Ph.D. Program

scientist at work

"Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is an interdisciplinary program that offers training in a wide range of biological research areas. The Program is designed to provide students with a strong foundation of knowledge, enhanced critical thinking, an opportunity to perform high quality scientific research and develop communication skills, to prepare them for their successful professional career."

– Alessandra Sacco, Ph.D.
Vice Dean
Associate Dean of Student Affairs



Students are required to take five core courses, six tutorials and one elective by the end of their second year.

Core courses

  • Molecules to Systems (M2S)
    A ​broad based survey course designed for first year graduate students to obtain broad exposure to a variety of scientific approaches​ and research in a wide variety of scientific disciplines related to biomedicine. It is divided into five modules with approximately twenty faculty lecturers.

  • Ethics in Scientific Research
    Discussion based course on key ethical issues in scientific research.

  • Scientific Communication
    A key to a scientist’s career success is the ability to effectively communicate their research to various stakeholders through oral and written formats. The Scientific Communication course is an overview course designed for first-year graduate students to develop and enhance their scientific oral and written communication skills towards achieving their GSBS program milestones and effectively communicating their research to both scientific and non-scientific audiences.

  • Introductory Statistics
    Covers the statistical methods most commonly used in biomedical research.

  • Biological Databases as a Research Tool (BDRT)
    Provides introduction to several popular biological databases (UniProt, PDB, TCGA) and illustrates their role in the research process in structural biology, microbiology and medicine, with specific applications to cancer research.

  • Modern Drug Discovery Techniques (MDDT)
    Covers the basic principles of a wide range of drug discovery approaches using real examples including those ongoing at Sanford Burnham Prebys. Lecturers include faculty and staff involved in drug discovery as well as outside speakers from pharma and biotech.

  • Tutorials
    A hallmark of the Sanford Burnham Prebys Graduate Program and offer​ students the unique opportunity to study concentrated topics directly with a faculty member. Meetings are either one or two students with one faculty member. Students choose tutorials to tailor the program to their scientific interests.

GSBS Handbook 2023-2024 cover

GSBS Course Catalog 2023-2024 cover

Course catalog and student handbook

The Handbook (pdf) contains information about admission requirements, curriculum and student expectations and graduate requirements. The Course Catalog (pdf) contains descriptions of required courses, tutorials and electives for the graduate program.

Frequently asked questions

  1. What is unique about this program? 
    Discovering the roots of human biology set in the context of translational biomedical science, small class-size focused courses, high faculty to student ratio, individualized tutorials and a highly collaborative environment.
  2. What are the areas of research of the Graduate Program faculty?
    The areas of research vary for the program faculty. Please explore our website for more detailed information regarding research focus for each faculty member.
  3. Is this a full-time program?
    Am I able to work while completing the program? The Graduate Program is a full-time program. Most students are unable to take on additional, even part-time, commitments while completing this program.
  4. Do all students receive a stipend?
    All enrolled students in good academic standing receive a stipend. The stipend for the 2019-20 academic year is $34,000 per year.
  5. When are student stipends paid?
    Stipends are paid bi-monthly in accordance with the pay periods of Sanford Burnham Prebys. Students are paid on the 15th and the last day of the month. Should the 15th or the last day of the month fall on a weekend day, stipend checks will be issued on the Friday before the weekend. If a payday should fall on a holiday, stipend checks will normally be issued the day preceding the holiday.
  6. Does the Graduate School offer health benefits to students?
    Yes, students are offered the same health benefit plans as faculty and staff. The premium cost varies depending on the plan selected and the number of people covered.
  7. Does the program provide housing?
    At this time, we do not offer housing for students.
  8. Does the program offer childcare?
    The program does not offer childcare.
  9. How do I apply to the Graduate Program?
    Please visit the Prospective Students section of the website from more information on applying to our program.
  10. How long is the PhD program? How soon will I be able to graduate?
    The Graduate Program is completed in approximately 4.7 years.
  11. How many graduates has the program had?
    The Graduate Program began in 2006 and has 50 graduates as of August 2020.
  12. What is the program's retention rate?
    As of August 2019, the program's retention rate is 86% as of August 2020.
  13. How do I contact the Graduate Program?
    You may contact the Graduate Program by phone at (858) 646-3100 or by email at