Biochemistry Ph.D. Degree
The Ph.D. program in biochemistry is designed to train students in the chemical underpinnings of biological processes, and encompasses all areas of modern biochemistry, from cell and molecular biology to computational biophysics. Interdisciplinary research is highly valued, and it is not uncommon in the department to find chemists and biochemists working side by side, researching different aspects of the same question. The biochemistry Ph.D. degree program follows the general outline of study below. Prospective students may apply to the biochemistry Ph.D. program through our online application.
Entering biochemistry Ph.D. candidates begin with advanced courses in biochemistry and molecular biology, followed by more specialized courses in fields such as biophysics, cell biology, enzymology, or spectroscopy. It is not uncommon for biochemistry students to enroll in courses offered by other departments, such as cell biology or immunology. Many of these choices will be made in consultation with a faculty advisor based upon the goals and interests of the student. Typically, biochemistry students take six courses over the first two years of the program. Courses can be audited at any time.
Teaching experience is an integral part of the Ph.D. training process. It is particularly valued by those students considering careers in academia, although teaching experience is useful for anyone who will lead others, regardless of discipline. Biochemistry Ph.D. students are required to complete a minimum of two semesters as a teaching assistant (TA) during their degree. This requirement is normally met during the first year of the program. Duties as a TA vary (laboratory demonstrations, grading, recitation sections, office hours etc.) but are normally limited to between 8-12 hours per week.
Several seminar programs complement coursework. A student-led biochemistry seminar series provides opportunities for students to gain experience in preparing and presenting talks as well as encouraging active discussion of current research topics. Students also attend regular departmental seminars given by distinguished visiting scientists. Seminars offered by other departments and programs, such as the Department of Biological Sciences, the Walther Cancer Research Center, and Indiana University School of Medicine – South Bend are often of special interest to biochemistry Ph.D. students.
Original Research Proposal & Candidacy Examinations
During their second year each student writes and then orally defends an original research proposal on a topic of their choosing. Upon successful completion of this examination students then progress in their third year to take a Ph.D. candidacy examination based on their own research project. This process is designed to give students experience in developing, writing, and defending scientific proposals, as well as allow the faculty to asses the progress and training of the individual student and provide opportunities for feedback.
A series of programs are in place to help with the advisor selection process: (i) a research perspectives course where all of the faculty briefly outline their research programs to the new student class, (ii) a laboratory rotation system where incoming students spend time in each of three different research groups, and (iii) individual interviews with faculty. Graduate students normally choose their research advisors late in the first semester and begin active research the following semester. Research is then conducted on a continual basis until a thesis is written and defended.
After choosing a thesis advisor, all graduate students actively begin their research. Biochemistry students perform research in a variety of areas, ranging from molecular biology to biophysics. Underscoring the interdisciplinary nature of modern biochemistry, many biochemistry students choose to combine biochemically-related research with allied fields such as synthetic chemistry, physical chemistry, or developmental biology. A key component of graduate research in biochemistry is dissemination of research results through publication in peer-reviewed journals. All biochemistry graduate students should expect to publish one or more research papers during their time in graduate school.
The departmental Guide to Graduate Studies can be downloaded for further details regarding the biochemistry Ph.D. program.