Over the course of a GEMS PhD education, the majority of each student’s educational experiences will be unique. As the student progresses through a mentored research project seeking new knowledge and understanding in an area of biomedical research, the obstacles needed to be overcome, the knowledge needed to be learned, and the combination of experimental skills needed to be performed will be specific to each dissertation project. Each graduating PhD student should strive to be the world’s leading expert on their discrete research project. In addition, by definition, a worthwhile area of scientific exploration is not yet well understood and has unknowns associated with it. As such, the nature of a dissertation research project does not follow a predetermined course. Instead, students must navigate through unknowns with the guidance of mentors, and ultimately take control, or “drive”, the project to a completion point. The student’s learning through this process provides the core of a GEMS PhD. This degree represents more than attaining deep knowledge in an area; it indicates the skills and capabilities of being able to develop significant new understanding in an area that was previously filled with unknowns.

GEMS curriculum has been designed to maximize student learning during the individualized, mentored research phase of the PhD experience. Prior to joining a lab at the end of the first year, GEMS students are required to perform three lab rotations. During the rotation periods, students experience the lab environment, research area and techniques, all of which help students make informed decisions on joining a lab for their thesis dissertation research. Also in the first year, all GEMS students are required to take the GEMS 500/501 Foundations of Biomedical Sciences course. Foundations of Biomedical Sciences is the primary core course that focuses on skill and competency development while providing a core cannon of knowledge needed to conduct modern biomedical research. Methods courses (GEMS 504/505) introduce students to new methods via a modular course design. Altogether, the first year GEMS curriculum prepares students to enter their dissertation lab with skills and knowledge needed to initiate a research project and form the foundation of their PhD education.

After the first year, curriculum becomes more individualized. Students are required to take three elective or research concentration-specific courses prior to completing their PhD. Two of these electives should be from the student’s research concentration, providing the student flexibility to choose topics and areas to learn via a structured course. Individual learning experiences comprise the bulk of the curriculum and include: the qualification exam in the form of a mock grant proposal paving the way for fellowship submissions, thesis committee meetings enabling interactions and guidance from a group of GEMS faculty focused on the student’s research, research presentations providing opportunities to engage colleagues and hone presentation skills, and finally the written thesis dissertation and public thesis defense and conferring of the PhD.