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Program Requirements


The Graduate School requires a minimum of 16 semester courses in residence for the Ph.D. Courses must be completed with a grade of B or better to earn graduate credit. The time necessary for completion of the degrees will depend on the student’s research and is usually in excess of this minimum. Part-time graduate work is discouraged as it is impractical for a research degree. Stipends are not available for part-time students.

Teaching Requirements

Students conducting doctoral research are required to complete two semesters as a teaching assistant.

Preliminary Qualifying Exam

If the applicant has completed two semesters of undergraduate Biochemistry with grades of B- or better, or has completed the GRE subject exam in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology with a score in at least the 50th percentile, then no Preliminary Qualifying Exam is required. Otherwise, the student must achieve a score in at least the 50th percentile in the GRE subject exam or the American Chemical Society (ACS) standardized Biochemistry exam. The BCMB program has compiled a guide to help study for the ACS exams. Alternatively, a grade of B or better in Clark’s Biochemistry I and II (BCMB 271 or 272) will suffice. The Preliminary Qualifying Exam must be completed no later than one year after admission.

Advisory Committee

Early in their first semester, new students should meet with their advisor to discuss possible course requirements and Advisory Committee members. The responsibilities of the Advisory Committee are: (1) to determine what courses must be taken; (2) to meet at least once a year to assess the student’s progress; and (3) to administer the qualifying examinations and dissertation defense, and to inform the Chair of the BCMB Graduate Studies Committee regarding their outcome. The Advisory Committee must include the student’s advisor, who serves as Chair of the committee, and at least two full-time members of the BCMB program. The advisor may invite additional scholars from within or outside the University to join the Advisory Committee. The advisor submits the proposed Advisory Committee to the BCMB Program Director, who appoints the committee. The Advisory Committee should be chosen and a full committee meeting should be held by the end of the first year of study.


All graduate students are required to participate in their home department’s seminar series and periodically present seminars.

Course Requirements

As part of the 16 credit university residency requirement (grade of B- or better), a minimum of three 300-level core courses are required as follows: one classified as Group A by the BCMB major (300 level biochemistry-related), one classified as Group B by the BCMB major (300 level molecular-biology related), and one research methods course. The Advisory Committee will determine which particular courses must be taken, based on the student’s research interests and prior training. More than the 3 core courses may be required. Grades lower than B- will not be counted towards the degree, and students who accumulate more than two grades lower than B- will not be allowed to continue in the Ph.D. program. In addition to formal courses stipulated by the committee, graduate students are required to enroll in their home department’s research seminar (BIOL 350 or CHEM 380) and attend all departmental seminars.

Comprehensive Examination

Ph.D candidates must take a comprehensive examination prior to being advanced to candidacy. It is expected that this examination will be completed by the end of the second year in residence. The comprehensive examination consists of a series of written exams on pre-determined subject areas, related to the student’s area of research, and administered by each Advisory Committee member. At the discretion of the Advisory Committee, there may also be an oral examination on the same material, as well as general subjects in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The Advisory Committee will decide whether the student passes or fails. Students who fail the comprehensive examination may, at the discretion of the Advisory Committee, be given one additional opportunity to pass the examination. Students who fail the comprehensive examination twice will be required to leave the Ph.D. program. It may be possible for some students to write and defend a master’s thesis at this point, with the approval of the Advisory Committee.

Research Proposal Defense and Admission to Candidacy

Each Ph.D. candidate must pass a proposal defense. It is expected the the proposal defense will normally take place by the end of the third year, and no less than six months after the comprehensive examination has been passed. The proposal defense is administered by the Advisory Committee, plus any additional scholars from within or outside the University who may be invited by the Chair of the Advisory Committee to participate. The proposal defense is an oral examination that is based on a written research proposal. The proposal must be delivered to the committee at least two weeks prior to examination. The proposal may either be based on topics unrelated to the student’s research, prepared in the format of a grant proposal (see guidelines), or a detailed plan for the student’s research, at the discretion of the Advisory Committee. Passing this examination constitutes official acceptance into the PhD candidacy.

Master’s Degree

Candidates who do not pass either the Comprehensive Examination or the Research Proposal Defense, but who submit an acceptable research-based thesis, and pass a final oral examination, may, at the discretion of the Advisory Committee, be awarded the M.S. degree. A paper based on original research and accepted by a refereed journal may be submitted in lieu of a thesis with the approval of the Advisory Committee. Candidates who pass the Research Proposal Defense but do not write and defend a Master’s thesis are eligible for a M.A. in BCMB degree.

Ph.D. Dissertation

The Ph.D. dissertation is written under the supervision of the student’s advisor, and is based on the student’s original research. Formal guidelines are available at the Office of Graduate Studies and Research. Papers published in or accepted by the refereed journal may be submitted as part of a thesis with the approval of the Advisory Committee. A copy of the work, in final format and approved by the student’s advisor must be submitted to each member of the examining committee and made available to the department faculty as a whole at least one week before the dissertation defense, and at least six weeks prior to commencement if the degree is to be awarded at commencement.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense consists of two part: a public seminar in which the student presents his or her research, and an oral dissertation defense before the Advisory Committee. The examination is conducted by the Advisory Committee, and any additional persons from within or outside of the University whom the Chair of the Advisory Committee may appoint. The Director of the BCMB program has final approval over the composition of the examining committee. The Chair of the Advisory Committee notifies the program director and the Dean of the Graduate School when the defense has been scheduled, and also informs them of the outcome of the dissertation defense.

Acceptance of Dissertation

After revisions required by the advisory committee have been made, the thesis or dissertation is submitted to the advisor for final approval and signature. The original copy, bearing the advisor’s signature, must be delivered to the University Format Advisor no later than four weeks before Commencement (if the student is participating in Commencement activities). One copy must be submitted to the BCMB program, and another to the thesis advisor.


Example timetable for Ph.D. program*:

Year 1

  • New graduate students orientation meeting (in the first few weeks of the semester)
  • Campus-wide orientation
  • Meeting with prospective advisor (within first two weeks of the semester)
  • Selection of home department and Advisory Committee members
  • Advisory Committee meeting
  • Complete Preliminary Qualifying Exam

Year 2

  • Comprehensive examination

Year 3

  • Proposal defense (seminar and oral exam)

Year 4

  • Advisory Committee meeting to finalize dissertation outline

Year 5

  • Dissertation defense (at least five weeks before commencement, if the student is participating in commencement activities)
  • Submission of dissertation (at least four weeks before commencement, if the student is participating in commencement activities)

* This is an example; it is expected that some students will deviate from the general timetable outlined here.