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Curriculum

curriculum

All Van Andel Institute Graduate School students follow a similar curriculum schedule, with most courses being completed during the student’s first and second years. Years three through five are heavily focused on the student’s dissertation work as well as professional development.

Students complete eight, four-week modules in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, genetics and epigenetics, bioinformatics and pathophysiology before selecting the laboratory in which they will complete their dissertation research. Through this approach, students acquire the requisite knowledge to address complex research questions and the skills to locate and evaluate the concepts, models and evidence that already exist in scientific literature. 

For a full description of the Graduate School’s offerings, please view our Course Catalog here.

Sample Year-by-Year Schedule

Year one

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Year two

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Years three and four

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Year five

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Course Descriptions

Strategic Approaches to Biomedical Research (SABR) (2 semesters, 18 credits)

In a progressive series of four-week modules, students develop research plans to address current hypotheses, questions or problems relevant to human disease. As part of developing these plans, students learn core and current concepts in biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, genetics, bioinformatics, and pathobiology. This problem-based learning approach best simulates how professional scientists attack new research problems. Students emerge with a strong foundation in core concepts in the relevant disciplines, an understanding of experimental design principles, and experience in crafting research plans. The fall and winter semesters of SABR each comprise four two-credit modules and a one-credit cumulative final examination.

Historical Perspectives in Molecular Biology (1 semester, 2 credits)

This course examines the historical context of current molecular and cell biology research. Students study classic papers in biomedical research and discuss how the work represented in those papers changed the models or paradigms that prevailed at the time the research was done. Topics include foundations of modern biology, mechanisms of genetic change, analysis of biological macromolecules, gene splicing and rearrangement, tumor viruses, oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, and organisms used as important experimental models.

Translational Research (1 semester, 2 credits)

This course reviews the process of scientific discovery at the bench through the steps of translation and implementation to the bedside. This course will begin with the discovery of biomarker characteristics required to meet clinical utility with discussion on the development of drugs for therapeutic targets. Students will review the onerous process of moving a drug target into the clinic and through the organization of clinical trials. Students also will examine elements of regulation, clinical trial biostatistics, correlative science, and entrepreneurship and review use-case examples of the steps from discovery to translation.

Responsible and Effective Conduct of Research (1 semester, 1 credit)

This course addresses effective laboratory management practices including protection of human and animal subjects, scientific integrity, conflicts of interest, collaboration, authorship, peer review, data management, mentoring, communication, societal impacts, human resource management, grants and contracts, and fiscal responsibility. The course provides training and direction on how to recognize, address and prevent ethical dilemmas that arise during the course of conducting scientific research.

Internal Seminar Reporting (1 credit per semester)

This course is based on Graduate Student Seminars, VARI Research in Progress talks, and presentations at scientific retreats. Internal seminars encompass both journal club and research-in-progress presentations. Students enrolled in this course will submit online written reports of their reflections on the presentations they observe. This course is graded on pass / fail basis.

External Seminar Reporting (1 credit per semester)

This course is based on invited seminars presented by scientists external to VARI. Requirements are detailed in the annual syllabus with student submitting written reflections and evaluations following each seminar. This course is graded on pass / fail basis.

Professional Development Courses (1–2 credits per course)

These courses help build students’ skills in communication, laboratory management, business, and organization. Courses complement the Journal Club, Research in Progress, and VARI seminar courses. Recent offerings include technical writing, lab leadership, and scientific conference organization.

Special Topics Courses (1–2 credits per course)

These courses provide advanced study on a focused topic in basic or clinical research, and are typically taken in the second, third, and fourth years. Each course engages students in the study and discussion of the current scientific literature and concepts of the topic selected. Topics vary and usually reflect particular interests of the faculty member(s) who lead the course.

Laboratory Rotations (minimum 3 rotations, 6 credits)

Laboratory rotations in the first year provide early research experiences that are important in the development of students. These laboratory rotations assist students in their choice of a thesis adviser, laboratory, and dissertation project. Students will complete at least three rotations. The activities of the rotation should be planned to give the student a rich and deep understanding of the questions being addressed, the approaches and experimental methods employed, the mentoring and leadership style of the laboratory head, and the relationships with other members of the laboratory team. Students should expect to spend as much time in the laboratory as their course work will allow (typically 25–30 hours per week).

Independent Study (credits vary depending on effort)

Students request VAIGS academic credit for a course or workshop taken at another institution (whether in-person or online), or for learning experiences at Van Andel Institute Graduate School/Van Andel Research Institute that are not part of existing courses. Requests are evaluated on a case by case basis.