Graduate Program in Pharmacology

The Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at McGill University offers programs of study which lead to either the M.Sc. (thesis) or the Ph.D. degrees through the Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies Office (GPSO). The GPSO has information for prospective graduate students here. The objective of the M.Sc. (thesis) and Ph.D. programs is to provide in-depth research experience in a specific area of pharmacology in order to develop individuals capable of independent research and scholarly activity in industry, government or academia.

In the M.Sc. (Thesis) and Ph.D. programs, students select their own area of research for their thesis project. The thesis proposal usually follows the first year of the program and, if it is approved, thesis work begins. Since several members of the Department hold joint appointments in clinical and other basic science departments, students can participate in interdisciplinary research projects that are relevant to pharmacology.

Approximately 140 graduate students pursue their studies in the McIntyre Medical Sciences Building, in addition to many others who are pursuing undergraduate, postgraduate and medical studies.

The Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics has about 68 graduate students, of which approximately half are Canadians and half are foreign students coming from a wide variety of countries. There is close cooperation and interaction among graduate students, and between graduate students and faculty members, resulting in an agreeable and stimulating work environment.
The Department actively sponsors qualified students in their attempts to obtain funding. Canadians and permanent residents can apply for funding from internal sources and from several federal and provincial granting agencies. Information can be found on the web page Future Graduate Students. Other sources of support include scholarships awarded by the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University, or through research grants held by researchers within the Department. Sources of funding for non-Canadian students have recently increased, but we also encourage these applicants to investigate other possible funding sources (for example, government and other scholarships from their countries of origin). The Department offers one studentship annually (the James E. Frosst Fellowship) which is valued at $10,000. Applicants should state their interest in applying for this award.

What is the difference between Pharmacology and Pharmacy?

This is a critical question to get clear in your mind, because Pharmacology and Pharmacy lead to quite different careers. Pharmacology is the scientific study of drugs and how they work in the body. It can be subdivided into pharmacodynamics (i.e. what drugs do to the body) and pharmacokinetics (i.e. what the body does to the drugs - including absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion). Pharmacy is a quite different area of study involving the scientific, legal and managerial aspects of dispensing medicines. The main responsibility of the pharmacist is to provide safe and effective use of medication for the patient. Pharmacists require a license in order to practise. A degree in pharmacology does not qualify you to practise pharmacy.

It is actually a career in Pharmacy that interests me, so where can I apply?

To become a licensed pharmacist in Canada, please access this link for the Canadian Faculties and Schools in Pharmacy

Must I have a background in Pharmacology before applying to your program?

No, but it helps. A sizeable minority of our incoming students have not taken any pharmacology courses before entering our graduate training program. Such students take six credits of 500-level pharmacology courses in their first year (i.e. about 80 classroom hours spread over two semesters) in addition to other required courses. This tends to create a heavier course load in the first year, but it is manageable.

How do I apply to your Graduate Program for Fall 2014?

All applications are now done online through the UApply system. All of your required documents will be uploaded directly to your application. A checklist of required documents will appear when you submit your application. You will be responsible for uploading your transcripts and CV and your referees will be responsible for uploading their letters to your application. All test scores (mandatory for all applicants who have studies outside of North America) should be sent to McGill using the institute code of 0935. For more information and the link to apply, visit the Future Graduate Students page:

Are the recommendation letters on a standard form?

We require two confidential letters of recommendation from referees.  Referees should be professors or research-related employers. At least one referee should be an academic known to the international scientific community. McGill no longer required hardcopy letters. Your referees will receive an automatic email from McGill requesting that they upload their letters directly to your application. There is no "standard form" but we would prefer that the letter be on letterhead with a signature. Email addresses of your referees should be from institutions or corporations (i.e.;, etc.) we will not accept referees with email addresses from Gmail, Hotmail, yahoo, etc.

Is the TOEFL/IELTS and the GRE mandatory for all applicants? And what are the minimum scores?

TOEFL or IELTS and the GRE (General Test) are mandatory for all applicants who have completed their studies outside of North America. Exemptions for the TOEFL or IELTS can be made if proof is submitted that the language of study at your institution was English. Test Scores: Internet based test (IBT) TOEFL: a minimum overall score of 86 with each component score not less than 20. Note: the TOEFL Institution Code for McGill University is 0935.  IELTS - A minimum overall band score of 6.5. Although we do not have a “minimum” requirement for the GRE, we like to see scores of at least 150 for Quantitative and 154 for Verbal.

What is the CGPA required in order to get into the graduate program?

The absolute minimum GPA required by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies is an average of 3.2 over the last two years of undergraduate study or an all-years cumulative GPA of 3.0/4.0.  Excellent grades in biomedical subjects are particularly important.  80% of students accepted to our departmental program enter with a CGPA of 3.4 or above. 

