Online Graduate Programs in Biochemistry

Calling All Science Geeks

 by Stephanie Small
Published May 2, 2011
Did you spend childhood Saturdays dissecting house plants, adding a dab of toothpaste, and sliding your solution under a microscope to see what (if anything) happened?
Calling all science nerds: a graduate program in biochemistry might be your life’s calling.
Those holding a master’s or Ph.D. in biochemistry can continue on to careers in dentistry, human and animal medicine, agriculture and food science, pharmaceuticals and engineering, for starters.
If you’ve got a hankering to wear a white coat and peer sagely at microscopic organisms, but are hampered by those not-insignificant real-world obligations like career and family, no worries. An online program in biochemistry might serve your needs. With the approval of your faculty, you can connect with a local lab to conduct your hands-on research, while completing class assignments on your own schedule.
Here, Diane Dean, Graduate Program Director of Biochemistry at Saint Joseph College, shares the ins and outs of successfully obtaining a master’s in biochemistry online.
What are the perks of enrolling online?
“The obvious advantage is that the program goes with you wherever you go,” explains Dean. “The program is accessible from anywhere in the world that has Internet access. Hence, students that must travel for work can still “get to class” nearly every day. The asynchronous nature of the course work allows students in many different time zones to discuss the material and collaborate on problem solving.”

What are the drawbacks?
Dean emphasizes that a student undertaking online studies must be crystal-clear about any need for support that might arise. “The major drawback is that students must self-identify their needs for assistance. Without visual cues the instructor can not determine that a student is struggling unless that student contacts the instructor directly.”

How is your program structured?
Dean explains that St. Joseph offers two online tracks. Track A is a thesis track in which the student makes local arrangements to do research. The thesis involves both a local advisor and three faculty members from Saint Joseph College. The student researches and identifies an experimental question in the first phase. Then he/she does the necessary experiments to answer the question. Finally, the work is written as a thesis. Students in this track take eight courses in addition to the thesis work. Four of the courses are required and four are electives.
Track B is a non-thesis option. In this track students take four required courses as well as six elective courses. Electives range from advanced organic chemistry to the biochemistry of cancer. Students can tailor the program to meet their needs. Students interested in pursuing advance medical training will take many medically related electives including pharmacology, immunology and the biochemistry of obesity. Students who are enhancing their chemical industry career will take a program with more focus on chemistry, including several courses in advanced organic chemistry.

Who is the typical student?
“We have two different types of students,” says Dean. “Many students plan to apply for medical or pharmacy school upon completion of their master’s degree. These students are enhancing their theoretical knowledge and improving their chance of acceptance into highly selective medical professional programs. Many of them are enlisted men and women in the military.
The second group of students is working either in the chemical industry or as high school teachers. These students generally live a long distance from a university and therefore could not pursue a master’s because of the time it would take to travel to classes. The advantage of an online program is the structure to allow part-time enrollment which is ideal for students who have demanding jobs and family commitments.”
What advice do you have for prospective students?
 “Examine your personal commitments very carefully,” Dean suggests, as “graduate study requires a great deal of time and energy.” An individual’s “ability to self identify needs,” as mentioned earlier, is crucial, as “online education works very well for individuals who can comfortably email a professor for help.”
Finally, “take all your commitments into consideration and determine if pursuing a master’s degree is a priority. Once you have committed to the program, it’s important to remember you are doing this for yourself to build your knowledge and your career; you will get out of it what you put into it. Therefore, you should do the most, not the least, to be successful.”
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