Program Overview


The Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program was designed by Fisk and Vanderbilt faculty dedicated to expanding opportunities for students to succeed in earning a PhD. This program is intended for motivated students who seek careers in the natural sciences, but who may need (or want) additional coursework, training, or research experience before beginning PhD-level work.

The program is flexible and highly individualized to support the goals of the student. Courses are selected to address any gaps in undergraduate preparation, and research experiences are designed to help pave the way for PhD-level work in the chosen area of study. While at Fisk, students enjoy regular interaction with Vanderbilt faculty and graduate students. This includes access to research facilities and instructional opportunities at Vanderbilt and, in some cases, Master’s thesis work performed under the supervision of Vanderbilt faculty.

In all cases, the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program develops mentoring relationships between students and faculty that will foster a successful transition from the Masters to the PhD

Admission to Fisk and to the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge program

  1. The student applies for the Fisk MA program in their discipline concurrent with a concurrent application to the Bridge Program. The current bridge program research and training opportunities are in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics (Interdisciplinary Materials Science and Astronomy tracks)
  2. Bridge applications can be obtained from Mr. Constantine Coca ( The completed Bridge Application should also be sent to him as a compiled pdf document.
  3. Students already participating in an MA program in one of the natural sciences at Fisk and in good standing may also request admission to the Bridge program. This must be done at least one year prior to the planned completion of the Fisk MA degree.
  4. Admission to the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge program will be determined by the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge program Admissions Committees. These committee will consists of the Directors of Graduate Studies in either Biology (Brian Nelms, PhD), Chemistry (Steven Damo, PhD) Physics (including Materials Sciences and Astronomy; Arnold Burger, PhD) and the Vanderbilt faculty liaisons for the Bridge: For Biology, Kathy Friedman, Professor of Biological Sciences; for Chemistry and Materials Science, David Cliffel, Professor and Chair of Chemistry, Vanderbilt; for Physics, David Ernst; and for Astronomy, Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Bridge Program Co-Director. The Bridge Program Co-Director Arnold Burger, and Executive Director Dr. Dina Stroud also serve on the Committee.

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. Students in the Bridge program will be eligible to: cross-register for Vanderbilt courses; receive a discounted Vanderbilt parking permit; receive a Vanderbilt email account; access Vanderbilt library facilities; and receive a city bus pass for transportation to and from Fisk. Please note, however, that when a Bridge student takes a Vanderbilt course during their Master’s phase and earns a B- in that course, the credit can only be applied to their MA work; a B- will not transfer for credit at the PhD level. Only a B or above can transfer toward PhD program didactic course credit.
  3. For the Chemistry track in the Bridge program, students will be expected during the Fall semester of their second year to participate in at least one 5-week research rotation in a Vanderbilt chemistry lab during one of the standard three rotation periods: (1) 1st Third of the Fall Semester, (2) Middle of the Fall Semester, (3) last third of the Fall 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.