Should I find a supervisor before applying to your graduate studies programme?

Not necessarily. The first step in the admission process is normally to seek acceptance into the departmental graduate program, and then if accepted, to seek a supervisor. However, if you have a special interest in a few professors, please feel free to contact them before formally applying to the program. It is generally not a good strategy to approach more than a few professors in this way. If and when you are accepted into the graduate program, you should seek a supervisor without delay; the later you leave it, the less chance of securing your first-choice supervisor.

How do I know which professors are accepting students?

Professors who are not taking students will usually state this on their individual web pages;

Who is accepted into your program?  What criteria are used?

Once your application is complete, it is reviewed by the Graduate Training Committee. The criteria are academic grades, research experience, letter of reference and performance in interviews.  Although not essential, we especially value previous research experience (e.g. summer work or project courses - note that standard technique-orientated lab training courses are of much less interest). Although we expect our students to be academically strong, we also know that academic excellence does not necessarily translate into research excellence; successful scientists tend to be highly inquisitive, patient, self-motivated and hard-working. 

Do you offer both MSc and PhD degrees? 

Yes, we offer training towards MSc and PhD. Most successful BSc applicants are admitted into the MSc stream, even if a PhD degree is their ultimate objective. MSc students are expected to complete their degree in 3 years. PhD students are expected to complete their degree in 5 years.

What is "fast-tracking"?

Towards the end of the first academic year, all first-year graduate students are evaluated and many are offered "fast-tracking", i.e. promotion to the PhD stream. This promotion is offered to those with a CGPA of 3.5/4.00 and the ability to show strong research work. Those who make this transition do not obtain an MSc but instead use their first-year lab work towards their PhD. Other students remain at the MSc level, and some of these may be offered the possibility of re-applying for the PhD stream at a later date.

Is it possible to be admitted directly into the PhD stream?

This depends on who you are. We are starting to admit a few outstanding BSc applicants directly to the PhD stream; such individuals tend to have a high cGPA (>3.7 out of 4), strong test scores (required for International applicants), and significant research experience. Students already possessing a M.Sc. in a related subject, or those with an M.D. degree, may be admitted directly into the Ph.D. program, upon approval by the Graduate Training Committee.

What is the Rotation Program in Pharmacology?

The Pharmacology Rotation Program admits a select group of students each Fall. The program allows these students to start their graduate work at McGill by sampling several labs and supervisors. Through a series of rotations in three different labs, students can experience diverse research fields and lab environments, while expanding their repertoire of lab skills, in order to identify the best area for themselves. There is a separate application needed for the Rotation Program as well as the official McGill application. For more information on the Rotation Program, please see our website:

How many students are accepted into the graduate program each year?

The number of students admitted to our program varies from year to year depending on the funding situations and space in the labs of the supervisors. Not everybody manages to find a supervisor in their desired area of research, so it is a very good idea to apply for admission early (e.g. in January if you intend to start graduate studies in September).  If accepted, you should seek a supervisor without delay.

Do I have to obtain a scholarship before I arrive? If not, who pays my stipend (salary) and how much? 

Most students do not have a scholarship when they enter the program, in which case the supervisor is obliged to pay a stipend, usually from his or her research grant. The exact amount depends to some extent on the source of the supervisor's research funds. For example, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) currently require students to be paid a minimum of $17,850. Once in the program, students are obliged to apply for all possible sources of funding, and we provide information about this.

What is the cost of studies at McGill? 

Tuition fees are approximately $15,000 per year for foreign students, $6,350 per year for out-of-province Canadian students and $2,500 for Quebec residents. However, for students paying international or out-of-province Canadian fees, the supervisor is expected also to cover the difference between these rates and the Quebec fees. For up-to-date details on tuition and fees, see the Student Accounts webpage: For up to date on housing information or living in Montreal, please visit these web pages: and

Which classroom courses will I be required to take as an MSc student or as a PhD student?

General Pharmacology I and II (PHAR 562 and 563) are prerequisites (but can be taken in the first year). The MSc degree requires two 700-level seminar courses plus Statistics for Pharmacologists (PHAR 712). The PhD requires three 700-level seminar courses plus Statistics for Pharmacologists. Course requirements may be different for students arriving with a medical or veterinary degree.

What kind of a job can I find when I get my degree?

Our graduates hold appointments at biotechnology companies, pharmaceutical companies, research institutes, research universities and government agencies.  A list of recent graduates and their current employment can be viewed here.

Still not clear? We are interested in having you apply to join the Department! Please contact Ms. Tina Tremblay (gradstudies.pharmacology [at] Graduate Coordinator in Pharmacology and Therapeutics with your remaining questions.