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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

Year two

Years three and four

Year five

Course Descriptions

VAI 8010-8051 — Strategic Approaches to Biomedical Research (SABR) (Fall and Winter semesters, 11 credits)

In a progressive series of four-week modules, students develop research plans to address current hypotheses, questions or problems relevant to human disease. In the course of developing these plans, students learn foundational 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. Across the Fall and Winter semesters of the first year, students undertake a total of five two-credit SABR modules and a one-credit, cumulative final examination.

VAI 8210 — Historical Perspectives in Molecular Biology (Fall 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, disease mechanisms, tumor suppressor genes, and organisms used as important experimental models.

VAI 8230 — Responsible and Effective Conduct of Research (Winter semester, 2 credits)

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.

VAI 9309 — Technical Writing and Grantsmanship I (Fall semester, 1 credit)

This course is intended to help students become more effective writers in scientific disciplines. The entire research process depends upon the communication of concepts, results and plans. For that reason, scientists must be skilled in communicating through presentation and in writing. The course addresses the characteristics of clarity, organization, and style in technical writing and especially in scientific proposals. A major theme of the course is the process of writing, involving composition, editing, and revising with feedback. Students participate in multiple exercises with opportunities for review and iterative development of a draft proposal.

VAI 8240 — Experimental Design and Biostatistics (Fall Semester, 2 credits)

An increasing emphasis on rigor and reproducibility has highlighted the fundamental roles of experimental design and statistics in modern biological research. This course focuses on basic principles of experimental design and fundamental statistical concepts for modern data-intensive biological research. The material draws upon methods and applications from concurrent subject-specific modules. Topics include probability, random variables, sampling, estimation, hypothesis testing, linear regression, diagnostics for fit, model selection, and ANOVA. Students will develop skills in R with RStudio.

VAI 8245 — Data Analysis and Bioinformatics (Winter Semester, 2 credits)

Many research projects in modern molecular and cell biology require the analysis of very large datasets such as those generated in genomics, epigenetics, metabolomics, proteomics, and structural biology. Almost all aspects of modern biology incorporate large-scale data analysis to some extent. The efficient and accurate analysis and interpretation of these datasets are fundamentally important activities in biomedical research. This course delves into the algorithms and tools used in the application of bioinformatics to high-dimension datasets. Students will expand upon the R skills developed in the Biostatistics course and apply the skills to genomic, epigenomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic datasets, as well as downstream and integrative analysis.

VAI 8260 – 8261 — Scientific Communication 1 and 2 (Fall and Winter Semesters, 2 credits each)

This course is intended to help students become more effective communicators in their scientific work. The scientific research process relies heavily on effective communication of concepts, plans, results, and conclusions. For that reason, scientists must be skilled in spoken and written communication. The course will provide foundational principles and iterative practice in communication as listeners, speakers, readers, and writers, in multiple formats and with various audiences. The formats for listening and speaking will include formal scientific presentations, chalk talks, lab meetings, talks for lay audiences, and posters. The written formats will include grant proposals, scientific papers, review articles, and lay summaries. Course content and activities will align with concurrent courses and with laboratory rotation experiences.

VAI 8250 – 8251 — Experimental Skills 1 and 2 (Fall Semester, 2 credits; Winter Semester, 1 credit)

This course will provide a focused introduction to well-established and cutting edge technologies, instrumentation, and methods important for addressing the scientific problems explored in Strategic Approaches to Biomedical Research (SABR), with an emphasis on technologies available in the Van Andel Institute Core Technologies and Services. The goal is for students to develop the knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to effectively incorporate these well-established and cutting-edge technologies, instrumentation, and methods into their own research.

VAI 9301-9313 — Professional Development Courses (1–2 credits per course)

These courses build student skills in communication, laboratory management, and organization. Courses complement the External and Internal Seminar Reporting. Recent offerings include Grantsmanship, Lab Leadership, and Origins of Cancer Scientific Conference Organization.

VAI 9001- 9024 — Special Topics Courses (1–2 credits per course)

These courses provide advanced study on focused topics in basic biomedical 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. Specific content varies with each semester. Special topics courses in various fields are offered on a rotating basis. Additional courses may also be offered depending on student and faculty interest.

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 30 hours per week).

Independent Study (credits vary depending on effort)

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