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Facilitating a Successful Transition to the PhD: Programmatic Elements

It is an explicit goal of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge program that students in the program will become well-known to a number of Vanderbilt faculty by the time that they are ready to apply to the Vanderbilt PhD program, thus allowing for an admissions decision that is more holistic in nature, and informed by more personal experience than is often possible in a traditional admissions process. Indeed, fostering individual mentoring relationships between Fisk students and Vanderbilt faculty is at the very heart of the Bridge program, and is a key metric by which its success is evaluated.  To this end, the Bridge program includes the following key elements:

  1. Students admitted to the Bridge program receive full financial support in an amount that is standard for full-time graduate research assistants at Fisk University.  Funding is provided through a combination of institutional support and extramural support.
  2. Upon admission to the Bridge program, the student will be assigned, in addition to a primary Fisk advisor, a secondary Vanderbilt advisor ( typically, that assignment is : for Biology, Donna Webb; for Chemistry and Materials Science, David Cliffel; for Physics, David Ernst; for Astronomy, Kelly Holley-Bockelman).The role of the secondary advisor is to serve as a mentor and as an expert on the rules and procedures at Vanderbilt.
  3. Students in the Bridge program will be eligible to: cross-register for Vanderbilt courses; receive a discounted Vanderbilt parking permit; receive a Vanderbilt photo ID card; receive a Vanderbilt email account; access Vanderbilt library facilities; receive a city bus pass for transportation to and from Fisk.
  4. Students in the Bridge program are required to participate in supervised research during at least the second academic year of the program.  Regardless of whether the research is primarily supervised by a Fisk or a Vanderbilt adviser, the involvement of a Vanderbilt adviser in the research and in the thesis committee is expected and encouraged.
  5. For the Chemistry track in the Bridge program, students will be expected to participate in at least one research rotation in a Vanderbilt chemistry lab during one of the standard three rotation periods: (1) 1st Half of the Fall Semester, (2) 2nd Half of the Fall Semester, (3) 1st Half of the Spring Semester. The rotation counts as a regular course [Vanderbilt Chemistry 380- 1 credit hour per rotation]. The Vanderbilt Chemistry PhD program requires 3 credit hours of research rotations to be earned. At least 1 rotation must be completed by Bridge students prior to applying to the Vanderbilt PhD program in Chemistry.

Admission to the Vanderbilt PhD program for Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Students

Bridge students are not automatically guaranteed admission to Vanderbilt.  The expectation is that a Bridge student who has satisfied the requirements in this document will receive “fast track” consideration by the Vanderbilt admissions committee as having demonstrated strong potential for success in the Vanderbilt program.  Admission to the Vanderbilt PhD program will be decided by the standard admissions procedures of the Vanderbilt graduate program in chemistry. The policy of Vanderbilt’s graduate programs is to admit students for whom the total of the evidence strongly indicates that the student is capable of completing the PhD degree.  All students in the Vanderbilt PhD program receive financial support, in the form of Teaching Assistant and/or Research Assistant support, for a minimum of four years.  Requirements for admission to the Vanderbilt PhD program through the Bridge Program are:

  1. Complete the requirements for the Fisk MA degree.  Admission can be offered contingent upon the student completing the Fisk degree.
  2. Bridge students are required to satisfy the same general requirements as “direct admit” PhD students with respect to the core courses. In particular, students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA overall, and must achieve A or B grades in the “core” courses (see course grid for each of the programs, below). Core courses must be taken either at Vanderbilt or their approved equivalents taken at Fisk; Vanderbilt courses and their Fisk equivalents will be counted as satisfying the core requirements at Vanderbilt (provided the above minimum grades are achieved).
  3. Have already taken at least two core courses at Vanderbilt during the Master’s phase of the program.  Additional courses at Vanderbilt are highly recommended. The student must receive at least a B grade in each core course taken at Vanderbilt.
  4. Meet for an interview on/or around December 15 in the second year of the MA program at Fisk with the Director of Graduate Recruiting of the Vanderbilt PhD program in the Bridge program of interest, ie Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Materials Science, or Astronomy .  

The purpose of the interview is for the Director of the relevant PhD Bridge Program to meet the student, to learn from the Bridge Program steering committee whether the student has satisfactorily completed the requirements in this document, and to learn the student’s research interests in order to effectively advance the student’s application in the deliberations of the Graduate Admissions committee.

  1. Complete the Vanderbilt application for the relevant PhD program by the January 15 deadline of the year for which Fall admission is being sought.  Applications for admission to Vanderbilt other than for the Fall semester are discouraged as a vast majority of financial support is on a yearly cycle the starts with the Fall semester.  Links to all application forms are available from the Bridge program website ( ).
  2. A minimum of three letters of recommendation: one from the student’s Fisk advisor, one from the student’s Vanderbilt advisor, and one from a Vanderbilt faculty who has taught the student a course (in some cases a faculty member may satisfy more than one of the above criteria).  More than three letters is encouraged.

Note: While a Fisk student, all of the student's academic and financial matters will be handled through Fisk University, and while a Vanderbilt student, all the student’s academic and financial matters will be handled through Vanderbilt University