Combined Degree Curriculum

There are five required courses for CAMB Combined Degree students: Case Studies in Translational Research (BIOM 5100), Cell Biology and Biochemistry (BIOM 6000), Regulation of the Genome (BIOM 5550), Data Analysis for Life Sciences (BIOM 6100), and Topics in Molecular Medicine (CAMB 5420). CAMB 542 is taught in the fall of the first year, concurrent with the first-year medical curriculum. Combined degree students do an independent study during the spring of the first year and BIOM 5100 in the fall of the second year. In the third year, Combined Degree students do a year of full-time course work, including BIOM 6000 in the fall and BIOM 5550 in the spring, plus additional seminar/lecture courses that are program requirements or electives. It is recommended that BIOM 6100 be taken during the spring of the fourth year, but the course may be taken in year 3 with permission of the program.

  • Five core courses: CAMB 5420, BIOM 5100, BIOM 5550, BIOM 6000, BIOM 6100 or the equivalent (~5 c.u.)
  • Independent Study: CAMB 7990 (1 c.u.)
  • Two or Three laboratory rotations: CAMB 6990 (~2-3 c.u.)
  • Pre-Dissertation Research (CAMB 8990) or any of the above (4-6 c.u.)

Typical Course Timetable | Required Course Descriptions | Independent Study | Lab Rotations

Typical Combined Degree Course Timetable

  Fall Spring Summer
Year 1 CAMB 5420 CAMB 7990 (Independent Study)
or Program Elective
Lab Rotation #1
Year 2 BIOM 5100 No CAMB activity No CAMB activity
Year 3 BIOM 6000
Program Requirements or Electives
Lab Rotation #2
Lab Rotation #3 (Optional)
BIOM 5550
Program Requirements or Electives
Pre-Dissertation Research
Preliminary Examination
Dissertation research
Year 4+ BIOM 6100
Dissertation research
Dissertation research Dissertation research
Program-specific Requirements and Electives

Each of the six programs makes specific recommendations for appropriate introductory and advanced electives. Requirements and examples of courses for each program are given on the individual Program Academic webpages. See: CB, CPM, DSRB, G&E, GTV, MVP.
These courses are subject to change, and new courses are continually being added. For the specific courses given each term see the current course listings at BGS Courses and Curricula.

Typical Course Timetable | Required Course Descriptions | Independent Study | Lab Rotations

Descriptions of Required Courses

  1. BIOM 5100: Case Studies in Translational Research
    • BIOM 5100 is a student-led, faculty-supported exploration of the role of physician-scientists in bench to bedside translational medicine. We will examine 5 case studies of translational research using investigators from Penn and industry as preceptors. The course design, which was pilot-tested last year and revised for this year, requires active involvement by all of the students on all of the case studies, working in small teams in which students will rotate as team leader. The course directors and case preceptors have chosen the topics, but the members of each week’s lead team will be responsible for selecting and guiding deliverables. Please see the CSTR website for more details/ the syllabus. Offered fall semester.
      You can also refer to the BIOM 5100 Course Catalog page.
  2. BIOM 5550: Regulation of the Genome
    • Regulation of gene expression including chromatin structure, transcription, DNA modification, RNA processing, translation, control of gene expression via microRNAs and post translational processing. Offered spring semester.
      You can also refer to the BIOM 5550 Course Catalog page.
  3. BIOM 6000: Cell Biology and Biochemistry
    • BIOM 6000 is an intermediate level graduate course designed to introduce students to the molecular components and physiological mechanisms that underlie the structure and function of cells. The course is designed as an in depth survey to cover general concepts central to the field of biochemistry and cell biology and to emphasize these concepts within the context of current scientific research questions and technical approaches. Offered fall semester.
      You can also refer to the BIOM 6000 Course Catalog page.
  4. BIOM 6100: Data Analysis for Life Sciences or the equivalent
    • Technological advances have transformed fields that rely on data by providing a wealth of information ready to be analyzed. From working with single genes to comparing entire genomes, biomedical research groups around the world are producing more data than they can handle and the ability to interpret this information is a key skill for any practitioner. The skills necessary to work with these massive datasets are in high demand, and this course will help you learn those skills. Using the open-source R programming language, you'll gain a nuanced understanding of the tools required to work with complex life sciences and genomics data. You'll learn the mathematical concepts -- and the data analytics techniques -- that you need to drive data- driven research. From a strong foundation in statistics to specialized R programming skills, this course will lead you through the data analytics landscape step-by-step. Taught by Rafael Irizarry from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and offered through the Harvard partnership with, this four part course will enable new discoveries and will help you improve individual and population health. If you're working in the life sciences and want to learn how to analyze data, enroll now to take your research to the next level. Offered spring semester.
      You can also refer to the BIOM 6100 Course Catalog page.
  5. CAMB 5420: Topics in Molecular Medicine (TIMM)
    • TiMM is planned as a once-weekly seminar course whose goal is to introduce students to the ways in which biomedical research can provide new insights into clinical medicine and, conversely, how knowledge of clinical disease impacts scientific discovery. There are two sections for the course: 401 and 402. Section 401 is for first year MD/PhD students only and section 402 is for VMD/PhD and PhD students. Please see the TTIM website for more details/ the syllabus. Offered fall semester.
      You can also refer to the CAMB 5420 Course Catalog page.

Typical Course Timetable | Required Course Descriptions | Independent Study | Lab Rotations

Independent Study Projects (CAMB 7990)

The Independent Study offers a less formal mode for CD students to begin graduate studies. The format of the Independent Study is flexible, typically consisting of guided readings from the scientific literature followed by weekly in-depth discussion with the chosen faculty member. The Independent Study is taken during the spring semester of the first year, at the end of the semester, the student writes a paper or makes a formal presentation, which is evaluated and graded by the faculty advisor. The student may chose to perform the first lab rotation with the Independent Study mentor, or may chose a different mentor for the first lab rotation.

Typical Course Timetable | Required Course Descriptions | Independent Study | Lab Rotations

Laboratory Rotations (CAMB 6990)

The purpose of the lab rotations is to get experience in specific laboratories that will eventually lead to the choice of a thesis laboratory. Such experience goes far beyond learning techniques; it is an opportunity for the student to determine whether they are compatible with the lab and the mentor.
Combined degree students are required to do two 9-week laboratory rotations, with an optional third rotation. Following the completion of two successful rotations, students will be allowed, with the approval of CAMB and CD advisors, to select and join their thesis lab. The typical schedule of rotations for the 2022-23 academic year is as follows:

  • Lab Rotation #1: Summer after first year, June 14 - August 20
  • Lab Rotation #2: Third year fall term, August 29 - October 20
  • Optional Lab Rotation #3: Third year fall term, October 24 - December 15

Please see the 2023-24 Third Year MD-PhD Student Schedule for further reference.

There is a possibility of completing a rotation the summer before one enters medical school.
If a student selects a thesis lab at the completion of the second rotation, they must register for a 9-week period of pre-dissertation research in the chosen thesis lab starting no later than October 23.
Please refer to the PhD Curriculum Lab Rotations section for more general information, and for the rotation Grading Guidelines.