How do I Earn an Immunology PhD?

D. Jeffress

Immunology is a broad field that incorporates medicine, biology, chemistry, physics, and math. Professionals investigate immune system responses and development, and try to identify ways to cure and prevent disease. A person who wants to perform lab research or work directly with patients generally needs to earn an immunology PhD from an accredited university. Obtaining an advanced degree usually takes between eight and ten years of post-high school education, including earning bachelor's and master's degrees in biology, chemistry or a related science field. In addition, PhD candidates typically must pass requisite exams and complete a dissertation based on original research before earning a PhD.

Earning both a bachelor's and master's degree in biology or chemistry can set a person on the path to earn an immunology PhD.
Earning both a bachelor's and master's degree in biology or chemistry can set a person on the path to earn an immunology PhD.

A person who wants to earn an immunology PhD can begin preparing as early as high school. Introductory courses in biology, anatomy, and physiology are important to gain a basic understanding of how the immune system works and how different diseases and medicines can impact its functioning. Near graduation, a student can begin looking into four-year bachelor's degree programs at universities with respected science departments.

Laboratory work is part of the immunology PhD program.
Laboratory work is part of the immunology PhD program.

Guidance counselors, online research sources, and personal visits to campuses can help a person choose the best school. Most future immunologists choose to major in biology, though a degree program in chemistry or health can also be beneficial. As an undergraduate, a student can take classes in such areas as biochemistry, organic chemistry, and microbiology. Lab work is important during a bachelor's degree program to become familiar with common techniques and the scientific method. In addition, it is beneficial to look into internship opportunities at the school or a local hospital to gain practical experience in the field. Many PhD programs require students to complete a master's degree before applying, but some accept student's with bachelor's degrees and combine the master's and PhD programs. Universities typically specify PhD program prerequisites on their websites.

When choosing an immunology PhD program, a student can speak with advisers and professors to identify the best options. Many programs are interdisciplinary, meaning that students take courses in both a science department and a medical school. Besides submitting transcripts, an individual may also need to take entrance exams, get recommendation letters, and provide a personal essay to gain admittance into a good school.

The first two to three years of an immunology PhD program are spent primarily in classroom and lab settings. A student takes advanced courses in cell biology, genetics, biochemistry, and related subjects. The final two to four years commonly consist of independent lab research projects and dissertation courses. In order to earn an immunology PhD, a person usually needs to produce a meaningful scientific report based on his or her ongoing research. A committee consisting of professors, practicing immunologists, and school board members review dissertations to determine whether or not to grant a degree.

A person who is able to earn a PhD can begin his or her career in a post-doctoral research fellowship program. Most new immunologists spend at least two years in supervised fellowships at research labs or hospitals to continue their studies and learn more about the occupation. Prolific, successful workers are eventually allowed to start practicing without supervision.

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