The Interfaces Program

What is the official degree at the end of the Interfaces program?

A PhD in Bioengineering


How difficult are the medical school courses?

Super difficult. Just kidding. The medical school courses are a mixture of basic science and clinical applications. The first module of medical school includes genetics, microbiology, epidemiology, embryology, immunology, and anatomy. The second module goes through all of the organ systems of the body in-depth. Most students feel a bit overwhelmed at first by the sheer volume of information, but they quickly learn how to identify important information and focus on the topics that are of the most interest to them.


How do grades work for the medical school classes?

Medical school courses are graded on a pass/fail and honors scale. The percentage you score in an individual course is converted to a letter grade for your graduate school transcript. Although that might sound intimidating, the grade conversion is quite favorable for Interfaces students.


Can I pick which medical school classes I want to take or do I have to do them all?

You get to take them all! Although it might seem like you’d prefer to pick and choose which of the medical school courses you’d like to take, most students end up being glad that they had to take all of the coursework. It makes the medical school experience immersive and introduces you to topics and ideas that you never would have come into contact with otherwise. For example, one student was totally fascinated with the gastrointestinal system but never would have chosen to take the GI block if she didn’t have to.


How often do you use the information you learned in medical school in your research?

Because your thesis research will be highly specialized, you likely won’t use a lot of the specific information you learned in medical school. However, most students report that they have a much stronger foundation for their research and have a better understanding of the implications of their work. Many students find that they are able to be more creative and ask more unique research questions because of their medical training.


Is it a disadvantage to join a lab later than you would have if you hadn’t done the medical school courses?

Interfaces students are able to hit the ground running when they join labs at the end of their 2nd years, so it doesn’t make an impact on the number of papers published by the end of graduate school.


Does it take longer for Interfaces students to graduate than the average BE student?

No. The average time to graduation is 5-6 years for the BE department as well as the HHMI program.


What is the process of qualifying exams for Interfaces students?

Interfaces students take the same qualifying exams as other bioengineering PhD students; they simply take the exams at the end of their second year instead of at the end of their first year. The qualifying exam involves writing a grant proposal on a topic assigned by your thesis advisor, presenting your proposal to a committee, and answering the committee’s questions. You should receive an email from the BE Department regarding a qualifying exam information session in the late Spring of your second year.


What is the benefit of the Interfaces program over the standard PhD?

The Interfaces program provides an immersive medical education, and it can totally change a student’s perspective on research as well as open many new doors. Many students end up finding clinicians to advise them or sit on their committees. Other students end up pursuing areas of research completely different from what they thought they would pursue and are happy with the change.


How do I know if the Interfaces program is right for me?

The Interfaces program is a lot of work, but it is also a lot of fun if you love learning and work well in group dynamics. The program provides a unique support structure in both the Interfaces faculty as well as the other Interfaces students, medical students, and bioengineering students. If you’re up for a challenge, are excited about medical imaging, and want to learn more about the human body, the Interfaces program could be a great fit for you.


How do I find a professor to work with?

You can work with any professor you’d like! Many students meet their future advisors through seminars they attend during their first year, through imaging lab courses, or through medical school lectures. Others meet their professors through bioengineering courses or through the bioengineering interview process.


How do I apply to the Interfaces program? How are students selected?

In the application to the University of Pennsylvania’s Bioengineering PhD program, simply check the box that you are interested in the Interfaces program. If you are invited to interview with the department, you will interview with the Interfaces program as well. The Interfaces program looks for students who have a background in or show enthusiasm for imaging, have prior research experience, and work well in groups.


Where does the funding for the program come from?

The program is funded through a T32 training grant from the NIH.