Immunology is the study of the human immune system. Particularly, it studies how the body reacts to a foreign antigen. A healthy immune system recognizes what is part of the human body and what is not, as well as what can be harmful and what can be helpful. Then the immune system reacts to defend itself against disease or bacterial infection. An immune system that is not healthy for some reason, because it is compromised or is out of balance, does not always react correctly. Sometimes, as in the case of immunodeficiency disorders, the body allows harmful agents to continue to exists and thrive in the body – which eventually causes disease. Other times, the immune system can fail to recognize the difference between a foreign body and the human body and begin to attack itself.
In today’s environment new challenges to our immune systems, such as the advent of superbugs, and new ways to treat illnesses such as cancer and HIV, there is a great and ongoing need for research and development. People with high-level degrees are needed to conduct and continue this research.
Someone with an undergraduate degree in Biology or Biomedical science are ideal candidates for a Ph.D. program in immunology. The degree itself consists primarily of research work, so prepare to spend a lot of time in the lab and a lot of time reading. As with many Ph.D. programs, you will participate in dissertation research.
Choosing a school
Choosing a graduate school in which to get your Ph.D. is much like choosing a graduate school for any hard science. You want to spend time researching the degree programs offered at the schools that interest you. This is particularly important in relation to your chosen focus. Are you considering a degree program that will provide you with an education on the field of immunology in general, or are you looking to specialize? If you are choosing a specialized degree, such as molecular immunology or clinical immunology, you’ll want to make sure that the school you are looking into offer that level of specialization.
In addition to making sure the school offers exactly what you are looking for, you’ll also want to examine the reputation of the school and that particular program. Typically your prospective schools will be able to provide information that can help you, such as statistics showing how many students receiving this degree moved on into positions within their chosen field.
Finally, there is the subject of cost. If you’ve made it this far, you have already completed an undergraduate degree (or are about to) and may have even continued on to a graduate degree. You are likely painfully aware of the amount of student debt you already hold, and that your Ph.D. is likely going to add a considerable amount to that debt. Cost is not the most important factor, but it is a factor. Research the cost of attendance as well as any scholarship or grant money that may be available to offset that cost.