PhD in Medicinal Chemistry


Application Deadline for entering class of 2020:  December 9, 2019
Prospective Student Visits (by invitation): February 6-7, 2020

The Program

The Department of Medicinal Chemistry is an academic unit within the highly collaborative, interdisciplinary School of Pharmacy. The Graduate Program in Medicinal Chemistry interfaces with the broader University of Washington research community, and the considerable biotechnology community in Seattle, to lead many aspects of research in the fields of drug metabolism and disposition, drug design and delivery, and disease mechanism.

Currently the Department offers the Ph.D. degree, with no terminal Masters Degree option. The general objective of graduate training in medicinal chemistry is to provide students with a solid background in the discipline and in-depth experience in a specific area of research.

Research in medicinal chemistry encompasses a broad spectrum of activities including studies pursuant to investigations of the interaction of both drugs and toxic substances with biological systems, and the relationship of chemical structure and dynamics to biological effect and function.

Course Work

Course work requires our graduate students to achieve a level of proficiency in organic, medicinal and physical chemistry, pharmacology, biochemistry, and molecular biology. Most course work is completed in the first 2 years of the graduate program. The program is quite flexible and easily adaptable to meet individual interests and needs.

For course descriptions, see the course catalog.

Research Rotation

In the first year of the program, students rotate through the laboratories of at least two faculty members. At the end of the first year, the student chooses a faculty sponsor and a dissertation research project.

Financial Support

Incoming graduate students are generally provided support in the form of a research assistantship by the Department for the first year of study. The assistantship allows students to dedicate their time to study and work in the lab without having to seek outside employment. It currently covers tuition (except for a $400 student fee per quarter) and provides $2,758/mo. In subsequent years support is provided by either the Department, by a research grant of the research advisor, or by appointment to the Pharmacological Sciences Training Grant. The highest qualified applicants are eligible for consideration for an ARCS Scholarship that provides an additional stipend of $7,500 for the first year and $5,000 for the next two years of graduate school.

Health Insurance

The research assistantship also provides health insurance at no charge for students; coverage is available for spouses and dependents for an additional fee. For more information see the UW Human Resources web page on the Graduate Appointee Insurance Program.

Research Opportunities

The faculty in Medicinal Chemistry offer diverse opportunities for study and research at the interface between chemistry and biology with emphasis on issues of biomedical importance. These include the role of phase I and II biotransformation processes in toxification and detoxification reactions, the metabolic consequences of phenotypic and genotypic diversity in the population, drug metabolism and enzyme kinetics, drug/drug and drug/herbal interactions, protein engineering, mechanisms of pathogen resistance, molecular modeling of peptides and proteins and vaccine development – to name but a few.

In addition to specialized training acquired during their medicinal chemistry thesis work, graduates acquire a broad foundation in biochemistry, pharmacology and molecular biology which is important in the rapidly evolving, multidisciplinary biomedical arena. This is aided by the Department’s commitment to interdisciplinary efforts in the study of metabolism-based mechanisms of drug interactions with faculty in Pharmaceutics, a pre-doctoral training grant in the pharmacological sciences with Pharmaceutics and Pharmacology, as well as faculty involvement in the School of Public Health’s Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health and in the Biomedical Structure and Design Program.

In addition, the Department houses the Analytical Biopharmacy Core which aims to serve the University and the local biotechnology communities in their efforts to perform biophysical characterization of macromolecular drugs and delivery platforms including proteins, polymers, nucleic acids, or other nanodevices. This Core facility, established through the Center for Intracellular Delivery of Biologics, provides a further collaborative link between the Departments of Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Career Opportunities

Hope Barnes Fellow and graduate student Hannah Baughman continues to discover more about molecular chaperones and their potential in treating Alzheimers

Graduates with advanced training in medicinal chemistry go on to careers in industry (chemical, pharmaceutical, laboratory medicine and biotechnology), government (EPA, FDA, NIH) and academia (pharmacy, chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology and toxicology). Our graduates are highly “marketable” and many receive offers for the most competitive entry-level positions in pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies.

