCU Bulletins

Human Genetics, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Graduate program director
Rita Shiang, Ph.D.
Associate professor, Department of Human and Molecular Genetics
(804) 628-4083

Additional contact
Michael S. Grotewiel, Ph.D.
Director of admissions
(804) 628-4086

Program website:

Refer to the program search function of the online VCU Bulletins for a complete listing of all programs, concentrations and related curricular options.

Human Genetics, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) with a concentration in molecular biology and genetics
Human Genetics, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) with a concentration in quantitative human genetics
Human Genetics, Master of Science (M.S.)
Human Genetics, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)/Genetic Counseling, Master of Science (M.S.) [dual degree]
Human Genetics, Master of Science (M.S.) with a concentration in molecular biology and genetics

Apply online at

Admission requirements

Human Genetics, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

of entry:


Applications received prior to Jan 15 given priority consideration

Special requirements: International applicants must score 100 or greater on the TOEFL.

MCAT or DAT acceptable in lieu of GRE for combined professional/academic degree programs, but not for dual degree academic programs.

Applications for the program must be submitted to the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal – School of Medicine – Ph.D. selected from the drop-down menu of programs on the VCU online application form.

In addition to the general admission requirements of the VCU Graduate School, successful applicants will typically have the following credentials:

  1. A baccalaureate degree or its equivalent at the time of enrollment, with an undergraduate GPA of 3.5
  2. Current GRE scores (taken within the past five years), with scores at the 75th percentile or greater preferred
  3. TOEFL scores of 600 (pBT), 250 (cBT) or 100 (iBT) for individuals for whom English is a second language; or 6.5 on the IELTS (To report GRE or TOEFL score, use VCU Code 5570.)
  4. Personal statements, which should include: long-term career goals to assess reasons behind the candidate’s application; how a Ph.D. in biomedical science helps achieve those goals; the factors motivating a career in research; research experience, including dates, places and duration
  5. Three letters of recommendation that speak to the scientific competency and experience of the applicant
  6. The equivalent of two semesters of general chemistry, two semesters of organic chemistry and two semesters of upper-level biology courses (e.g. cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, neuroscience, physiology, biophysics, etc.)

The Department of Human and Molecular Genetics offers a comprehensive program in graduate study leading to a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Genetics. The program includes the completion of an original research project under the supervision of a faculty adviser and a background/foundation of courses that prepare students for research-oriented careers in the rapidly expanding field of human genetics. Major areas of study available to Ph.D. students in the program include clinical and molecular cytogenetics, molecular genetics, developmental genetics, cancer genetics, behavior genetics, population and quantitative genetics, genetic epidemiology, clinical genetics and genetic counseling. Once core course work requirements have been completed, the student’s course plan is tailored to meet individual needs with regard to the area of research focus. A concentration in quantitative human genetics is available for those planning a career in this area. For more detailed information on the program visit

VCU Graduate Bulletin, VCU Graduate School and general academic policies and regulations for all graduate students in all graduate programs

The VCU Graduate Bulletin website documents the official admission and academic rules and regulations that govern graduate education for all graduate programs at the university.  These policies are established by the graduate faculty of the university through their elected representatives to the University Graduate Council.

It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU Graduate Bulletin as well as the Graduate School website and academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites. However, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the VCU Graduate Bulletin and Graduate School websites, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

General academic regulations for
all graduate students in all graduate programs at VCU

Program goal

The program is designed to provide students with training in human and molecular genetics and with the skills required to advance to positions as researchers and trainers in a broad spectrum of positions in human and molecular genetics. The structure of the program provides a framework for the progressive development of a mastery of the current state of the subject matter in human and molecular genetics and an ability to synthesize this information and apply this foundation to the identification of key areas of investigation and experimentation in this discipline. The program relates the above framework to the development of the ability to design, implement and interpret experimental approaches which address the questions identified. In addition, the program will develop skills in the various means of communicating both the core of human and molecular genetics knowledge and the expression of experimental design, results and interpretation to a variety of potential audiences.

Student learning outcomes

  1. Oral communication skills: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of oral communication skills with respect to the content, organization, logical flow, presentation and appropriate use of language incorporating the use of visual aids, as measured by rubric.
  2. Written communication skills: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of written communication skill with respect to grammar, syntax, spelling and use of vocabulary to effectively present information including the use of figures, tables and citations as measured by rubric.
  3. Experimental design: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of competence in the ability to appraise, modify and/or create, and implement experimental protocols and to design and develop experiments as measured by rubric.
  4. Problem-solving skills: The candidate will demonstrate an appropriate level of skill in the identification and selection of meaningful problems to be addressed in research in human and molecular genetics, including the ability to defend said identifications and to design and develop appropriate methods to solve said problems as measured by rubric.
  5. Integrated knowledge of human and molecular genetics: The candidate will demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge of the current elements of human and molecular genetics as related to disciplinary specialization and a more detailed understanding of the individual area of scholarship, including an appropriate familiarity with the research literature and the ability to evaluate and critique publications as measured by rubric.

