PhD in Molecular Pathology

The Molecular Pathology graduate program has merged with the Molecular Medicine and Translational Science (MMTS) graduate program and is no longer enrolling new students. Students interested in Molecular Pathology research should apply to MMTS through Track 4 of the Wake Forest University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.



The Molecular Pathology graduate program was founded in 1969 as the first interdisciplinary graduate program at Wake Forest University. At that time the program was called "Comparative and Experimental Pathology" and was jointly administered by the Departments of Pathology and Comparative Medicine.
With the advent of molecular approaches and an increased emphasis on understanding the molecular pathogenesis of diseases, the program's name was changed to "Molecular and Cellular Pathobiology" in the 1980s and more recently to "Molecular Pathology." In 1998, the Departments of Comparative Medicine and Pathology were merged and administration of the graduate program was consolidated within the Department of Pathology. With the reorganization of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2011, Molecular Pathology became affiliated with the Molecular and Cellular Bioscience (MCB) interdisciplinary track (Track 4) which, along with five other graduate programs, has adopted an integrated first year curriculum.
Although the Molecular Pathology program is administered by the Department of Pathology, it remains a highly interdisciplinary graduate program with training and support faculty drawn from many other departments including: 

Goals and Objectives:

Molecular Pathology is an interdisciplinary graduate program designed to provide advanced training in modern biomedical sciences, including biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, functional genomics, metabolism, physiology, experimental pathology, and statistics. Research in Molecular Pathology focuses on mechanisms of energy homeostasis, lipid metabolism, signaling, and inflammation, and how these processes contribute to chronic human diseases, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer, with the goal of identifying new approaches for prevention and therapy. 

The principal goal of our graduate program is to train students for careers in research and teaching. The strong emphasis on research training enables our graduates to successfully compete for biomedical research careers in academia, industry, and foundations. To accomplish our goal, we offer formal course work in basic biomedical sciences and research training in Pathobiology, the study of fundamental mechanisms of disease processes. We have several specific training objectives that include: 

  • giving students a strong didactic foundation in biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology, genetics, pathology, physiology, and statistics;
  • transforming students into critical and independent thinkers;
  • enhancing written and oral communication skills; and
  • developing students’ professional skills.

These objectives are met through interdisciplinary course work, participation in seminars, journal clubs, and lab meetings, presentations at regional and national meetings, the writing of research proposals and manuscripts and interaction with visiting scientists locally and at national meetings. Most of our PhD students graduate with at least 2-3 peer-reviewed, first-author manuscripts as well as presentations at national meetings.

The Molecular Pathology graduate program at Wake Forest University is ranked in the top 20% of pathology graduate programs nationally with regard to a faculty productivity index based on publications, grants, citations, and awards (Academic Analytics FSP 2008 data as of June 21, 2011). Please refer to the student awards, honors, and presentations section of the webpage for more information.

Requirements for the PhD Degree:

Required courses:

Required courses have been designed to provide a firm, interdisciplinary foundation in the biomedical sciences, yet allow flexibility for students to select electives of interest. All first year students matriculate as members of MCB and are enrolled in the Track 4 common curriculum, which includes three required core courses and three program-specific electives. Each student also participates in three laboratory rotations. After the first year, students choosing Molecular Pathology (Mol Path) will take courses that fulfill the Mol Path program requirements. An overview of the Molecular Pathology graduate program, including the Track 4 first year curriculum and Molecular Pathology electives, is provided below.

1st year - Fall MCB

  • MCB 700 Analytical Skills (August)
  • MCB 701 Macromolecular Synthesis, Structure & Function, Gene Expression & Genetics
  • MCB 761 (elective) Pathobiology of Atherosclerosis and Cardiovascular Disease *
  • GRAD 713 Scientific Professionalism: Scientific Integrity
  • Complete Lab rotation 1 (MCB 703) and start Lab rotation 2 (MCB 704)

1st year - Spring MCB

  • MCB 702 Cell Structure/Cell Communication, Organ Systems Integration- Physiology & Pathology
  • MCB 762 (elective) Lipid Metabolism in Chronic Human Diseases*
  • MCB 763 (elective) Fundamentals of Pathology*
  • GRAD 714 Scientific Professionalism: Scientific Integrity
  • GRAD 701 Seminars in Professional and Career Development
  • Continue and complete Lab rotation 2 (MCB 704) and complete Lab rotation 3 (MCB 705)

1st year - Summer Mol Path

  • Choose lab and begin dissertation research
  • PATH 730 Research
  • PATH 713 Advanced Readings in Pathology
  • Attend Journal Club and Molecular Pathology weekly seminars

2nd year - Fall Mol Path  

  • CPTS 730 Introduction to Statistics (instructor permission required)*   
  • PATH 729 Research 
  • Electives. See electives section, below  
  • Attend Journal Club and Molecular Pathology weekly seminars  
  • Establish Research Advisory Committee  

