Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP - M.D./Ph.D.)-Department of Biological Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

Medical Scientist Training Program

Program Description

The Department of Biological Sciences participates in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) sponsored jointly by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. The mission of this M.D./Ph.D. program, funded partly by the National Institutes of Health, seeks to train talented students to become physician-scientists in an environment that integrates superlative medical education and customized graduate work in biomedical research. Interested students should apply simultaneously to both the MSTP and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Applications to the program are reviewed by both the medical school admissions committee and a separate inter-university admissions committee. Upon acceptance to both the the MSTP and the School of Medicine, students choose a faculty mentor for their Ph.D. studies from among a variety of programs at both universities.

Selecting a Research Advisor

During or after the third rotation, the student chooses one of Carnegie Mellon's MSTP training faculty mentor with whom to complete their thesis work. Every effort is made to give students their first choice; this match involves mutual agreement between the student and the faculty member, and requires approval. Once a student joins a lab in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon, they join the graduate student body.

Laboratory Rotations

Because they are joining the department and a laboratory simultaneously, MSTP students are not required to participate in additional laboratory rotations in the department.


After joining the Department of Biological Sciences, MSTP students are required to take two graduate level courses during their first year. The courses, relevant to the student’s research, are chosen by the student in discussion with their faculty advisor. Additional coursework may be undertaken if appropriate.

All graduate students attend the Departmental Research Seminar and participate in the weekly Graduate Research Seminar (Journal Club). These series comprise a variety of presentations by outside scientists, Carnegie Mellon faculty and students, permitting a penetrating look at varied scientific disciplines and contemporary investigative approaches. Students also attend various informal seminars whose topics range from scientific integrity and ethics to professional development.

Qualifying Examinations

In keeping with the accelerated pace of the graduate training, MSTP students take the 2nd qualifying exam–the Thesis Proposal Defense–during the spring of their first year instead of during their second year. The deadline is June 1.

The Thesis Proposal Defense consists of the preparation and defense of a doctoral thesis proposal. The examination is administered by a Research Advisory Committee (RAC), chosen by the student and comprising the Research Advisor and two faculty members with relevant expertise in an allied field. Each student prepares a written 15-page thesis proposal outlining a research thesis project and demonstrating understanding of the background material, rationale, experimental design and methods underlying the proposed project. The proposal is then presented orally to the RAC.

Teaching Requirements

During their second year, students serve as TAs for one biology course.

Thesis Requirements

MSTP students begin research for their doctoral thesis upon joining the department. The RAC meets formally with each student at yearly intervals to discuss progress and to provide guidance. After their first year and in all subsequent years, students present their work-in-progress at various Departmental seminars to gain additional feedback.

During the final year of research, the Thesis Committee is appointed for each student; this committee consists of the members of the RAC and an additional scientist not holding a faculty appointment in the department. To receive the Ph.D. degree, each student must write and publicly defend a Doctoral Dissertation, which should make a significant contribution to science and contain material worthy of publication.

All requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed within six years of entering the program.

Summer First Lab Rotation
Medical School 1 (MS1)
Fall/Spring 1
First Year of Medical School
Summer 2 Second Lab Rotation
Medical School 2 (MS2) Second Year of Medical School
Summer 3 Third Lab Rotation and 1st Clinical Clerkship
Graduate School (G1-G6) Ph.D. in Biological Sciences Program
Medical School 3 (MS3) Third Year of Medical School
Medical School 4 (MS4) Fourth Year of Medical School


Nathan Urban, Ph.D.