Degree requirements

In addition to the general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, students must complete a minimum of 86 graduate credit hours. The program requires at least three years of study for students entering with a B.S. or B.A. degree and must be completed within eight years.

The training programs in human and molecular genetics are intended to set the tone for a career and lifelong learning in human and molecular genetics by developing the student’s knowledge of the field and skills in writing, laboratory techniques, critical thinking, data interpretation, study design, literature research and review, and integration of data from multiple disciplines while fostering the student’s development as an independent researcher, laboratory director or teacher. These programs also seek to provide students with a core foundation of knowledge that will equip them to carry out translational research and for later work leading to certification by the American Board of Medical Genetics.

Students working toward the Ph.D. degree in human genetics pass through two stages of graduate study. The first stage consists primarily of course work recommended by the department and the student’s graduate committee; the second stage consists of original research leading to the doctoral dissertation. Ph.D. students are expected to complete the required course work within four semesters and one summer, and they are intended to set the tone of a lifelong research career. In order to be considered in good academic standing, a student must maintain a 3.0 grade point average. The focus then shifts to the student’s development as an independent researcher with emphasis being placed upon the development and execution of an original research project leading to the doctoral dissertation.

After the second year of study, students will take the Ph.D. candidacy examination. This exam comprises two parts, a departmental comprehensive examination and a written NIH-style application with an oral examination administered by the student’s graduate committee. Upon successfully completing the departmental comprehensive and the oral exam, the student is admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. At this point, students are expected to develop and conduct dissertation research projects and to write and defend their dissertations describing their dissertation research.

Curriculum requirements

Courses Credit hours
Required courses  
BIOC/MICR 503 Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology 5
BIOC/MICR 504 Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology 5
BIOS/STAT 543 Statistical Methods I 3
HGEN 501/BIOL 530 Human Genetics 3
HGEN 502 Advanced Human Genetics 3
HGEN 510 Classic Papers in Human Genetics 1
HGEN 606 Introduction to Clinical Genetics 1
HGEN 610 Current Literature in Human Molecular Genetics (one-credit course taken every fall and spring semester) variable
HGEN 614 Pathogenesis of Human Genetic Disease 3
HGEN 690 Genetics Research Seminar (one-credit course taken every semester beginning in the spring term of the first year of study) variable
IBMS 600 Laboratory Safety 1
IBMS 610 Laboratory Opportunities 0.5
IBMS 620 Laboratory Rotations (two-credit course taken for three rotations) 6
IBMS 680 Proposal Preparation 1
OVPR 601 Scientific Integrity, OVPR 602 Responsible Scientific Conduct or OVPR 603 Responsible Conduct of Research 1
All Ph.D. students are required to take at least two elective courses for a minimum of five credit hours. Electives include PATH 670 and courses at the 500 level or above in ANAT, BIOC, BIOL, BIOS, HGEN, MICR, NEUS, PHTX and PHIS excluding laboratory courses, courses specifically for professional programs (e.g. HGEN 600 Clinical Genetics), directed research, independent study, seminar or current topic courses, BNFO 621, MICR 608 and MICR 609. 5
Additional elective courses and directed research  
Additional elective courses and HGEN 697 Directed Research in Genetics (1-15 variable credit hours) are taken to reach the required minimum of 86 credit hours. variable
Total graduate credit hours required (minimum) 86

Typical plan of study

Many students often end up taking more than the minimum number of hours required for a degree program. The total number of hours may vary depending upon the program, nature of research being conducted by a study or in the enrollment or funding status of the student. Students should refer to their program websites and talk with their graduate program directors or advisers for information about typical plans of study and registration requirements.

Degree candidacy requirements

A graduate student admitted to a program or concentration requiring a final research project, work of art, thesis or dissertation, must qualify for continuing master’s or doctoral status according to the degree candidacy requirements of the student’s graduate program. Admission to degree candidacy, if applicable, is a formal statement by the graduate student’s faculty regarding the student’s academic achievements and the student’s readiness to proceed to the final research phase of the degree program.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following degree candidacy policy as published in the VCU Graduate Bulletin for complete information and instructions.

Degree candidacy requirements

Graduation requirements

As graduate students approach the end of their academic programs and the final semester of matriculation, they must make formal application to graduate. No degrees will be conferred until the application to graduate has been finalized.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following graduation requirements as published in the Graduate Bulletin for a complete list of instructions and a graduation checklist.

Graduation requirements

Other information

School of Medicine graduate program policies

The School of Medicine provides policies applicable to all programs administratively housed in the school. Information on doctoral programs is available in the Graduate Bulletin at



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