2nd year - Spring Mol Path  

  • MMTS-PATH 724 Scientific Development and the Business of Science*    
  • PATH 728 Molecular Pathology Seminar (1st required seminar presentation)* 
  • MCB 762 (elective) Lipid Metabolism in Chronic Human Diseases* (If not taken in first year)
  • MCB 763 (elective) Fundamentals of Pathology* (If not taken in the first year) 
  • PATH 730 Research    
  • Electives. See electives section below  
  • Attend Journal Club and Molecular Pathology weekly seminars 

2nd year - Summer Mol Path  

  • PATH 730 Research    
  • Preliminary Exam - Write NIH style proposal and defend  
  • Attend Journal Club and Molecular Pathology weekly seminars 

3rd-5th year Mol Path

  • PATH 728 Molecular Pathology Seminar (2nd and 3rd required seminar presentation)*   
  • PATH 730 Research  
  • Attend Journal Club and Molecular Pathology weekly seminars    
  • Meet with Research Advisory Committee ~ every 6 months or as required   
  • End of 5th year (flexible, depending on progress)- write dissertation and final defense of dissertation research  

Elective Courses:

Additional elective courses that Molecular Pathology students may take:    

  • MCB 761 Pathobiology of Atherosclerosis and Cardiovascular Disease *    
  • MCB 762 Lipid Metabolism in Chronic Human Diseases *   
  • MCB 763 Fundamentals of Pathology *  
  • BICM 706 Intracellular Signaling    
  • BICM 740 Drug Discovery, Design, and Development- Molecules to Medicines  
  • CABI 701 Molecular Pathogenesis of Cancer 
  • CABI 704 Cell Biology of Cancer  
  • MICR 705 Fundamentals of Immunology 
  • MOGN 721 Computational Analysis in Molecular Biology   
  • PATH 719 Microscopic Research Techniques  

Please refer to the Graduate Bulletin for a detailed description of each course.

*Required courses for students who enter the Molecular Pathology Program.  Required courses, except seminars, must be completed during years 1 and 2 before students can take their preliminary exam.

Preliminary Exam:

Each student must successfully pass a preliminary exam to advance to PhD candidacy. To be eligible for the preliminary examination, students must have an overall grade point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale). The preliminary examination should be completed by the end of the student’s second academic year. The preliminary examination must be passed at least 12 months prior to the date of the awarding of the PhD degree. All course work need not be completed before the examination, but at least 75-85% should be completed and all required courses for our program must be completed.

Time Table for Preliminary Exam for Second Year Students  

  • May: Pre-Proposal submitted to Program Director and Preliminary Exam Committee appointed    
  • May: Pre-proposal approved or revised    
  • June-July: Research proposal written    
  • August 1: Research proposal submitted to committee and preliminary exams scheduled   
  • August-September: Oral preliminary exams completed    

The preliminary examination consists of an oral examination administered by a Preliminary Examination Committee. The oral exam consists of a defense of the student’s research proposal, which is written using the same format specified by the National Institute of Health (NIH). The student may choose a research topic, which may or may not be the subject of the dissertation research. At least three months prior to the date of the preliminary examination, the student must submit a pre-proposal to the Chairperson of the Preliminary Examination Committee. Included in the pre-proposal should be a statement of the hypothesis, rationale, specific aims and a description of the experimental approach without including details of methodology. The pre-proposal typically is no longer than two single-spaced pages.

Within one week of submission, the committee will either approve or reject the pre-proposal. If the pre-proposal is rejected, the Preliminary Examination Committee will meet with the student to address the deficiencies and provide guidance for remediation. Following approval of the pre-proposal, the student will prepare a detailed written research proposal following NIH guidelines. Preparation of the written proposal must be completed within two months of approval of the pre-proposal. The final proposal must be submitted to the committee 2 weeks prior to the scheduled date of the examination, which is determined by the student and Chair of the Examining Committee.

The outcome of the oral exam is determined by the Examining Committee. In case of failure, the committee can recommend that the student be dropped from the program or that reexamination be allowed. A second examination will be scheduled no earlier than six months from the date of the first examination. A student may be reexamined only once.

Upon successful completion of the preliminary exam, the student is promoted to PhD degree candidacy status by the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.


The candidate shall prepare a dissertation embodying results of the investigative efforts in his or her field of research concentration with supervision by the student’s Research Advisory Committee. Students may choose to include submitted, accepted for publication, or published manuscripts as chapters in the dissertation. Please refer to the Graduate School guidelines for more information on the format of the dissertation. A final copy of the dissertation must be submitted to the Dean of the Graduate School at least four weeks prior to the proposed defense date and distributed to the Final Examination Committee at least three weeks before the final examination. The chairperson of the Final Examination Committee will poll the committee at least ten days before the proposed date of the examination to determine the acceptability of the dissertation.

