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Michael Ludwig and Caitlin McMenamin, both students in the Anatomy PhD Program at Penn State College of Medicine, are seen at work in a lab in the Department of Neural & Behavioral Sciences. The two are looking downward and framed at right by clean glassware hanging on a lab wall.

Anatomy PhD

Anatomy PhD Program Details

The PhD program in Anatomy at Penn State University College of Medicine is designed for those interested in advanced training in human anatomical sciences.

The doctoral degree provides the resources and specialty training in human structure and medical sciences for students who want to pursue an academic career in the biomedical sciences.

Doctoral students have the opportunity to acquire disciplinary methods and techniques in any biomedical science field, including those basic, clinical or translational in nature, with the intent of using this knowledge to apply to new creative research, to demonstrate analytical thinking within the discipline, and to communicate their discipline-specific knowledge to others.

Doctoral degree students have the opportunity to rotate in 3 or 4 laboratories during the first two semesters with the intent of learning different methodologies, disciplines, and laboratory experiences before beginning more intensive research, thus encouraging interdisciplinary research and collaboration.


During the first year of the Anatomy Graduate Program, incoming students focus on required anatomical courses, including Human Gross Anatomy, Human Embryology, Human Microscopic Anatomy (histology), and Human Neurobiology.

During the second year, students complete 6 credits of requisite graduate core curriculum, electives, research-related activities and professional development courses. Upper-class anatomy students have a unique opportunity to be involved in teaching gross anatomy to physician assistant and medical students, and advanced gross anatomy to residents and/or clinicians.

Required Courses

  • ANAT 503 Human Gross Anatomy
  • ANAT 512 Human Embryology
  • ANAT 505 Microscopic Anatomy I
  • ANAT 506 Microscopic Anatomy II
  • NEURO 511 Human Neurobiology
  • BMS 502 Cell and Systems Biology
  • BMS 503 Flow of Cellular Information
  • ANAT 602 Mentored Teaching
  • Ethics (1 credit)
  • Electives


Doctoral degree students have the opportunity to rotate in 3 to 4 Anatomy faculty laboratories over the first 2 semesters, with the intent of learning different methodologies, disciplines, and experiencing laboratory personnel dynamics.

Following the candidacy examination, a doctoral student selects a laboratory with the permission of the principal investigator, and begins more intensive research.

In consultation with their advisor, the student begins the process of forming a thesis committee.

This committee must be approved by the Program Director prior to its formal appointment by the Graduate Program at University Park.

Students are required to present evidence of their research progress annually, to meet with their committee at least once annually, and to share written observations on the progress of their work that are documented by the advisor, and program director.

At the end of the second academic year, the written and oral comprehensive exams are administered.


Teaching is a significant and unique component of the Anatomy Graduate Program.

Beginning in the second year, qualified graduate students may participate in the medical curriculum, the Human Gross Anatomy course for medical students.

While the graduate council does not permit teaching to an equal rank, involvement in the medical curriculum is permitted.

Students are involved in the course, particularly in the laboratory sessions and laboratory exams.

Exceptional students may be asked to provide tutoring, review sessions, and lectures.

These experiences are unique to this curriculum and provide an excellent opportunity for students to be engaged in higher education instruction.

Students are able to undertake this opportunity each year, and are compensated by the program providing a stipend for the 2 months of the class.

Academic Requirements

To be awarded a PhD degree in Anatomy, the student must successfully:

  • Earn a total of 30 credit hours, of which at least 18 must be in 500- and 600-level courses. Students must maintain a B average (3.0) or better in academic courses to be retained in the program and to continue to receive financial support.
  • Assist in teaching one of the laboratory courses: either Gross Anatomy or Neuroanatomy.
  • Satisfactorily complete the following: (i) candidacy examination, and (ii) comprehensive examinations. Students must also demonstrate competency in the English language.
  • Complete the ethics course.
  • Complete an original research project, and orally defend, in a public forum, a written thesis describing the experimental design, results, and significance of the work.

Doctoral students must maintain a 3.0 (B) average to remain in good academic standing, and to be eligible for both the candidacy and comprehensive examinations.

In addition, doctoral students must complete all 15 credits of required anatomy courses with grades of B- or better.

The candidacy exam is usually taken after 2 semesters of didactic coursework, and the comprehensive exams are administered after 4 semesters, a time usually coinciding with the completion of coursework.

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