PhD in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program prepares students for careers in academia and advanced scientific research at a variety of types of institutions. The PhD in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology emphasizes research in molecular and neuro-pharmacology, receptor pharmacology and biochemical and oxidant toxicology.

What do MPTX students do?

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Applications for admission are reviewed by the Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Admissions Committee of the School of Pharmacy and are evaluated on the basis of academic excellence and commitment to scientific research.

Candidates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in pharmacy, chemistry, biology or other related disciplines are invited to apply. Applicants must have demonstrated proficiency in verbal and written English and in fundamental scientific areas such as organic and physical chemistry, biochemistry, biology, mathematics, statistics and computer science.

Admission Criteria

The Admissions Committee will consider applications based on the following factors:

1. Overall Grade Point Average (GPA)
A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required. Special attention is given to the grades achieved in science courses relevant to the program (e.g., chemistry, biology, biochemistry, pharmacology and mathematics).

2. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Score
GRE scores of 153 Quantitative and 144 Verbal (new exam) or a combined Verbal and Quantitative GRE score of 1000 (old exam) are required. However, priority for financial support is given to applicants with GRE scores of at least 308 (new exam) or 1200 (old exam).

3. Letters of Recommendation
Three letters from faculty knowledgeable about the student’s ability and capability are required. These letters should provide a thorough assessment of the student’s experience in laboratory research, ability to communicate in verbal and written English, motivation and creativity, and other qualities in the student’s academic performance.

4. TOEFL Scores for International Applicants
A minimum TOEFL (computer based) score of 213 is required. A score of 250 is highly competitive for admission and financial support. An IELTS score of 7 is competitive; and an IBT minimum score of 100, with at least 20 in each section, is required.

5. Research and Professional Experience
Students’ research and professional experience as cited in their application, résumé (if provided), published manuscripts and letters of reference will be evaluated to assess background preparation for success within the PhD program.

Application Deadline

Applications may be submitted anytime between September 1 and January 1—the deadline for consideration for admission for the following fall semester. Applicants will be reviewed as their applications are received, beginning in the fall. Early acceptance will be offered to outstanding applicants.

Consideration for certain USC Scholarships and Fellowships begins in December. Applications must be received by December 1 to receive full consideration for these opportunities.

Admission decisions will continue to be made until the class is filled, usually by mid to late spring. Applications are only considered for admission beginning in the fall term, except under exceptional circumstances.

Graduate Program Application

Financial Aid

Students accepted into the USC School of Pharmacy PhD program are typically provided financial aid including full tuition remission and a stipend to cover living expenses (currently $35,256 for 12 months).

Fellowships, teaching assistantships and research assistantships are awarded on a competitive basis to qualified PhD candidates. Half-time fellows and teaching assistants receive full tuition remission up to 12 units per semester including summer, while quarter-time positions receive up to 8 units of tuition remission per semester including summer.

Health Care Coverage

As a PhD candidate, you will receive health care coverage information as part of your financial-aid package once you are accepted to a graduate program. If you hold a teaching or research assistantship, your health insurance and your USC health center fee will be paid.


The USC Graduate program will award funds toward travel expenses for those students who are invited to present a paper or poster. There is a limit of one to two trips per student per year, depending on availability of funds. In addition, the USC School of Pharmacy Graduate Program may fund a majority of a student’s travel expenses to an international conference, depending on availability of funds.


For more information, please contact the School of Pharmacy Graduate Affairs Office at (323) 442-1474 or

Requirements for Degree Completion

Units Required

A minimum of 60 units is required for the PhD degree. At least 24 units of course work are required at the 500 level or above (see Course Offerings below), exclusive of seminar and directed research. The guidance committee may require more than 24 units of course work. A minimum of 12 of these units must be taken in courses in the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The remaining 36 units may be fulfilled with other courses, directed research and dissertation. Each student’s program is personalized to meet his/her needs and interests.

Laboratory Rotation Program

Students are required to participate in a laboratory rotation program during their first year of residence at the School of Pharmacy. The objective of this program is to provide each student with an opportunity to gain experience in ongoing research in several laboratories before selecting a research advisor. Students will rotate through at least two laboratories during their first-year enrollment in the program. Students are required to submit a progress report upon completing each rotation.

Teaching Semester

All PhD students are required to participate in at least one semester of supervised teaching in the School of Pharmacy in the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program. Most students will be supported as teaching assistants during their first two years in the PhD program.

Graduate Seminar

All first-year PhD candidate students will be required to register for the School-wide seminar course, entailing regular attendance at the departmental and other scheduled seminar sessions. Students in their second year or above may be required to present at least one departmental seminar per year.

Qualifying Examination Prerequisite

Students will be required to pass and written and oral qualifying exams at the end of their second year in the program. Before permission is granted to sit for the qualifying examination, all students must complete the 24 required units as stated above, with no grades lower than “C” and with an overall GPA of 3.0 or better. The qualifying exam is given in two parts. The written exam must be passed before the student may progress to the oral exam. An interval of no more than 60 days is provided between the written and oral qualifying exams.


Each student must satisfactorily complete a thesis/dissertation, based on an original investigation, under the direct supervision of a faculty member. Presentation and oral defense of an acceptable dissertation is required for PhD candidates.

Course Offerings

Graduate students are expected to possess knowledge in various areas of pharmaceutical sciences. The following are graduate courses offered by the department of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences (some courses are not offered every year):

  • PSCI 599 Pharmacogenomics
  • PSCI 599 Proteomics
  • PSCI 651 Advanced Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • PSCI 652L Structure-Activity Relationship & Drug Design
  • PSCI 653L Spectrometry in Biomedicine
  • PSCI 654L Computing Applications in Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • PSCI 655 Immunopharmaceutics
  • PSCI 662 Advanced Pharmacokinetics
  • PSCI 663 Dosage Form Design & Evaluation
  • PSCI 664 Drug Discovery and Design
  • PSCI 665 Drug Transport and Delivery
  • PSCI 666 Molecular Structural Biology
  • PSCI 667 Intracellular Drug Delivery and Targeting
  • PSCI 671 Drug Metabolism (Morphology)

The following are graduate courses offered in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology:

  • MPTX 500 Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • MPTX 501 Toxicology of Oxidants and Free Radicals
  • MPTX 601 Methods in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • MPTX 602 Sciences, Research and Ethics

The following are graduate courses offered for the Health Sciences Campus as “campus-wide” general courses:

  • INTD 531 Cell Biology
  • INTD 561 Biochemistry
  • INTD 571 Molecular Genetics
  • PHBI 562 Systems and Integrative Physiology

USC Course Catalogue

For Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSCI) and Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology (MPTX) courses, see School of Pharmacy

For Interdepartmental (INTD) and Physiology and Biophysics (PHBI) courses, see Keck School of Medicine.

USC Course Catalogue

Schedule of Classes

For course availability for the current year see the Schedule of Classes.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact the School of Pharmacy Graduate Affairs Office at (323) 442-1474 or