Final Examination:

The Final Examination Committeefor the PhD dissertation is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School and consists of at least five members of the graduate faculty. With the approval of his or her adviser, a student may recommend a faculty member from outside the department or program who will serve as the Chair of the Final Examination Committee. The dissertation adviser must justify the participation of external experts who are not members of the graduate faculty on the basis of research, publications and/or professional activities. If the external expert is to be a voting and signing member of the Final Examination Committee, the adviser must communicate to the Dean of the Graduate School, in writing, the qualifications of the external expert. Other faculty members may attend the final examination and participate in the questioning. The Final Examination, which is held no later than ten days before graduation usually involves the delivery of a seminar followed by questions and discussions directed by the Final Examinaton Committee. After the examination of the degree candidate, the chair will ask each of the members of the examining committee whether the candidate has passed unconditionally, passed upon rectifying deficiencies (major or minor), or failed (refer to the Graduate Bulletin for more details).

Student Committees:

Research Advisory Committee

A Research Advisory Committee is formed to guide the student in the planning and conduct of his or her dissertation research. Within six months after choosing a research adviser, the student in consultation with his or her adviser submits to the Program Director the names of faculty they wish to serve on the student’s Research Advisory Committee. The Research Advisory Committee consists of the student’s adviser and at least three other members of the graduate faculty. The committee should consist of faculty who can adequately judge the quality and quantity of research performed by the student and help advise the student on solutions to experimental problems that may arise during the course of experimentation. The committee can also aid the student in professional development.  
The Research Advisory Committee is appointed by the Program Director based on the recommendations of the student and adviser and on the need to balance faculty effort on various committees. To achieve continuity in students’ education and development, there will be significant overlap in the composition of the Research Advisory Committee, the Preliminary Examination Committee and the Final Examination Committee.

The Research Advisory Committee will ideally meet at least once every six months after the Committee is formed until the student graduates to review student progress. The student is responsible for arranging the meeting.

Preliminary Examination Committee

The Preliminary Examination Committee is appointed by the Program Director with input from the student and adviser. The committee usually includes at least three members of the Molecular Pathology graduate faculty. However, up to two members of the Wake Forest University Graduate faculty from outside the Molecular Pathology graduate program may serve to cover particular areas of expertise. The chair of the Preliminary Examination Committee is charged with organizing and overseeing the exam and is appointed by the Program Director. The student’s research adviser is not a member of the committee and can only participate in the exam as an observer.

Final Examination Committee

A Final Examination Committee is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School upon the recommendation of the Program Director and consists of the following five members of the graduate faculty: the chairperson of the major department or a faculty member chosen by the chairperson, the student’s adviser, another member of the major department, a representative from within or outside the department who possesses relevant expertise, and a member from outside the major department who represents the Graduate Council and who serves as chairperson.

Evaluation of Progress:

The progress of all students in the Molecular Pathology program will be evaluated at the end of each semester by the Program Director. A student who does not maintain a 3.0 GPA will be notified by the Dean of the Graduate School in writing that he/she is on probation. If, after the following semester, the GPA remains below 3.0, the student will be notified by the Program Director of pending dismissal. Formal action for dismissal, however, will be taken only after the student’s program and progress have been reviewed by a Curriculum committee of the Molecular Pathology graduate faculty appointed by the Program Director. To facilitate this, the student first should discuss the deficiency with the Curriculum committee and a plan to resolve the deficiency must be brought to the full faculty. 

For the student to continue in the program the full faculty must, by a majority vote, approve the remediation plan. If the faculty votes not to continue the student, a letter to this effect must be sent to the Dean of the Graduate School indicating that the student no longer meets the Molecular Pathology Graduate Program's criteria for continuation. This step is necessary because it is only if a student falls below a 2.5 GPA that he/she is no longer eligible to continue based on the graduate school’s policy. A graduate program, however, may have more rigorous requirements. Consistent with the policy of the Wake Forest University Graduate School, if at any time a student’s GPA falls below 2.5, they will be placed on academic probation by the graduate school. 

The student will have one semester to bring his or her GPA to 2.5 or greater or face dismissal from graduate school by the Dean. A student may appeal this action through the Program Director. By majority vote, the faculty may recommend that the student be given additional time to improve the GPA. If so, the reasons for this request will be provided to the Dean of the Graduate School, who will make the final decision as to whether to allow this student to continue in the program, and the conditions that must be satisfied

Contact Information:  

John Parks, PhD
Pathology - Lipid Sciences
Wake Forest School of Medicine 
Medical Center Boulevard
Winston-Salem, NC 27157 

For Further Information:   

Quick Reference

PhD in Molecular Pathology
Dr. John Parks

Tel: 336-716-2145
Fax: 336-716-6279

E-mail Dr. Parks

Department of Pathology -
Lipid Sciences
WF School of Medicine
Medical Center Boulevard
Winston-Salem, NC 27157
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