Recent graduates have joined Amgen, Inc., Seattle Genetics Inc., and Pfizer Inc., among others. Graduates are also successful in obtaining prestigious post-doctoral positions in academia. Recent graduates have done post-doctoral work at Yale University, University of California San Francisco, University of California San Diego, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Queen Mary University of London, Children’s Hospital Research Center, and others.

Application Information

We welcome requests for information and applications from talented students holding undergraduate degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacy, biology, or a closely related discipline. Admission decisions are based on academic record (minimum of 3.0 GPA for last 2 years of study), letters of recommendation, research experience and GRE scores.

English Language Proficiency:  TOEFL scores are required of international students whose native language is not English.  (minimum TOEFL score: paper based 580, computerized 237, iBT 92 with a 26 on the speaking portion).  The department of Medicinal Chemistry does not accept IELTS scores for the English proficiency requirement.

Questions about Tests:  Check the FAQs at the UW Graduate School website, under the “Tests” heading for more information about tests and test scores.

For more information, email with your questions about the Department of Medicinal Chemistry.

Application Checklist

Atkins Lab

Atkins Lab

To be submitted to the Graduate School:

  • Online application for admission to the Department of Medicinal Chemistry includes instructions to:
    • Designate recommendations (3 letters of recommendation)
    • Provide a Statement of Purpose
    • Submit resume
    • Self-report GRE scores (verbal, quantitative and analytical required, subject area test is optional).  NOTE: Official scores must follow from ETS; use institution code 4854 for the University of Washington.
  • Submit unofficial transcripts online. (See FAQ below for information about official transcripts.)
  • Application fee ($85 with online application)
  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores (international students)

Deadline for Application Submission

The application deadline is usually in mid-December.  The deadline for the entering class of 2020 is December 9, 2019Prospective student visits (by invitation) will be February 6-7, 2020.  For details about the application process, see the graduate school application web page.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I apply for Spring or Winter Quarter?
A: No. The Department only accepts applications for Fall Quarter. For exact start dates, see the academic calendar.

Q: Can the application fee to the Graduate School be waived?
A: Fee waivers are available to current McNair Scholars and PPIA Fellows who have sent documentation to the Graduate School at prior to requesting the fee waiver. Fee waivers are also available to applicants who qualify for need-based waivers (need-based applicants must have earned income under the appropriate State of Washington family or individual income limits in the most recent tax year preceding the application). Fee waiver requests must be submitted in the online application after all steps of the application have been completed and at least 7 calendar days prior to the program’s posted application deadline – late requests will automatically be denied.

Q: Do you offer a masters degree?
A: Medicinal Chemistry does not offer a stand-alone masters degree.

Q: When and where do I submit official transcripts?
A: For specific details, see the UW Graduate School’s web page, In general, once you are accepted into the program, you will provide your official transcripts to the Graduate School at the address shown on their web page.

Q: Is the Statement of Purpose the same as the Personal Statement?
A: The Statement of Purpose is an application REQUIREMENT. It should be 200-300 words that explain your educational and professional objectives. Think of this statement as a personal interview with the admissions committee. Write about your background, your goals, and why you should be admitted as a new graduate student. On the other hand, the Personal Statement is OPTIONAL. If you wish, you can provide this additional statement concerning your personal history, family background, and influences on your intellectual development. You could also include cultural and educational opportunities (or lack thereof), social and/or economic disadvantages, or disabilities that you may have had to overcome, and the way in which these experiences affected you. The optional Personal Statement has no word count requirement. If it proves too long for the software to handle, you can email it to

Q: How many applications do you receive and how many students are accepted?
A: We receive about 60 applications and accept 3 to 5 students per year.

Q: Do you interview potential students?
A: Yes, the Department interviews selected applicants in February.

Typical Program of Study